This morning I had an interesting conversation about this fundraising campaign on Twitter with a friend who caught some of the local news reporting about it. That conversation highlighted the real challenges we have beyond the raising of funds. I think it is important to share this because I think with the energy expended to raise cash, the real challenge is often overlooked.
The conversation began with my friend saying that it looks like the theater is unsustainable if we have to raise money each and every year. That is true as far as that statement goes. But it hits and misses the real point. Wayside Theatre is unsustainable without raising funds each and every year. As a not-for-profit we need to raise a portion of our budget each and every year, other wise we would not be able to operate. Our business model is no different than any other not-for-profit arts organization. We sell tickets, program ads, concessions, to generate the largest portion of our revenue. But to provide the programs we offer, we must raise funds to cover a portion of our operating costs, otherwise we would have to charge prices that no one could afford.
Here are the quick numbers. If our budget is $700,00 (it is actually less than that this year) we need to generate $450,00 in ticket sales, program ads, concession sales, etc… and raise $250,000 annually in grants, donations, pledges, etc…Realistically, our budget needs to be in a $900,000 range but since the economy took a nose dive in 2008, we've cut back substantially in the face of declining revenues across the board. But each cut we are making has a negative impact on generating revenue and so we have to stop that cycle.
This is the real challenge. Convincing those in our community, in government, and in general that Wayside Theatre has to raise funds annually in order to operate. Yes, we are an arts producing organization, but we are also a fundraising organization, so that we can produce that art. At times our shows do well at the box office and at times our shows do not. That's called producing theatre. We never start out to have a show that sells badly, but it happens, and because we do not have an ongoing base of financial support to fall back on, one less than stellar show can put us behind at any given point.
I would love to take the time to explain this in more detail to anyone who is willing to expend the time and commitment to learn about those details. We've had several of those conversations in this campaign already and they have indeed yielded a greater understanding. But in today's quick sound bite world, this message often gets reduced to "Wayside Theatre needs money. Again." Yes, that is true. Wayside Theatre needs money again. Should this campaign succeed, Wayside Theatre will need to raise funds again next year as well. And the year after that. But we, with your help, need to convince our friends, our neighbors, and our community that this annual need is normal and required if our community wants to retain a small professional theatre as a part of its social and cultural fabric.
To be completely frank, my biggest fear is that we'll meet our immediate funding challenge, but not solve this larger one. That happened last year and in year's past, but can not happen again going forward. If we can't make important strides towards solving that the larger issue, than my friend on Twitter may prove to be sadly profound, that Wayside Theatre is not sustainable. That would be a sad conclusion to reach. But that is why this campaign is different and that is why we need your help is spreading the word.
Please contact me if you'd like to talk more about this. Please plan to come and see our next show, Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming that begins this weekend.
If you'd like to read more about this campaign please check out more infomation here on this blog, on Facebook, or at Wayside Theatre's website. If you'd like to help or share your story we'd be very grateful.