Chatting Fundraising with New Zealand School of Dance

Celia Jenkins and Katie Martin
December 2014

Internationally recognised as a world-class dance training institute, the New Zealand School of Dance (NZSD) in Wellington began fundraising in January 2014 for a new grand piano. The piano at the time was on loan and a permanent one was sought. In constant use during dance classes, it was important to purchase a grand piano that would go the distance for many years to come. Here they share how their fundraising campaign came about and how it met target.

Can you give a bit of background around how the target fundraising dollar amount and fundraising timeline were set?

Katie: The target amount $54,778 was the exact cost of the piano we needed. The School’s pianists carefully researched pianos and chose a Schimmel K189 as the ideal instrument.

The loaned piano was originally due back with its owner in Sept 2014, so this was the initial deadline. This later got moved forward to early July due to the audit requirements of one funder.

Could you share a bit about what the fundraising plan was?

Katie: Our plan was to apply to trusts and foundations first in Jan/Feb, do a second round of applications if necessary in Mar/Apr, then move into major donor asks for the remainder. Once we got to mid June and were facing the audit deadline, we got the message out through every channel possible.

Several grants were received towards the new piano. These came from the Wellington Community Trust, Lion Foundation and Pub Charity. How much was secured through the grants and did the NZSD have a prior history with the grant-makers?

Katie: We received $29,778 from the three funders, a fantastic start to the campaign. NZSD had previously had grants from Wellington Community Trust and Lion Foundation, but not from Pub Charity.

What type of messaging was used to encourage donors to give? Was different messaging used for major donors (those giving $1,000 or more) versus those giving smaller amounts?

Celia: Needing $25,000 more on top of the grants, our strategy was to make personal asks from major donors, backed up with campaign publicity. A catchy hook – donating $1,000 for a single piano key – was an easy to grasp and visualise concept. That anyone giving at least $1,000 would have their name on the piano gave an incentive to stretch to this amount. We made sure however to say that a donation of any size would be appreciated.

Katie: We identified people we thought might support the project, then Board members, the Director, Celia and myself contacted them to make the ask - preferably in person, or by letter, phone, or email as appropriate. To integrate the campaign, we also put a news article and call to action on the website, in our email newsletter, mentioned it at studio performances and on social media.

We were successful in raising the $25,000 remainder needed from individual donors. Our community loved the idea of donating a piano key, with several major donors imagining which key might be theirs – perhaps E flat! We carried this messaging over into the thanking.

How did this campaign help secure first-time donors to the NZSD?

Katie: It had some ideal ingredients – a clear need for a tangible item, an urgent deadline, and we’d already got over halfway to the target with confirmed grants before taking it to our community.

Celia: It made a compelling story, enabling us to ask Board members to make an approach to their contacts.

Katie: The campaign trebled NZSD’s number of major donors, and achieved a high average gift, with a number of first time donors of $1,000 or more who were either new contacts or hadn’t donated before.

How did the Board and Chair participate in the fundraising? Was each person given a target amount to secure?

Celia: The Board were asked to nominate people they would approach and to consider a donation themselves. Several Trustees made a number of asks with very good results.

Katie: The Chair made personal asks of around 10 – 15 contacts, and many of these were successful. We didn’t give Board members a target amount, but supported them with a convincing Case for Support, campaign updates, and follow-up. The Board members’ willingness to ask others achieved the critical ‘tipping point’ of the campaign. 

Did you find that you encountered any obstacles to this campaign?

Katie: Several of our original funding applications were unsuccessful, but that’s normal. When Pub Charity confirmed their grant with a 3 month deadline, we had to move fast to get the remainder amount needed.

How did you thank the various donors?

Katie: Every donor was thanked personally by phone and sent a prompt thank you letter specifically about the piano. We emailed all the donors once we’d got to target, so they knew the piano was funded.

Celia: Funder and donor names were written on the piano in gold leaf. A special launch event treated piano donors to a dance performance and an opportunity to play the piano. Social media, website and email news backed up the more private messages, making the success of the appeal and the thanks more public.

What sort of stewardship plan has been put into place for new donors cultivated during this campaign?

Celia: The piano launch event introduced people to each other and to the staff of the School. Donors have since been included in our supporters programme and invited to an exclusive supporters event held in September.

Katie: They’ll receive NZSD’s regular communications, plus the special donor-only newsletters, invites to supporter events, and personal welcomes at NZSD performances. I’ve since moved onto a new job, but I imagine the new fundraiser will be talking to them in future about what other projects they feel passionate about getting involved with.

What have you learned from this fundraising activity that you will carry over into the future?

Katie: Donors love the opportunity to respond to a clear, urgent need, and support a tangible item. We learnt there were a number of people in the NZSD community (and database) who were ready to respond to the right project at the right time, at a significant level. This was a wonderful discovery. We were also reminded of the importance of talking to high-level decision makers within trusts and foundations where possible.

Chatting Fundraising - New Zealand School of Dance



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