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November 18, 2022

Six steps to creating a passion-filled virtual fundraiser

by Jessica Cohen

Funds.

Every organization needs them, no matter what kind: animal shelters, Planned Parenthood, Everytown for Gun Safety, food banks, and even BraveMaker. They all need money to continue doing their important work. The problem is raising the money. It can be hard to convince even the most big-hearted people that your cause is worth five, ten, or even one hundred dollars of their hard-earned money. How do you do it?

Take a sixteen-year-old musician, plunk them down in front of Facebook Live, and have them play some songs for an hour on a Sunday, hoping some charitable soul will come along and support their cause, and have fun in the process! 

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That time I raised over $1000 for Planned Parenthood. It’s such a beautiful feeling when you realize people do care about what you’re fundraising for.

I’ve had the experience as this sixteen-year-old musician five times so far, on behalf of all the organizations I mentioned above. Yes, it may seem meager; how would one hour on Facebook Live raise anything other than twenty dollars from your own parents? Trust me, I thought the same thing until I saw $1,000 raised for Everytown for Gun Safety (not to mention it was matched that weekend to a total of $2,000). Ok, I thought. This was fun, and it raised some money for an important cause. When’s my next concert?

I have continued to look for new organizations for which I could do a virtual Facebook Live concert, my latest being two fundraisers for BraveMaker: one on Facebook for “Go Veronica Go,” the other on Instagram for BraveMaker’s short film “The Crossing Guard,” of which I recently have recently been a PA on. Sure, I didn’t make $2,000 dollars, or even $1,000, or even $500, but anything is something in this business. $100 could be used to feed a crew, $50 could be used on some props, hell, even $10 can contribute to the production in a meaningful way. 

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Sometimes donations are matched, which is a perfect time to do a fundraiser. Everytown is a wonderful organization, I highly suggest you check out their mission at everytown.org.

I absolutely love performing in these fundraisers. I usually do a mix of originals and covers, often musical theater because of how important show tunes are to me. For me, the key is making it personal. Having the audience connect with you and laugh with you and sing with you, even if you can’t hear them. 

Here’s how I usually try to prepare for a virtual live fundraiser:

1. Think of the organization that you want to raise money for. If there’s an organization you care about, no matter how niche, chances are it’s on Facebook. There are so many to choose from. If something’s going on in the world that could shape the organization you choose, embrace that. I did a concert for the Kentucky Humane Society right after a violent, catastrophic tornado swept through much of Kentucky, and raised a decent amount of money. It was on everyone’s mind, and therefore it was the perfect time to do it. I did my Planned Parenthood fundraiser in September 2021, right after Texas passed a controversial law banning most abortions after six weeks, and I raised a good amount. If it’s something you care about and you know others will too, go for it!

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Just a handful of organizations with the word film in the title! There are HUNDREDS, even THOUSANDS, of organizations around the world you can donate to or raise money for. You’ve got a lot of choices.

2. Pick a date and time. My pattern has almost always been Sundays from 1 to 2 PM CST, a day and time when many relax at home, around lunchtime. You’d be surprised how many people like listening to music while they eat, even if they’re not looking at the screen. Find a time that works for you, but avoid a time when people you know are busy, such as weekday mornings. Use your judgment!

3. Make the event and share it. My mom (whose account I use for fundraisers because I don’t yet have a personal one) will create an event with the date, time, and organization name, and share it on her page, along with a little blurb about what I’ll be doing. I suggest making it short and sweet, listing the website to the organization because it can truly describe its mission and lots of other information. I’d announce the event at least a week in advance, so you will have time to prepare, and people will have time to mark their calendars.

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My mom’s post promoting my latest fundraiser for “The Crossing Guard,” which I was fortunate to be a part of. Check out Tony’s latest blog about it, it’s very inspiring.

4. Prepare! I have a bad habit of winging it and pulling up chords to various songs during my performance. “I’m improvising!” I always tell the audience. Preparation is very important. I always try to have some kind of list where I can see it, the songs in chronological order of performance (although that often changes, depending on the mood). One piece of advice: it’s much better to have more songs on the list than you think you’ll need. Once I made a list of around ten songs, assuming that would last the hour. Instead, after finishing them, I still had thirty minutes to spare. Put on the list any possible songs you’d feel comfortable singing. Try to stick to songs you’ve tried at least once before with some form of success. I have another bad habit of wanting to experiment with a song I haven’t played yet the whole way through, and ending up cutting it short. Make sure you can finish what you start.

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My typical setup for my fundraisers. It can be as makeshift and creative as you’d like.

5. Communicate! Pretty obvious, but be sure to remind people about your fundraiser every few days so people don’t forget. You want it fresh on their minds. Make sure that there will be at least one person to be there from start to finish, so you know you’re performing to an audience throughout. It’s a performer’s greatest anxiety inducer whenever the viewer count is zero.

6. Do it! As Beetlejuice once said, “It’s Showtime!” Have a cup of water next to you, clear out any clutter in the background, and wear something besides pajamas (unless that’s your style, in which case, you’re an inspiration). Make sure the video and audio are working and start it up! 

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My latest fundraiser for BraveMaker, rocking my “You Are The Story” T-shirt.

A note to remember: even if you don’t raise any money, know that you did a good thing. You put valuable time and effort into your fundraiser because you care. Feel good about what you accomplished! Most people say and don’t do; you did! 

Even if you never end up doing a fundraiser, I hope you’ve gained a little insight into my preparation. Everyone who does these sorts of concerts has their own method, and I’m not by any means a fundraising wizard. The next time someone you know invites you to their concert, virtual or in-person, try your best to go (or watch); they’ve put a lot of time into it, and they’d be thrilled to see you and know that you are there to support them.

Jessica Cohen

Jessica B. Cohen (she/her) is an actress, writer, musician, singer, aspiring filmmaker, and all-around performer currently living in Austin, TX. She has written multiple screenplays, including a feature, short films, and TV episodes, and hopes to film something of her own in the near future. She won a B. Iden Payne award (excellence in Austin theater) in 2021 for "Best Original Song", and loves all things musical theater (she's currently working on a musical of her own). She has released a few songs on all streaming platforms, which you can look up under "Jessica Brynn Cohen". You can see her in Richard Linklater's Apollo 10 1/2, streaming on Netflix. As a BraveMaker intern, she is so grateful to be a part of its mission for justice, diversity, and inclusion. Follow her on instagram @Jessa.cohen!
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