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December 16, 2018

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How To Get Free (Or Cheap)
Entertainment For Your Gala

by Dave W. Tanner

The fundraiser's dilemma: you want a good - and, if possible, famous speaker or entertainer to draw patrons to your annual gala. But - being a fundraiser (whose moneys are meant to help a charitable cause) - you want to spend as little as possible.

How do you do it? How do you get great speakers or performers, while still saving every possible penny for your charity?

  1. 1. Choose someone personally connected to your cause. Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul, and Mary) sang and spoke to a Home Hospice convention here in Dallas, because his own mother had benefitted from such care. Now that Lance Armstrong isn't training full-time for bike races, he's a frequent draw for Cancer research. In such cases, your only expenses might be air fare (which can use donated air miles) and a hotel room (which - if your event is being held in a hotel ballroom - can also be comped.)

  2. 2. Pick someone from a related field. Two years ago, my band backed up a couple of singers at a gala benefitting a hospital in Haifa, Israel. One was a cantor at a local synagogue, who is also a gifted singer of tongue-twisting comedy songs. The other was a physician herself, who happens to have a gorgeous singing voice. They were perfect! A local garage band of MDs, - cleverly called "Doctor Doctor" - entertained with me at an Alzheimer's Memory Walk. Each of these people are well-known in their individual fields, but are also delightful entertainers (even if their musical talents are not their claims to fame.)

  3. 3. Go for the "next" big star. Most major cities have local showcases of up-and-coming talent who gain stage experience and a following through performances there. Typically, these acts receive little or no money. Many would gladly appear before hundreds of potential fans. At a fund-raiser we did for a child with Cystic Fibrosis some years back, a pre-teen LeAnn Rimes did just that, singing her soon-to-be smash hit, "Blue."

  4. 4. Find Underwriting. Most galas occur on Saturday nights. Bands like mine can discount our fees on a Saturday, but we can't afford to literally give our services away. That's where underwriters come in. They pay for the band as their donation to the cause, leaving more of whatever moneys come through the door as profit.

Finally, let me just add a personal note, as one who has both sought entertainers for worthy causes, and one who has provided such services: those who generously share their musical or speaking gifts with you deserve "star" treatment. You may not be able to pay them top dollar, but you can make them feel appreciated by you and your audience. Or, put another way...

Free entertainment is a priceless resource. Treasure it!

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