Christian musicians are always looking for more money to fund their ministries. We need multiple streams of income to pay the bills and increase the number of people we can help bring closer to Jesus. Tour sponsorship (also known as artist programs) is one more tool, one more way to make money, for some Christian musicians. But it is not simply a way to make money for our ministries—it is a way to raise funds for worthy causes.
What is tour sponsorship?
Let’s not confuse tour sponsorship with endorsements. Endorsements are an agreement between your band and another company for the purpose of marketing the other company’s product. In return for your recommendation and the exposure of their products at your shows and on-line they give you discounts and sometimes free stuff. CLICK HERE to read more about endorsements.
Tour sponsorship is also not the same as fiscal sponsorship. Fiscal sponsorship occurs when a non-profit organization extends its non-profit status to a for profit group, usually for a small administrative fee and organizational oversight. CLICK HERE to read more about fiscal sponsorship.
Tour sponsorship is not the same as tour support. Tour support is most often money given directly to artists to help pay for a specific tour. Labels used to give artists money, marketing, and/or equipment when they went on tour to help the artist stay on the road as long as possible to make more money for the label through music sales. Now tour support is often given to artists by way of crowdfunding projects for the tour.
Tour sponsorship, in the Christian market, primarily occurs when an organization pays a musician or band to help raise funds for their organization. You notice this most often when a band stops at the end of their first set and then a speaker (sometimes a band member and other times a representative from the organization) talks about the organization before the band resumes its second set. Some of the most popular organizations want the people in the audience to sponsor a child from an impoverished country, but there are many types of evangelism and humanitarian aid programs available. After the concert the people in the audience are directed to the organizations table (which is usually located right next to the bands merchandise table) where they can sign up to begin sponsorship. Typically the organization pays the band $25 to $75 for each person who signs up with the organization at the show.
Is tour sponsorship ethical?
Some people have a problem with musicians being paid from money that is donated to charitable organizations, especially when that money is meant to be given to help someone in a third world country. While that concept seems noble, the fact is that Christian musicians play a big role is getting money to nonprofit organizations in an extremely cost effective way.
Every non-profit organization has operating costs. They use equipment and products which must be purchased, operate in buildings which must be rented, and they pay staff. These costs come out of the money that is donated to help people. In other words, in every non-profit organization not all money that is donated to help people goes directly to the people. Some of it is used by the organization to operate. Most of the higher quality non-profit organizations use 10-20% of the total donations for operating costs.
Part of every non-profit organizations’ operating costs is marketing and fundraising. Marketing raises awareness of their cause and what the organization does to help. Fundraising is exactly what it sounds like—getting donations. Both marketing and fundraising cost money. Non-profit organizations view these costs as an investment in expanding their income and so, their ability to do more good work. The concept is simple: If no one hears about the organization, no one will donate. The more people who hear about the organization, the more donations the organization will receive. The organizations’ goal is to get the most exposure and income with the least expenses. Christian musicians excel at helping non-profits meet these goals.
Christian bands, especially those who primarily play to Christians, provide non-profits with an audience who are already sympathetic to their cause. This audience is typically much larger than what the organization would have access to if they had simply sent out their speakers alone. This audience is also typically younger people who may not respond to a Sunday morning ‘boring’ presentation but may sponsor their organization for many years when the organization is presented in a way that interests them. Consider from the non-profit organizations point of view: is it more cost effective to send a speaker on the road that may get to speak at one church each Sunday with maybe one or two small meetings during the week or have several Christian bands on the road at the same time to do the work for them? It is far cheaper to help the Christian bands stay on the road as much as possible by paying them a small fee to help with the bands expenses. Most organizations have proven that using Christian bands dramatically cuts their marketing and fundraising expenses while increasing their donations.
When we look at it in this light, we see that Christian bands that get paid using tour sponsorship’s are not taking money from people who need help. They are actually decreasing operational expenses while increasing the income of the non-profit organization so that more money can go to help more people.
So, yes, tour sponsorship is not only ethical but it is honorable. The organization that pays the sponsorship is using its money wisely. The band that promotes the organization is earning money to support its own ministry as well as raising money the non-profit would not be able to raise otherwise.
How do I get tour sponsorship for my music ministry?
The most important aspects of tour support for Christian bands are to find a cause you truly believe in and then find the non-profit organization that is doing the best work within that cause. So, if for example you are most concerned about hunger in your town you could find all the local food banks and figure out which one is doing the best job at helping to alleviate hunger. Note that this is a two pronged approach: you must believe in the cause and you must find the organization that is doing the best job at helping the cause. If you are not fully committed to the cause, your stage presentation will not be authentic. If you choose a poor organization to represent, your ministries reputation will be damaged. So, both aspects are important.
After that, you must be playing out as much as possible. Non-profit organizations want maximum exposure. Band that play the most dates with the largest audiences will be the most attractive to the larger organizations. But, most of us are not national acts. How do we get tour support? Do not focus on attracting national non-profit organizations. Instead try to work with your local or regional non-profit organizations. There are many local food banks, crisis hot-lines, homeless shelters etc. that do not need or want a national platform.
Once you have chosen a cause and an organization that seems to be the best fit for your music ministry, you simply have to talk to a representative from that organization. Call and find out who to talk to and then make an appointment.
What to bring to the meeting:
There is not a standard way to work out tour sponsorship with a non-profit organization. Most of the organizations you may contact will not have worked with musicians before, so they will listen to whatever you suggest. There are no formulas or templates for your presentation at the meeting, but here are some good basics to bring:
• A physical press kit
• A written proposal of how tour sponsorship could work for the band and the organization. Be sure to include how much and how often the band would get paid. Typically, you do not want to propose that the band be paid a flat fee or more than 10% of the total income the band brings the organization.
• A list of your upcoming shows and the number of shows you have played in the past several months.
• Propose a length of time for your tour sponsorship—the next six months for example. After which time both the band and the organization should re-evaluate to determine if the tour sponsorship should continue.
Keep your meeting short as non-profit staff typically have more work to do each day than they can possibly get done. But be sure to answer all the staff members’ questions. Understand ahead of time that non-profits are run by committees and boards. The staff member you meet with will probably not be able to give you an answer until the committees and boards have approved your proposal. Most likely there will be changes made to your proposal which make it easier for the non-profit to keep track of how the money is earned and paid out. So, be sure to tell the staff member that your proposal is simply a starting suggestion and that you are open to changes. At the end of the meeting agree upon a time frame in which you will contact the staff member to answer further questions and get board feedback. You may need multiple meetings with several different people to clearly answer all questions and get approval.
Setting up the system for tour sponsorship
with a local non-profit organization
takes time and patience,
but can be done in a way that benefits
both the band and the non-profit.
If your band isn’t typically playing to audiences in the hundreds and quite a few shows each year working with a local non-profit is a good option.
Tom Jackson has a great system in place for larger organizations: CLICK HERE for more info. Mike Smith also has an opportunity available right now: CLICK HERE for more info. If your band plays many dates each year with larger audiences, these will be good resources to explore.
And then what?
Tour sponsorship is not a passive stream of income. That means your band will actively have to work at it to make money. You will have to work with the organization to set up a presentation and a table at each of your shows. Some organizations will already have created the presentation they want you to do, others will not. Most organizations will have a system for signing people up and the resources they want on their table, but some will not. Your band will have to be flexible and constantly improving to present the most effective presentation at every show. But in the end, you are representing the non-profit organization, so you will be required to do the presentation in whatever way they think is best.
Tour sponsorship is good stewardship for both the band and the non-profit organization. It does require a good relationship and good communication between the band and the non-profit organization. Tour sponsorship takes work, but it really does work to benefit the band, the non-profit organization and the people they seek to help.
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