Monday, January 25, 2016

Money matters 1 – practical solutions for dealing with choir finances

Whatever kind of choir you run, at some point you’ll have to deal with money. Whether it’s hiring a rehearsal space or paying an accompanist or collecting members’ subs.

cash register
photo by nikoretro

Money and finances can be scary though. Here are some practical steps you can take to ease the pain.

It doesn’t matter if you run your choir as a volunteer or if it’s your sole source of income, money will inevitably raise its ugly head at some point.

Even if you’re good with finances, there are plenty of other practical issues to consider: how much to charge, what happens if you cancel a workshop, what’s the best way to collect subs, is it worth using an on-line ticketing system for concerts?

You can read more about some of the financial issues of running a choir in my series How to start your own community choir.

In this post I’m going to look at a few specific areas and give some ideas on how to tackle any issues. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but this should get you started.

how much to charge

How much to charge for concert tickets, choir subs or workshop entry depends on a wide range of factors: your underlying costs (venue hire, your fee, publicity, etc.), the local demographic (how much can people afford and what do other events charge?), the length/ number of concerts/ workshops, etc.

I’ve written before about how to decide how much to charge choir members: How much should you charge singers to be in your choir?. Many of the ideas in that post can be applied to concerts and workshops too.

collecting money in advance

If you charge people to attend your choir or workshop, then you will need to collect money from the participants. You need to decide if you collect money in advance or on the door.

For a regular event such as weekly choir rehearsal or Saturday workshop, it’s much easier to collect money in advance. You can give people a range of ways to pay (bank transfer, PayPal, cheque, etc.).

The advantages are:

  • the messy business of collecting money and keeping records is done in advance and separated from the singing;
  • people can choose a payment method which suits them;
  • you have a clearer idea of numbers in advance rather than waiting (and hoping!) on the day.

You can offer incentives to encourage people to pay up front (e.g. a simple discount: £20 in advance or £25 on the door; £60 for 10 sessions or £7 per session).

For concerts and workshops it is definitely a good idea to get people to pay in advance so you can make sure you have enough capacity. I’ll look at ways to do this using on-line ticketing services in the next post in this series — keep an eye out for it in a couple of weeks.

paying on the day

Some people will end up paying on the day. They may prefer to use cash, they may not be able to afford to pay for a block in advance, or maybe they’ve just heard about your workshop and have come at the last minute.

You will need to have a clear and simple system to collect money and keep records. If 20 people arrive suddenly and all want to pay, it will take some time to process and it can get confusing.

The best solution is:

  • have an assistant (volunteer) to collect money on the door (leaving you free to focus on the singing);
  • have plenty of change at hand (get it in advance from your local bank);
  • get people to write their own names on a register;
  • offer the choice to pay by cheque (or even have a hand-held credit card machine).

If you feel that you can trust the people who turn up, then you could also just have a box/ basket at the door for people to drop their cash/ cheque into with a sign-up form next to it.

bank accounts

Once you’ve collected all this lovely money, what do you do with it? Put it in the bank of course!

Unless you want to make your tax return even more of a nightmare, it makes sense to have a separate bank account for your choir. Since most choirs are not-for-profit (i.e. there are no shareholders to pay dividends to, they just cover their costs — including your fee), the best solution is to open a “clubs and societies” account (some banks use different names).

These are accounts that use the name of your choir (rather than that of an individual) and don’t charge for processing cheques, etc. (unlike business accounts). It will make things more professional when people write out cheques to your choir rather then you as an individual.

who the money goes to

Once you’ve covered all your costs like venue hire and accompanist, what happens to the balance of the money you’ve brought in? I earn my living by running choirs and singing workshops, so I always take a fee. If I’ve set up a workshop myself, I take all the the box office after costs. For a choir concert, I take a relatively small fee and we donate the rest to charity. If we do a joint gig I split the proceeds with the other performers.

If your choir is run by a committee and/or your choir director has a day job and doesn’t ask for a fee, then the income can go to the choir as a whole to be used at a later date for things like choir swaps, end of term parties, purchase of sheet music, commissioning song arrangements, etc.

when things go wrong — be professional

At some point in your career you will have to cancel a concert or workshop. Last year I had ’flu (proper ’flu, not “man ’flu”!) for the first time in years and had to cancel my first ever concert. I refunded tickets that had already been bought and was lucky that the venue didn’t charge us for the cancellation.

But you may well incur costs. You might have booked and paid for the venue in advance and they won’t refund all the cost. You may have to let down all those people who have booked on your singing day. You may have to cancel a rehearsal if you can’t find a substitute and choir members might ask for that week’s subs back.

Whatever you decide to do in each situation, you need to think about it beforehand. Make your policy clear to everyone concerned in advance (I have a terms and conditions section on my website for people who book to come on my day or weekend workshops).

What I haven’t done yet — and must do very soon — is to take out insurance in case I am ill and have to cancel a singing weekend. Most of the venues that I book insist on at least a percentage of the weekend charge if I cancel which can run into thousands of pounds.

ticketing and on-line payments

In a couple of weeks I’ll be looking at on-line payments and ticketing systems in the next post in this series of money matters: Money matters 2 — online payments and ticketing systems.

Chris Rowbury



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