Passing the Plate

The measure of a successful benefit recital is when you find that you made more money than you spent! Recalling my own expensive and not particularly lucrative “benefit recital” as a young singer, I hesitated to advise singers…until I found Katherine Michaels.* She helped her son raise $6,000 for a prestigious summer program and 2 New York audition trips–and the principles she used can be applied to any singer’s career.

1. Have a long-range plan.

Michaels had a plan–a vision for that benefit recital as seed money for a future career. She says, “A benefit recital should be planned with the idea of making money, and of building a group of supporters who are ‘stakeholders’ in your career–and who may provide support on an ongoing basis. The difference between raising $500 and raising $5,000 or more is often one of attitude and expectation–and, of course, preparation, hard work, and talent.”

2. Be ready with a good “product.”

First things first–Michaels says, “You need to be ready, and you need to be good. No amount of marketing will be successful if your product isn’t ready for the public. If you are at an earlier stage of your career, perform for family and friends and study hard, but don’t ask strangers for money. ‘Ready’ doesn’t have to mean ‘ready for the Met,’ but these suggestions for a fund-raising recital are for people who have performance experience, repertoire, and the talent and skill for a full-length recital. The guiding rule is: Do everything as beautifully as you possibly can…but on a budget.”
3. Use an event or big announcement as a springboard.
It helps to have news to announce. In mailings, press releases, and the program itself, Michaels prominently featured the name of the young artist program to which her son had been accepted. She says, “The benefit recital can be to celebrate acceptance to a young artist program, a conservatory, a voice teacher’s studio…or to help you afford to apply for a competition.”

4. Have professional-looking invitations, but add a personal touch.

Michaels purchased elegant printed programs inexpensively from Office Depot, a large office-supply outlet. The invitations for the benefit recital and reception to follow included a short informative letter with room for a handwritten “Please come!”

5. Invite everyone–even people outside your geographical area.

“Whether they’re friends of the family, your dentist, people you’ve

auditioned for, neighbors, other starving students–invite them all. Ask people to open their address books to you. Your voice teacher may even be willing to write notes on invitations for people.”

Not only should you invite out-of-towners, says Katherine, “…but you should keep a list for your entire career because these are people you will go back to again and again.” [For more info on how to network, see the CS April networking issue.]

6. Keep expenses down.

Are you paying to rent a hall? “Often a church will let you perform at no charge,” Katherine advises. “Spend enough time to find a place with great acoustics and some elegance. Another nice thing about a church is that many of them allow you to move from one level to another, so you aren’t standing in one place for the entire recital.”

7. Choose a varied program.

She also recommends variety in the programming. “Include crowd-pleasers, show off your versatility, and plan two encores. Take one intermission, where you can do a quick costume change, and a few short breaks. Use props for one or two songs. Write down what you will say and memorize it–especially your introduction, if you want one. Often it’s best to come in, sing your first piece, and then talk.”

8. Look and act like a star.

Dress like a star. That means a tuxedo or evening gown for at least part of the program. You can throw in a few duets if you have a talented friend willing to donate his/her time and talent, but the show should be yours. Be sure that your accompanist is superb.
The printed programs should look classy enough that audience members will take them home and not leave them littering the chairs after the concert. They should include a thank-you note from the singer and artist bios for the singer and the accompanist. The singer’s name and that of the accompanist should be prominently printed on the program cover. “Again, light cardstock from Office Depot is affordable. A nice touch is to use the back page of the program to list who has helped you get where you are,” Katherine adds.

9. Hold a reception afterward.

The key to the reception is presentation. That can consist of little more than punch and homemade cookies, but it’s important to pay for good-quality paper napkins and borrow nice china or trays, table linens, and a centerpiece. Katherine likes chocolate-dipped strawberries. “They are an elegant touch and you can make them yourself.”

10. Ask for money.

“Don’t be shy! Ask for the money,” says Katherine. The artist should say, “Thank you for your support” but shouldn’t do the actual collecting. Rather than passing a basket like a church offering, or charging an admission, Katherine suggests having separate donation baskets, prominently marked (and manned) at the entrance and exit of the concert as well as at the reception. “The baskets, labeled ‘DONATIONS,’ should be large and deep so checks and cash aren’t visible.”

11. Know who is in the audience.

Have a guest book (and several pens) available at the recital and reception so that no one’s attendance is overlooked. A watchful guest book attendant can persuade latecomers or those who slip away early to take a moment to sign the book.

12. Send thank-you notes.

Katherine is a stickler about this. “Thank-you notes should always be handwritten and mailed promptly!”

*Katherine Michaels (not her real name) is a business professional in a large western city. After winning numerous local awards and attending a prestigious summer arts program, Katherine’s son moved to New York City last year to pursue his singing and acting career.

Cynthia Vaughn

Contributing Editor Cynthia Vaughn has had successful private voice studios in Newark, California; Hanover Park, Illinois; Middletown, New York; Arvada, Colorado; and Springboro, Ohio. She is currently a doctoral candidate and Teaching Assistant at the University of Northern Colorado.