Against the odds, and better judgment, you have gone ahead and created your very own nonprofit theater. Congratulations are in order – champagne and cake all around!
What? Oh dear. So sorry, the cake and champagne was the entire budget.
Starting your organization can feel like the hardest part – and if you followed our previous advice, you’ve by-passed some unnecessary headaches. The fight has just begun: now’s the time to start clawing your way to ensure your survival.
That means money. Dinero. Moolah. Stages need to be lit, sounds heard, and the actors fed (oh dear lord, please feed the actors). All kidding aside, it’s easy to blow a budget on a few essentials, leaving a budget stripped of its backbone and a fledgling company high and dry.
Time to tuck in and live lean, all the while producing the art you set out to do. Albeit, sometimes the two don’t necessarily align, here are our tips to help your goals resemble a venn diagram, and less like the North and South Poles.
Volunteers Are Your Best Friend
Each theater piece has essentials. Most of these tasks require trained professionals – or at least someone who won’t get electrocuted on a daily basis. That being said, there are still a great number of folks who want to become involved with the arts (and maybe get some experience of their own).
A symbiotic volunteer relationship can be the life blood of a thriving theater. While keeping costs to a minimum in places like box office, ushering, and set building, nonprofit theaters can also provide learning spaces for young arts professionals to learn about a particular craft. Give your faithful volunteers chances to speak with the designers, directors, and actors and gain some experience of their own. In return, they’ll deliver the nuts and bolts of your nonprofit.
Get Yourself a Grant Writer
While it appears to be just another initial expense, an experienced grant writer will end up paying for themselves.
True: in the beginning, a lot of theater revenue is going to come from box office sales, concessions, and donations. As many come to find, though, theater is expensive. Heavens to Betsy, it is expensive. Even the most minimalistic theater is going to run into expenses (and, heaven forbid, something happens to the venue or actors).
A grant writer can help negate these costs. Your writer is able to take into account every aspect of your season (or they should be able to) and turn it into cold hard cash. Have a new work that you’re premiering? Great! There’s a grant for that. Are all of your actors under 5’ 2”? Grant for that. In short, there’s a grant for everything if you look hard enough. State wide art grants are also a valuable resource that a writer should be able to harness for a nonprofit’s benefit.
These two quick tips can help save money, and then reel in some much needed capital. Nonprofit theaters don’t always make the long haul, but, hopefully, these tips help curb the results in the arts’ favor.
Best of luck. From one emerging theater to another: we’re rooting for you.