Asking for money is a little like popping the question. You don’t simply meet someone on the street and ask her or him to marry you. It works better if you first get to know each other, find you share interests, and over time you cultivate a genuine relationship—you make a good match. Let’s dive in: here are fundraising secrets for musicians.

To clarify the process, it helps to make a distinction between the courtship and the proposal. Professional fundraisers use these terms specifically:

Development is the cultivation of real relationships—inviting in and actively involving others in your project. This is the crucial work that needs to be done before you ask anyone for money. It’s the courtship.

Fundraising is the organized activity of soliciting and collecting funds for a project, organization, or cause. Fundraising success (getting a ‘yes’ to your proposal) depends entirely on the development work that’s done beforehand.

Do it Right!

There’s an old saying in fundraising circles: you have to have the right person ask the right prospect for the right amount for the right reason at the right time. In other words, if you haven’t written to or spoken with your Aunt Ida in ten years, and she gets a phone call or letter from you out of the blue asking her to cough up $7,000 for your project, it probably won’t go over well. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask her at all, but you need to first re-establish a relationship with her.

ACK: The very thought of asking for money is horrifying. It feels demeaning, like I’m begging.

Many people feel this way because they fail to see fundraising as an exchange. That the person who gives also gets something valuable in return.

Fundraising secret for musicians: Why people give

Think about your own behavior. If you’ve ever participated in a walk-a-thon, put money in a church collection plate, volunteered to tutor a child, or contributed to a cause, how did it make you feel?

You probably felt good.

People like to help and like to see positive results. So when the student you tutored passes an exam, or the church you played the benefit concert for meets its fundraising goal, most likely you felt proud that you were a part of the process.

When people give time, money, or expertise to a cause they care about, they get something important back. They get to feel good about themselves. This is the real return on their investment. Don’t underestimate this: self-worth is a high-value reward.

Fundraising secret for musicians: People Give to People

The development process is all about connecting with people and building genuine relationships. It’s not about being fake or kissing up to people you hardly know. It’s about helping others put their interests and values into action for a cause they care about.

Your most likely prospects are people with similar values, ideals, and interests as yours. They are people with a capacity to give, and an inclination to help. The more you and your project matter to a prospective donor, the more they will be willing to give.

But I don’t know any rich people.

If you’re only thinking of your immediate colleagues—who are most likely musicians with their own fundraising campaigns—then you may be right. But your network is more substantial than that.

The truth is, the majority of people in your network have some discretionary funds. They may not be rich, but they have money to use on a variety of non-necessities. My guess is that there are people in your network who could contribute $500 to a cause they believe in without it adversely affecting their finances. For some people, $50 is the limit of their comfort zone, for others, it may be $5,000.

The Development Continuum

To put this in perspective, people contribute in proportion to their sense of involvement. The more involved they are in you and your project, the more likely they’ll contribute.

The development continuum below, created by fundraising specialist David Bury, is designed to help you identify your potential fundraising prospects and their level of involvement so you can build on it.

Here’s how it works: the headings represent the level of relationship between you and specific members of your network.

Farthest to the left is “ignorance,” which is the column for those who are unaware of you, your music, or your project. Development work is essentially about moving people, over time, from left to right along the continuum. From awareness and some interest in you and your project, to involvement, participation, commitment, and finally, to “ownership.”

Don’t be put off by that last word. It doesn’t mean that people “own” you or your project! Rather, this is the category for your strongest supporters and allies: the people who feel a sense of partnership, pride, and identification because of their substantial contributions to the success of your project.

Where do your contacts fall on the continuum?

Think about the 10-15 people closest to you who have shown interest in your career, have discretionary income, and are 30 years or older. Place each name in the most appropriate column for where they stand now in terms of their relationship to you and your project.

At the awareness stage people have heard about you and your project. Nest, at the interest stage, they’ve come to at least one of your performances, and are on your mailing list for your newsletters and invites. The involvement stage you’ve had a conversation after a concert and your contact has invited others to your performances. Participation might include helping out at receptions or coming to outreach events. Commitment means they’ve perhaps hosted a house concert, offered in-kind services, or catered a reception for you. And ownership might mean serving on your personal advisory board and making a substantial donation. At each stage it’s about you connecting with and getting to know these people and inviting them to become further involved. Here is David Bury‘s (thank you, David!) Development Continuum:

Fundraising secret: What gets people to want to donate?

Fundraising consultant Steve Procter says, “Everything you do—concerts, school programs, coaching of ensembles—is a development opportunity. The surest and most powerful way for people to get on board, is to see you doing your work. All that’s required is that you make a personal invitation.”

But people won’t give unless they’re asked. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so check out “How to Make the Ask.”

To do: print out the Development Continuum and write in the names of 10 or more of the people you know well who are most likely to want to support your project. When is the last time these people heard from you? When is the last time you spoke in person? What upcoming event or concert can you invite them to and speak with afterwards?

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