Amanda Palmer, image by Steve Jurvetson, Creative Commons

For those of you who’ve worked with me or met me at one of our Theatre Maker Meet-Ups, you’ll know that I can’t help but have a little grumble about arts funding. My gripes aren’t usual ones though:

I think we’ve become too depndent on the idea that people will fund us.

Grants are understandably our first thought because they’re organisations that have stood up and said – “We value the arts and we have money” – which most of other avenues on this list don’t shout.

I think grant funding is a great and wonderful thing, but in my conversations with people about money, I often hear that you are annoyed that people won’t fund your work.

That’s not unjustified. Good work may not get funded for a huge range of reasons. The application forms require (although it has been made easier for some) a certain knack to fill out. The time it takes for funding to be approved can be crippling (especially if you have no buffer and unpredictable cash flow) while you’re encouraged to make the nth rewrite.

Being annoyed about that if fine. But it’s sensible to diversify. Eggs and baskets and all that.

So here’s my guide to what kind of income you can generate without grant money.

Scan this list and think about which could be right for your theatre company so the next time someone rejects your application you know it isn’t your only port of call.

This is the first of three posts about different methods for funding your work. Sign up to The Inside Track to be the first to read the next instalment.

Major Donors

What: This is every theatre makers wet dream. A wealthy someone who sees the value in you and writes you a cheque to make it happen.

How: You need to know wealthy people. This means networking. And by networking I mean making sincere and genuine friendships. They may want to invest in you as an artist and in your work as an extension to support your genius – or they may want to help the people only you can help, or perhaps they want the status of philanthropy.

Pros: Lump sums for you to spend more or less freely. Easy to maintain high quality relationships with fewer people. The money is a donation so can be gift-aided. They can probably write it off their tax too.

Cons: Your patron has to be happy with the output and stay happy. You need to ensure they are getting the emotional validation they want. That’s different for everyone so you need to make sure they always feel loved. It can be a lot of hard work to meet these people and build genuine relationships. You need to be socialising in the places where these people are. It also takes time. You also have to be good at asking.

Minor Donors

What: These are people who make small donations through any channel

How: Rattle a bucket at the end of your show. Run a crowdfunding campaign. Ask everyone you know for a pound or run a regular-giving campaign.

Pros: Allows anyone in your life who want to support you to do so and doubles as marketing for your shows. You can ask in lots of different ways and it allows people who can’t give a lot to still give. The money is a donation so can be gift-aided. Unless stated, you can do what you want with it.

Cons: Donor fatigue sets in if you ask too often. It can be a lot of hard work and potentially  be hard to rely on because you may over-estimate your appeal. It requires a lot of leg work as the key is asking a lot of people. Emphais on both ‘asking’ and ‘a lot’.

Ticket Sales

What: Selling tickets! (Money in exchange for an experience)

How: Speak to you venue – can you sell Gold, Silver and Bronze seating? That’s great if some seats have better sight lines.

An extension of this is packages. What can you include that includes things they wouldn’t normally buy where you make a profit from the base cost (and potentially they make a saving on the price). Drinks? Snacks? Merchandise? What about fringe benefits such a signed copy of the program or a backstage tour? Things that money can’t buy.

You can sell tickets in advance which guarantees you money.

If you don’t have a venue yet – why not sell tickets anyway with the understanding that if they can’t do the date you’ll give them a full refund? You can then use this number of pre-bought tickets to show a venue that you’re a sure thing. If your ticket buyer can’t make the show (and you’re charming) then maybe they’ll donate the ticket price or defer it to another run. This is essentially a loan or a donation which can help with cashflow.

If you’re *very* certain of your cashflow and the venue hasn’t opened their box office yet, you can spend the ticket money before the theatre takes a cut on setting up the production, so when your auxiliary income kicks in you can run it through the box office for them to take their %.

Also consider 3rd party sellers – people who sell your tickets for you and take commission. Again, check with the venue, but it can give you wonderful reach if you know really clearly who your audience is and the platform you’re considering can show you that they target them.

Some venues may allow you to add on a donation to the ticket price – but this is not common.

Pros: It’s a very clear exchange. They get something in return for the money and it’s your core service! If you have a flexible, willing venue you can include all sorts of things into the ticket price package – you just have to make sure that your core audience want those things. Mum, Dad and hipsters may love a First Edition script signed by the cast – afterwork 30 somethings may not – but would love a mug with an inspiring quote on it for the office because someone has nicked theirs.

Cons: This can make things very complicated and the venue box office may not be able to handle package sales or different tiers of tickets – it depends what system they have. The logistics of who gets what, how, and when can be a headache (make sure you have a good contract and great communication) and you also need to ensure you get the manpower to deliver 50 mugs, 5 signed programs and a t-shirt correctly to those who ordered them. If you’re putting a price on intangible benefits, then you need to make sure the purchaser feels that it (or you) is worth the amount that was charged. This is all about conveying value and setting the right expectations.


What: Selling things that are associated with the show or the company  with your branding on it. Even better if they are items that can’t be got anywhere else (like quote mugs).

How: If you are a big name in your field then a purse with your logo on it may be great. If you don’t have that kind of sway – take quotes from the play and print them on things or create some beautiful artwork to print on a mug or a diary.

There are lots of online businesses which are happy to create something custom for you.

If you don’t mind P&P you can also sell them through your website, etsy or ebay.

Pros: You can make a tidy margin on products. It’s expected culture at the West End so you audience won’t be thrown by it. It allows people who care about you another opportunity to give you money (who potentially don’t want to donate). It can be a wonderfully personal experience, as Amanda Palmer has found. It shows potential donors or investors that you are working smart to generate income and is actually rather a lovely and fun thing to do. You can wrap them into packages (e.g. It costs £4 to make a mug, you normally charge £8, but you sell a package with a ticket (£10) for £16, they save £2 and you make £2.)

Cons: If they don’t sell you may be out of pocket and/or have lots of units lying about your home that nobody wants. It requires an up-front investment. It also requires a good designer so people actually want to own these things – and a good eye for how things will appear in real life so you get the quality you need.

Personal Investment

What: Your own money

How: All businesses start with money from the founder – just remember to log everything (refreshments at rehearsals, travel costs) as well as your time that you’re working into your budget. This is so you know just how much of yourself you are investing financially from not doing other work. It also helps you put the bar higher over the longer term for the amount of  money you need to earn – if you’re aiming for £15K instead of £10K you may be more inventive with fundraising because then you get to pay yourself!

Pros: It’s predicable. Hopefully you’ve earned it doing something else you enjoy. You can spend it how you like. You can show this to other potential supporters as your faith in the project and they’re more likely to risk their money if you’re risking yours.

Cons: If you don’t enjoy earning it then it’s not sustainable. People may not see a self-funded company as successful. You ideally want to be making a profit from your performance work rather than the performance making a profit off you. If you work too much earning money you can’t spend as much time on your theatre company and if it comes from a partner/family, you need to make sure they’re genuinely happy to support you and figure out what the emotional cost is on your relationship.


We hope that’s poked your brain a bit! Sign up to The Inside Track for instant access to Part 2 where we’ll be looking at Sponsorship, Corporate Social Responsibility and Fundraising next so stay tuned.

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