As a dance studio owner, you’re always looking for more opportunities to bring in some extra money and to invest in your studio. That investment might be new equipment, new staff, or the resources to host a second recital performance. Most studios rely on classes, costumes, recitals, and possibly studio rentals for their major income. But what if you could get patrons from the community to invest in your studio?
Let’s Use the Right Vocabulary
When you think of the word “invest,” you might think of people giving you money and expecting something in return. In the case of investing in a business, those people are expecting money in return. They will invest capital, and expect you to use that capital to make more money than you could before. Having invested capital, they buy equity in your business, and effectively own a piece of your business. Thinking of it simply, when your business value grows, their wealth grows.
For a dance studio, traditional “investments” are not necessarily the best situation for finding some extra resources. You as a small business owner probably want to keep full ownership of your company, and might only consider a major investment like we mention above in the case of something BIG, like opening an additional studio or something along those lines.
For businesses related to the fine arts, what you’re looking for is patronage from your community. That is, donations or contributions from members of the community who don’t expect something directly in return, but do expect you to use the money to build your fine arts organization.
A great comparison are city or regional ballet companies or symphony orchestras, who receive donations from patrons in the community. Those patrons donate to support the continuation and growth of the arts, and expect the organizations to handle and spend their donations responsibly.
So? Where Does My Studio Come into the Picture?
Dance is powerful. Dance as a fine art exists on every continent, and in the United States there are national and state-based organizations working every day to promote dance.
So, you as a studio owner have a culturally impactful organization at your disposal. Your company teaches young people (or people of all ages) about professionally recognized dance techniques. And, it allows those students to express themselves in a meaningful way.
THAT’S where your value has the potential to extend into the community and provide a valuable resource for the fine arts where it might not exist otherwise.
Here, we do need to take a step back and think about the scope of the project you’re undertaking. If you want to request patronage from the community (donations), you need to be very careful about how you ask for that money, and how you report it on your taxes at the end of the year.
Right now, chances are your company is a for-profit business. As in, you run your company and provide services to customers. They pay your business directly, and that money is reported as income from the year. You aren’t a charity, so people usually don’t donate money outside of their fees.
If you’re going to stay as a for-profit business and ask for donations, there’s two BIG points to be made:
Patrons will NOT be able to deduct these donations from their taxes, since you won’t be changing your company to a 501(c)(3).
You’ll need to report these donations as income on your tax return next year.
Having mentioned these two points, now is the time to talk to your lawyer and/or accountant and discuss the idea before moving forward. Tax law is tricky, and it varies state-by-state.
What did they say? Did you get the green light?
Showing Your Commitment to the Community
Let’s say you’ve gotten the go-ahead from the professionals who manage your company’s finances and legal affairs. They’ve said “Yes, with careful preparation and reporting of this income, you’ll be able to receive donations from the community as long as you are clear about your use of the money and follow through with your commitment.”
That commitment needs to be impactful, and extend beyond the short-term donation that you’re hoping patrons will make.
For example, maybe you ask patrons to donate in order to purchase a new barre for your studio. How will you make that purchase translate into a resource for the community?
That’s where this project needs to become bigger than your studio. If you’re asking for extra money, you need to provide extra services to the community. Maybe that means a monthly free ballet basics class for the community, or use of the space for something like physical therapy through dance. Be creative! If you show love to your community, they’ll return the love with donations and support for your organization.
Back to the Nitty Gritty
You’ve got your great idea, you’re out to save the world one dancer at a time, and you’ve got volunteers who like your idea and want to make it happen. What next?
Time to go back to your professionals for a quick meeting. You’ll want to create an easy way for patrons to give you money, and clear language that tells everyone why and how you’ll spend the money you receive.
Some companies, like GoFundMe, exist to provide people an option for crowd-sourcing. Other options might include creating a PayPal account that people can access directly from your studio’s website.
Either way, be sure to have clear descriptions of what any money collected will buy, and a timeframe for the purchase. The last thing you want is confusion about your motives, and possible legal problems down the road.
Let’s go back to our barre purchase, and create some example language:
“My studio is raising money to purchase and install a new barre, in an effort to update the studio and create additional value for the community. As thanks for the community’s support for this equipment, my studio will begin to host monthly classes free to the general public.
In addition, we will make the space available for medical professionals to use for the purposes of physical therapy through dance during non-class hours, to build appreciation for dance in the community and investment in the people of our community.
This fundraiser will last until after our studio’s final recital in May, and we will make a purchasing decision by July 1 of next year. At that time, we’ll let patrons know about the purchase and installation details.
If we have not received enough funding to purchase the barre at that time, we will have a patron meeting about alternate purchases that could fulfill similar goals as the barre. Should we not find a solution at that time, the studio will return the donations to patrons.”
Your accountant should advise you on setting up the donations side of the project, and your lawyer should advise you on the language that you’ll use to describe your project. Don’t make assumptions and take off running: be sure and have your bases covered by professionals who have your best interest in mind!!
And have FUN! This kind of project can introduce you to really great people in the community who are looking to make a difference, and your studio might have the potential to BE that positive influence.
There are several options for those who want to share their love of dance with others – they can open a private, for-profit dance studio, teach at several different venues or host dance classes at local public schools. Another option to consider is running a non-profit dance studio. Depending on your goals, funding opportunities and community needs, operating a nonprofit dance studio may be the best choice for you.
What Is a Non-Profit Dance Studio?
A nonprofit is generally classified as a “charitable” or 501(c)(3) organization, according to IndependentSector.org. To be recognized by the Internal Revenue Service, nonprofits must demonstrate that they are not just operating for the financial gain of its owners, but instead exists to serve and improve the community.
Non-profit dance studios, like other charitable organizations, are different from for-profit studios in several ways. To register with the IRS, non-profit dance studios must submit a mission statement that guides their operation. All of the revenue generated by a non-profit dance studio goes back into the organization and is used to further the studio’s mission. As such, there is no “owner” of the studio but rather a founder or director. Non-profit studios do not have shareholders and instead are required to have a board of directors made up of community members that advise the studio on its direction, fundraising and budget, among other areas.
It is a common misconception that non-profits don’t make a profit. While it sounds counterintuitive, non-profits are still allowed to charge tuition. However, any profits must be put back toward the operation of the studio and the execution of its mission, and the board of directors has a sizeable control over how profits are used.
Why Should You Consider Being a Non-Profit Dance Studio?
Non-profit dance studios, like other charitable organizations, are exempt from many state and federal taxes, such as income, property and sales taxes. Non-profits also qualify for government funding and can apply for grants from arts foundations and other community organizations. These financial incentives can help ease some of the burdens that for-profit studios face.
Being a non-profit also allows you to focus on responding to a certain need in the community and give back. You may want to build a non-profit studio to help make sure that all children can dance, regardless of the income levels of their families, or to help teach troubled kids confidence and life skills through dance. With the revenue you earn through the studio, you can offer scholarships and other forms of financial assistance to students who can’t afford full tuition, shoes or costumes.
As Larisa Hall, owner of Tap Fever Studios in California, told Dance Studio Life why she decided to make her studio a non-profit:
“I didn’t want to have to say no to anybody. Anybody who wants to dance should be able to, even people with disabilities or who can’t afford it.”
Ways to Fund a Non-profit Studio
There are several funding methods available to non-profit studio owners, and they all benefit from a strong relationship between your studio and the local community. Research the wealth of grants available online – DanceUSA.org maintains a great list of current opportunities, and seek out grants from community and state-level arts foundations and non-profits, too.
Beyond grants, fundraising is very important for non-profits. Anyone who makes a donation, whether they’re parents or community members, can deduct their contribution when they file for their taxes. By staying dedicated to your mission and highlighting the ways that your studio benefits the community, you can strengthen your fundraising efforts and clearly demonstrate the value of donating and working together between students, parents, board members and the local community.
Volunteering is also vital to a non-profit dance studio. Involve parents as much as possible, and look for strategic partnerships in your community that will be mutually beneficial. For example, have your studio teach classes at a fitness center in exchange for free access to its programs.
Finally, be sure to take advantage of modern fundraising techniques enabled by the Internet. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, GoFundMe and IndieGoGo can help fund some of the costs of building and running your non-profit studio. IndieGoGo cited the American Tap Dance Foundation, which exceeded their goal to raise $5,000 for a lighting system in a new facility it had recently moved to.
While building a non-profit studio can be a difficult process, there are many success stories. Just one is Dancing in the Streets AZ, a non-profit studio started in 2008 by Joseph Rodgers and his wife Soleste Lupu. They created their studio from money they had received at their wedding with the mission to provide dance education to high risk children and youth. The accessible dance education the studio provides steers children away from unhealthy situations and activities and instead gives them a place to make positive connections and learn the value of discipline and hard work.
Dance Studio Life profiled the success story of Nela Niemann, artistic director of Blue Ridge Studio for the Performing Arts in Virginia. She runs the studio herself and teaches 140 students along with a small number of part-time teachers. She started her non-profit studio to make dance affordable to every child, and in one season distributed nearly $20,000 in scholarship to children in need.
If you’re active on social media, you’ve probably seen a friend or acquaintance trying to raise money through crowdfunding. People use these newly popular platforms to collect donations for trips, creative projects, business startups, tuition and really anything else you could imagine. Because crowdfunding has proven lucrative for many small-business owners, many dance studios try fundraising with KickStarter dance campaigns or other crowdfunding resources when they’re in need of new facilities, recital venues, transportation to competitions, studio upgrades and more.
Some studio owners might be skeptical of this method of collecting donations, but with the right platform and marketing, the results can be impressive. Dance Studio Life explained that one former professional dancer in Virginia managed to raise $2,500 to open her own studio and provide attire for less fortunate students.
If you’re thinking about giving crowdfunding a try, here are some tips and tricks to make the most of your campaign.
The Appeal of Crowdfunding
The reason that crowdfunding has really taken off is simply because it’s a simpler way for people to raise money. Most studio owners know how hard it is to raise a significant sum through car washes or bake sales, and online fundraising gets rid of all that hassle.
The new way to raise money has become especially useful for artists, including those in the dance community. According to Dance Teacher magazine, the Kickstarter dance category actually has one of the highest success rates.
“One of the reasons dancers have been so successful is that they tend to ask for more modest sums, which makes the campaign more manageable and likely to be funded,” Dianne Debicella of Fractured Atlas explained to Dance Teacher magazine. “Dancers also have strong communities and are able to get the word out to their circles.”
Best Practices for Studios
Once you’ve decided to launch a campaign on a crowdfunding site, the first step is to choose which platform suits your needs. Some of the most popular options are Kickstarter, Indiegogo and GoFundMe, but these choices all come with stipulations and parameters that may or may not work with your goals. Take time to research each site, read through their frequently asked questions and see how well similar campaigns are performing. One big decision you’ll need to make is whether to choose an all-or-nothing approach, where projects that don’t meet their goals get none of the pledges.
You’ll also want to do the bulk of your planning well before you launch the campaign. Entrepreneur magazine recommended that you start spreading the word about your goals to your patrons and supporter six months before you go live on a crowdfunding site.
Another best practice is to offer more than just a thank-you email to your donors. You can encourage parents and students to contribute by offering a discount on next season’s tuition or on studio merchandise. This is also a good way to ensure your re-enrollment rates will be high!
Tips for Success
After your launched your campaign, it’s important to stay on top of managing it. After all, you probably won’t meet your goals if you set up the account, then forget about it. Here are some tips to keep in mind as your promote your fundraiser.
Post your crowdfunding page to social media accounts, and encourage dedicated patrons to share the link.
Don’t be afraid to share the campaign with local arts groups who could generate interest in your cause.
People respond well to visuals, so include pictures and videos in your campaign.
Find out what promotional tactics work, then adjust your strategy accordingly.
Collect donor emails and give them updates after your campaign is complete. Many people will be happy to see what they helped create.
Teachers make a profound impact on the world. Whether you’re teaching math, science, music, art or dance, you’re helping children to find their passions, boost their skill sets and follow their dreams. While dance instructors might not be able to explain algebra and math teachers can’t demonstrate tombes, that doesn’t mean the different professions can’t borrow a note from each other’s books. Here are five dance teacher ideas that can be borrowed from from school teachers for application in the studio.
1. Listening to Instructions
It doesn’t matter what subject you’re teaching – if your students don’t listen to instructions, they won’t properly grasp the lesson. That’s why both school and dance instructors have to learn how to capture the attention of their students and deliver clear directions. Edutopia recommended that, from day one, teachers establish behavioral expectations when they’re talking to the class. Don’t begin giving instructions until there’s complete silence and you have the full attention of each and every student.
2. Varying Teaching Methods
School teachers quickly learn that all students have different learning styles. You’ll likely encounter similar challenges in the studio, so it’s a good idea to have a few strategies for teaching your dancers. When you keep things fresh, you’ll also make classes fun and interesting for everyone, and hopefully prevent boredom from turning into behavioral problems.
“The more a teacher varies his or her methods to get all types of students involved, the fewer behavior problems he or she will encounter,” Walker School psychologist Neal Clark, M.A., explained to Scholastic.
Even when you have a great lesson plan, it’s best to have a few alternative activities up your sleeve that teach the same skills in different ways. You never know what’s going to be a hit – or fall flat – with students.
3. Collaborating for Success
Another lesson that students need to learn is how to work as a team. Your dancers will have to be able to rely on and trust one another if they want to give amazing performances, so don’t skimp on collaboration activities. Explain to your students the role that teamwork plays in success – both in the studio and outside of it.
4. Getting Parents Involved
Parents shouldn’t just be the vessels that drop dancers off at the studio. Education World explained that parental support can really accelerate a student’s progress in the classroom. Not to mention that parents are amazingly helpful when it comes to fundraising, competition transportation, chaperoning field trips and helping out at recitals. Studio owners and dance instructors should work to build strong relationships with their students’ parents, as it will be beneficial to all parties.
5. Having Fun Along the Way
Any teacher will tell you that it’s just as important for you to have fun as it is to make class fun for the kids. When everyone enjoys time spent in the studio, it will make learning a positive, rewarding experience and keep dancers coming back for more.
Whether you’re collecting money to attend a dance competition or pay for a studio field trip, dance fundraising can certainly be hit or miss. Some years you might exceed your goals, while others you end up losing money. If you plan to do some dance fundraising at your studio this year, use these tricks to optimize your earnings and reduce headaches along the way.
Be Open about the Process
It’s best to keep your dance fundraising efforts pretty transparent, especially when it comes to how the money will be used. Dance Teacher magazine noted that many times conflict will arise because parents or dancers think it’s unfair that certain people do the brunt of the work but everyone reaps the benefits. If you can be forthcoming about what the benefits of participating in the fundraiser will be and how the money will be delegated, you may be able to mitigate conflict.
“Be sure to do preplanning and have it all lined up as to how it’s going to work and how the money will be divided, before you approach the parents,” Mary Myers, director of The Dance Connection in Oklahoma, told Dance Teacher magazine.
More Hands Are Better
If you have four or five volunteers trying to run a dance fundraising event for a hundred people, chances are that everyone will be frustrated and overworked. The more people that help out with your cause, the easier the process will be. However, many studio owners don’t like to make participation mandatory. If you can find a way to incentivize students and parents to volunteer, chances are that you’ll be able to host a more impressive event. One option is to let students earn credits for each hour they help out, and let them put credits toward different rewards like discounts on dance attire or private practice time.
Don’t Rely on Traditional Methods
On a Dance Mom forum, a number of individuals noted that traditional fundraising techniques, such as hosting special parties, holding raffles and selling knickknacks, don’t collect enough money to offset the costs and time. Instead of falling back on your usual fundraising method that garners average results, think outside the box and come up with a fun and engaging strategy. Scholastic recommended holding a garage sale, staging a dance-off or running a funny contest. It’s also helpful if there’s a way for people to donate money online, so they’re not limited to the cash they have on-hand during your event.