By: Alex M.
So, you want to throw a benefit show. When done correctly, you’ll have an event that ties your community together while fundraising for your cause. I’ve had some great times (my entire campus signing along to MGMT), along with some awful times (20 lost miniature ponies running all around the venue area)— so I know the devil is in the details.
Here are some things to consider as you plan this potential event. Hopefully there won’t be any lost ponies.
1. You need a budget. Make that. It’s the most important thing. An awesome example of a budget layout can be found in YP4’s (Young People For) fundraising toolkit page, although it was intended for conferences, it is applicable for most of your budgeting needs.
An excellent checklist tailored to concerts can also be found at the website “Concert-Ideas,” and while the budget suggested may not be your thing, it’s still a pretty comprehensive list. Likewise, the same site also hosts a free e-zine that explains the more complicated (re:legal) parts involving money that BCIAW and I are simply not qualified to offer you.
2. You can’t do this alone. You need to make an intersectional task force that tackles all the aspects on this list, and share the work equally and responsibly. No person is a benefit show powerhouse on their own. Recruit some of those awesome activists to help get your show off the ground.
3. Have a direct goal. What are you trying to accomplish? “X” amount of money for a cause, like a defense fund? A certain amount of books donated to an elementary school? To get attendees to contribute, they need to have a clear and feasible goal they know they are working towards. The fundraising can be a lot of things-a bake sale, tickets, a donation bucket, or even a booth where things are for sale. You need to have a vision and a reason why you feel a benefit show is the most applicable way to reach your goal.
4. Find a space to host the show. Where are you having the darn thing? When hosting a benefit show, finding a relevant and safe space is key. Example: When I hosted a benefit show that focuses on my campus’ response to trauma survivors, I chose the main common area. When I hosted a concert focused on a raising money for a shelter on a fun Friday night, I chose a grassy area where students typically drink on the weekends. In addition, price (or lack of) will be a defining issue when selecting a venue.
Time and space are also intractably related. A venue might be perfect at one part of the day, and awful for your show at another time.
Don’t forget to consider the electrical capabilities of a space, and the relative visibility of the venue. Example: While it is awesome to host a house show, if you want your entire community to come, it might be difficult for members to locate the show and they could feel weird about going to a stranger’s house.
Utilize your network and your community to find a space that is both safe and accessible for the community you are supporting, and don’t forget to check that it is also one that is legal to use. Please don’t break building codes, get the cops called on you, and have to spend all the money you raised on legal funds.
If you’re not sure where to start ask around and see who has thrown benefit shows before. They’re your best bets for finding insight into these kinds of decision.
5. What kind of acts will be performing? Think about what kind of music genre you’d like to perform and how you can find those artists. But you don’t have to limit your event— a benefit show can be open mic, comedians or any other kind of performer.
6. Consider your audience. The most important thing to consider is if the benefit show accurately and inclusively incorporates the community you are trying to benefit, and for that reason you need to make sure your community can access this event. Ideally, a show should be convenient for your community. This might mean the show’s host might have to operate at a less than ideal time, but it’s ultimately worth it. If you want to benefit working single parents, then it’s probably not the best idea to host a show for them on a weeknight.
Likewise, who you invite is just as important. Don’t have a benefit show for Planned Parenthood and not invite the workers employed there, or have a show for a shelter at a time when shelter residents cannot attend. You need to decide what is the best way to advertise/recruit people to perform, and do so in a way that honestly represents your intentions for the show.
7. To Booze, or to not Booze? That is the question. There are consequences for both, and someone is always going to feel excluded no matter what you decide. This decision has benefits and detriments that are going to be unique to the community you are trying to benefit, and are also dependent on the venue.
Don’t forget to be realistic. Will someone likely sneak in alcohol regardless? Yes. Know the legal parameters of alcohol possession in your area, and decide whether to sell/allow BYOB booze. The same honestly goes for weed. If it’s legal in your area, please use your best judgment and do so with the entire community in mind, not just yourself.
8. Will there be food? Ah, yes, food. One needs to consider if they will be able to financially provide (free) food, or if this will take too much away from the budget (because you need to have a budget, remember).
There are typically a lot of ways procure food at a low cost to sell or giveaway at the show, and if this is the case for your location, you might want to consider if this something the community involved would want. Some venues don’t allow food, so this question is something you need to decide early on.
Be sure to consider the significant dietary issues in the community that could hamper the success of the benefit show, (I.E. you want to have a BBQ with cheeseburgers at your benefit show, which happens to be funding a new playground in your neighborhood filled with Jewish Orthodox families.)
9. How large is the show going to be? No one is a fortune teller, but you need to make an honest approximation of how large or small the show is going to be. This will influence your decision on the space, and generally everything else involved in the event. Nobody wants to book a field and have five people show up or have a house show with 500 people. Or maybe you do, but realistically that’s not going to work.
10. Decorations. Is there a theme to the show? Do you want informative posters detailing your cause, a silly photo booth for community members to take photos, local artwork, or even all three? You and whoever else is involved needs to decide, and to make a decision that is reasonable within the budget.
11. Advertisements. How are you going to get the word out? Social media? Wheat paste fliers? You need to decide a way to use your community’s network to get the word out most efficiently.
Think like a journalist- focus on where, when, and why. Also, allocate a lot of your budget for this. It’s one of the most important parts. Network like the dickens, y’all.
Consider sponsorships with community/business partners if that is a viable path for your benefit show as well. This can be a great opportunity to provide public relations or free advertising for them, and it can help you get the funding and support you need to get your event off the ground— a win-win for all involved.
12. How are you compensating the act(s)? There is always the option/necessity to ask them them to play for free. If this is the case, it’s crucial the planners of the benefit show make them aware of this. Don’t be like me and end up sheepishly paying an act with a six pack at the end of the night, (I’m still sorry, Lazy Boi Band).
You need to honestly and accurately communicate the goals of this show alongside of if the acts are being compensated in some way. This situation is unique to each show and thus, you must use your best judgment to decide.
13. Trash. Yo, there will be trash. How will you collect/hold/dispose of trash? Are there trash cans available? Do you need to buy some? Littering is not cool and will most likely get you in trouble, with either the city government or the friend whose house you’re hosting the show. Know how you’ll be cleaning up the event.
14. How will you collect the donations? Typically at a benefit show, there will (hopefully) be people who wish to give more than the initial “ask.” Do you have the resources to accept a check or debit card, or a way to follow up with those who wish to give more? An easy checklist:
Is there enough funds for petty cash?
Is there a safe and secure container for the cash and designated person(s) holding the money?
Is there a system of accountability in place?
Will all the cash be tallied at the end of the night and taken to a secure and trusted location, OR will it be periodically throughout the night moved to the safe location?
How will you show the community that the money is indeed going to the promised donation location?
15. Restrooms. Are there gender inclusive bathrooms? You need to have this, whether it’s a unisex portapotty or just the restrooms in your house. If restrooms do not already exist in your chosen venue, then you need to communicate with businesses around your venue or decide where/if you can afford a portapotty. Restrooms also NEED to be handicapped accessible.
Note: Some people pee/poop in the woods. Just because some people do, does not mean everyone feels comfortable doing so or even mean it is might appropriate for you to advocate people in your community to do so. You have to know your community and make a judgment based on their comfort level, not yours.
15. Is this benefit show handicapped accessible? If it’s not, is a non accessible benefit show something your community really needs? The answer is no. It’s not.
16. How will you deal with any security issues? This boils down to either hiring a security guard (or asking a security official to volunteer), or instead having organizers keep a watchful eye. It is practical to ask one or two of your committee members to be a sort of “watchdog” for any problematic behaviors in the crowd. These people should wear something very distinct, like a vest or silly hat. At the start of the show, announce that if there is a security issue or a lost item/person, attendees should come to these people for help. This will help the event run smoothly.
An important issue to consider is what happens if the police need to be/are called to your show. It is crucial to make sure you are operating as legally as possible, and that everyone is aware of the legal basis you are operating the show under. Likewise, if there is a problematic grey area of legality at your show, it is important that everyone is aware of this. Know the laws, the probable causes that would get the police called on your event, and even the protocol that would go into calling the police yourself during your event.
Awesome, now y’all get down with your bad selves and enjoy the show!
Hello BCIAW readers! I’m Skylar (thechargingsky.tumblr.com) - lover of all things feminist, Harry Potter and social justice related. I recently earned my degree in Gender and Women’s Studies with an emphasis on race and ethnicity, and am now working as a children’s counselor at a domestic violence shelter. A Los Angeles area native and constantly unpacking the borderlands (thank you, Gloria Anzaldua!) of my own racial identity, inclusion within feminism is so incredibly important to me and I’m thrilled to be a contributor for such an inclusive space!
As a socialist feminist, I enjoy writing critically about capitalism, neoliberalism and colonialism, as well as writing about pop culture and reproductive justice. I plan on eventually going back to grad school and continue the research I did for my senior thesis on racism within pornography!
Most importantly, my motto is “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit”