Benefiting from Playing Benefits


So many performers shy away from doing benefits, most often because they think “benefit” means they don’t get paid. I would like to offer a different perspective on performing benefits. In fact, I suggest that you strategically incorporate benefits into your tour plans every year.

First, let me dispel the notion that playing a benefit means you play for free. That is simply not always the case. In reality, most organizations that attempt to use a concert as a means of raising money for their cause, are likely to select a performer with some recognition in the community, but not always. Most notable performers charge a fee for their performance. Sometimes it is their usual fee and other times they may lower their fee for the situation. If the cause is particularly important to the performer, they may donate back all or a portion of their fee. If the organization presenting the concert is a savvy presenter, they will seek sponsorships, donations and advertising to pay for most of the production expenses including the performer’s fee.

By finding sponsors to pay for these expenses, monies generated from ticket sales are then able to be used for the fundraising purpose originally intended by the organization, instead of paying for the expenses to present the event. Most often organizations that fundraise are non-profit 501(c)3 organizations, therefore sponsorships and donations may be tax deductible for the sponsor. In some cases, presenters may be inexperienced at seeking sponsors to offset expenses and will ask performers to play for free. Depending on your involvement or interest in the cause being promoted, you may choose to donate your performance.

I would like to offer you some guidelines for doing benefits, how to decide which benefits to accept, how to help an organization make their benefit a successful one and what are the benefits to your career by championing certain causes.

How to benefit from benefits:

What goes around, comes around: Benefits offer you an opportunity to give back to the community, whether it is your home community or not. When selecting a charitable cause that is meaningful to you, you make a statement that you choose to use your talent in ways that may help others. This has a circular effect. When you become recognized as a concerned artist, other organizations may seek you out. New performance opportunities become available, new audiences become accessible, and you are using your talent for a meaningful endeavor beyond simply “playing a gig.”

New marketing opportunities open: By lending your name and your music to specific causes, you are able to reach people that may not normally read the entertainment section of the paper or listen to the radio station that plays your music. The organization’s benefit might get a feature story in the main news section of the paper. Your name and information are included and even featured since you are the featured performer. On your own, you may have had to work for a long time before getting a feature in the paper. This feature reaches a larger segment of the general population in the community, once again expanding your name recognition in that market. Similarly, radio and television may get involved in promoting the event and again you are included in all of these promotions.

Become part of something larger: When you get involved with charitable organizations that raise money for noteworthy causes, you are part of something larger than yourself. The cause being promoted has a purpose beyond simply promoting your career. You become swept up in the momentum of promoting the cause. Many more people may respond to requests for supporting the cause by way of purchasing tickets, thus expanding the number of people that will see your performance.

So many to choose from:

There are many worthy organizations always looking for new ways to raise money. Select organizations that are meaningful to you. Examine your own concerns. Are you interested in women’s health issues, aids, other health issues, safety or abuse, children, Special Olympics, the environment, the homeless, the food bank, elderly, it doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as it matters to you?

Once you determine the types of organizations, you would like to become involved with, check within your community for a chapter of that organization and contact them. Let them know about your interest in making your performance available to them if they decide to do a fundraising event. Get the names of other nearby chapters of the organization in case they are not interested in taking on such an event. Perhaps the chapter in the next town might be more interested. Get your name out to the event coordinators of the organizations with whom you have a particular interest in becoming associated.

At first, if you are not necessarily well known, you may need to donate your services or offer your performance for a low fee. If you are known in the community, I suggest you offer a fee comfortable to you along with the following suggestions to help defray the production costs.

Suggest that they create a program booklet for the event, and they seek advertisers to support the booklet and raise additional funds.

Suggest they seek sponsors to offset all the expenses including your performance fee. Because many businesses also want to give back to the community while reaping the benefit of a tax deduction, and local promotion, charitable events provide a unique opportunity for local businesses. Depending on the size of the organization and the type of event, very large businesses may be approached for large sponsorships covering the costs of expensive items such as production costs or expensive performer fees. Sponsorships of this nature serve as a form of advertising opportunity the business may otherwise not have had as the business’ name is included on all the promotional materials and advertising. Businesses large and small like to be associated with important community events. Just as you are seeking opportunities to become a community-minded performer, the same holds true for many businesses.

For example, the local phone company may sponsor the performers fee; a local newspaper may sponsor the sound and lighting; a small restaurant may donate the catering; a local printer may sponsor the program and poster printing; a hotel may sponsor the housing if the artist is from out of town, and so forth.

Questions to ask when asked to do a benefit:

How much money would they like to fundraise? Most organizations set their sights too low and often loose money instead of raising money. This will also give you some insight into the organization’s skills as an event presenter.

How far in advance are they planning the event? If they plan too late, the event will fall short of the goal.

In what venue are they attempting to hold the event? If they book too small of a venue may mean a shortfall in income. Too large will be costly and means the organization is out of touch with the number of potential audiences.

Who will be coordinating the event? If members of the already small, overworked staff will be adding the event planning to their already long list of tasks, the event tasks may be left to the last minute or not handled at all. If there is a specific person whose job it will be to coordinate the event, it is more likely the details will be taken care of.

What is the event budget? By examining the budget, it is easy to tell whether they have planned for all contingencies or whether they are relying in ticket sales to cover all costs. If that is the case, I would refer them to your suggestions above.

What is their marketing plan? This gives you a good idea of how broadly they expect to promote the event. This is another great place to make some of your suggestions of how you can help by conducting interviews on radio, television and print, thus getting you more exposure while promoting the cause. You may also donate a few CDs as radio giveaways, again promoting the event and your music. This will also help you determine if the organization is using the same media to promote their cause as another organization used in the recent past where you were also involved. If you work with a number of organizations, they may use a variety of methods of marketing their cause. You may gain new market awareness from the use of these methods.

As you add benefits into your tour planning, don’t do too many during one year. If you mostly perform in your hometown, doing too many benefits may overplay you in the market. If you associate yourself with a specific cause, you may be able to do more benefits for that organization when done in communities spread out over a broad area rather than just in your hometown.

Benefits will open new doors for you and expand your audience. They will also build a new respect for your group in the market. Next time you are asked to do a benefit, look at the request with new interest and a new professionalism. A benefit is not just a one-way street– when approached appropriately, everyone can benefit.

And, I invite you to learn more about this and other topics important to your career development and to sign up for free weekly audio Biz Booster Hot Tip! Every Monday you’ll get another valuable strategy and technique that you can put to use immediately. You’ll find helpful books, career development seminars, Booking & Touring Success Strategies & Secrets online course and information on booking tours, the music business and performing arts. It’s all waiting for you at Jeri Goldstein is the author of, How To Be Your Own Booking Agent The Musician’s & Performing Artist’s Guide To Successful Touring, 3rd Edition.

* If you would like to reprint any of these articles, please contact Jeri Goldstein for permission.

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