Sunday, November 16, 2008

How to start your own community choir 3 — Finding the money

Last week, in Part 2 of this series, I looked at the Forward planning that is necessary before you actually start your own community choir. One of the issues that came up was: where is the money going to come from? In this post I will consider three possible approaches to financing your community choir.

You’ve decided to start your very own community choir and have spent some time doing your forward planning, but somebody is going to have to finance all this. At the very least there will be the cost of hiring a venue to hold choir sessions in. Not to mention admin. costs (stationery, internet access, postage, etc.), publicity costs (promoting the choir initially, future concerts, website, etc.), and your own time (if you want to earn money from the enterprise).

There are at least three approaches to this:

  1. get employed to run the choir
  2. make the choir self-financing
  3. seek funding and grants

1. Get employed to run the choir

In many ways this is the easiest option if you can find it! I started off being employed by my local council to run an adult education evening class called Songs from Around the World. They promoted it heavily for me throughout the city. It was a fantastic break for me since they supported me through the difficult growing period in the first few terms of the group. Things began slowly and it wasn’t for about 6 months until I had the necessary 12 or so minimum people signed up. Fortunately the council’s performing arts service really wanted the group to work so financed the initiative until it began paying for itself. The other big advantage was that they also found and paid for our rehearsal venue.

This is a great way to start out, but can have disadvantages further down the line. For instance, if (and when!) the choir becomes more successful, you will still be getting the standard council’s hourly rate for part-time teachers even though the income from the choir has gone through the roof. Also, as the choir grows, it may become harder for the council to find suitable venues. You may not have a lot of choice and end up in an out-of-the-way draughty school hall somewhere on the edge of town!

When I first started, it was quite easy to get into adult education, but increasingly in the UK you need to have certificates and paperwork to show you’ve completed this course and that course and that you have no criminal record, etc. etc.

Other ways of getting employed to run a choir are:

  • find a suitable community arts centre that is prepared to host you and support you (I run the choir Woven Chords on this basis);
  • get employed to take over an existing choir (sometimes an existing choir needs a new leader and the choir itself — via the committee — will employ you).

Both these options involve negotiating a suitable fee based on the size of the choir and the amount of work involved. Both of them bring a certain amount of admin. support and usually a ready-made venue.

To avoid any of the disadvantages mentioned above, you might decide to:

2. Make the choir self-financing

This is the clearest option: you charge choir members a fee to attend, and you take all the money. You have complete control over how much you charge, when the sessions are held, what venue to use and so on. As you become more successful and the choir grows, you end up earning more money.

The disadvantages are that in the early days when first starting out, you will usually have only a small number of choir members. This almost certainly won’t cover your costs. There is also no guarantee that the day will come when your choir is popular enough that you’ll be making a decent wage. You will also be responsible for all the admin. (collecting money, advertising for new members, finding and paying for a suitable venue), although it is possible to get help with this — see 4. Can I do it alone, or will I need help? in last week’s post on Forward planning. I’ll be looking at some of the issues involved in using a committee or group of volunteers in a later post: Carrying on (7. whose choir is it any way?).

3. Seek funding and grants

This is an option that I haven’t personally tried since I’m allergic to endless form-filling!

There are many sources of funding for the arts available, some on a local level and some on a national level. In all cases the funding will almost certainly not last for the proposed lifetime of the choir. Most funding bodies don’t want to get tied into providing money for an indefinite period. They are far happier funding specific projects with a limited lifetime and clear outcome. You may be able to get funding to help with the initial stages of setting up your choir. This will help to get you past the build-up stage when the income from choir members will be quite small. You could also apply for funding for a specific need: e.g. publicity, training, one-off taster workshop.

Even when your choir is up and running you may be able to tap into funding for a specific project, e.g. commissioning a composer to write for the choir, setting up a local choir festival.

Try your local council first for advice (find out who your local arts officer is) , or (in the UK) you can contact your regional office at Arts Council England, Arts Council Wales, Scottish Arts Council or Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

next week

Now we have a plan and an idea of where the money is coming from, the next step is to pick a location for your choir, sort out a venue and decide what time and day of the week to run it. Next week I will look at choosing the right place and the right time.

go to Chris Rowbury's website

Chris Rowbury


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