Choir leaders: never forget this golden financial rule

I decided to write this article because I made a couple of rookie financial mistakes over the last few weeks and they reminded me how important it is to budget properly when we’re managing our choirs. I hope that by reminding myself of a few financial truths, I can help others out too.

The Golden Rule – always budget for everything

If you’re thinking ‘well, duh’, I remind you that I am, at the moment, a cautionary tale, and I like to think that most of the time, I’m pretty on-the-ball when it comes to money. We can all make mistakes and overlook things.

The first of my two recent transgressions was to fail to notice that we were making a loss on the sale of sweatshirts. Our contemporary choir wears branded t-shirts to perform in. We offer a basic printed t-shirt at a low price, but there are also other options for people who prefer a different fit, or something warmer. Our supplier put up the price of the sweatshirts, but I failed to notice and kept the retail price where it was, so once VAT (UK sales tax) was added, we were actually making a loss.

We don’t make a fortune on selling choir t-shirts, but we do add a small mark-up to cover the costs of the admin time, delivery etc. Without that, we’re subsidising the choir out of our own pockets.

Lesson re-learned: Costs change. Keep an eye on them!

My second error was potentially more financially damaging. My choir was recently invited to take part in quite a prestigious event. There’s no money in it at all for us, not even expenses, but I want the choir to take part because it will be an amazing experience.

Because not everyone in the choir will be taking part, I decided that it would best to rehearse for this event separately, and I blithely arranged four extra rehearsals for those taking part.

In the excitement and the flurry of activity that followed the invitation, I overlooked something important. This project is going to cost money. Quite a bit of it, in fact. Even if I’m prepared to work for nothing to get this done (and I am up to a point – it’s a fantastic opportunity), our extra rehearsals will incur the cost of the venue, our accompanist and refreshments. Plus, there’s the printing and the extra admin, and the travel costs of getting to the event and back.

If I had been running a workshop series, I would have prepared a budget as a starting point. Anyone booking a place would pay a fee. Because this opportunity arose out of the blue, I worked my socks off to get things ready for the first rehearsal and never thought about money once! At the session, several of my singers asked what they should pay and when. Clang! I realised my mistake.

I just had to ‘fess up and admit what I’d done. Everyone was very understanding and paid their share without demur, but I felt awful – unprofessional and scatty. It’s not how I want my choir to see me.

Lesson re-learned: Always do a budget, even when something is super-exciting and you don’t want to think about money.

So there you have it. A mea culpa from me that I hope might inspire a bit of financial reviewing in others. I will certainly be keeping a closer eye on the purse-strings in future.

Comments on Choir leaders: never forget this golden financial rule

  1. mm I’m not sure about the start point of all this…

    “Prestigious Events” usually have budgets attached to them and organisers will be allocating those budgets. I get rather exasperated by the number of times our choir is invited to things that are plugged as “a great opportunity for the choir” but essentially are providing a large event organiser with a free community choir – so they can tick the box of inclusion and entertainment in one.

    I think it sends an unfortunate signal to event organisers to take on gigs like this without asking for at least a small contribution to the choir’s costs – and devalues the sector as a whole.

    I would always urge choir directors to have a conversation with event organisers about the costs involved for the choir – even if there really is no cash left in the pot. Otherwise we end up prospering a mis-guided belief that event organisers can secure high-quality, reliable community input without giving back anything that helps those same communities to be sustainable in the longer term.

    I should also say that I very much appreciate your honesty and transparency about what you find works and what doesn’t.

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Hi Tania

      Thanks for your comment. I agree with you and, in my defence, I did have that conversation with the organisers. I always make it clear to organisers that there are costs involved in providing a choir for an event. Even if the event is charitable, and I want to support it by working for free, I make sure that the organisers know that I am donating my professional time and I ask for any direct costs to be covered.

      On this occasion, I decided that the additional publicity that we would gain from the event made it worth going ahead with, even without any direct financial reward or compensation. I don’t think I’ve devalued anything by doing that.

      1. Avatar Dyrck says:

        Tania makes a good point which I think reflects on the whole issue of music making being undervalued. I am not a paid choral director, I do it for the fun and friendship but when my choir is asked to sing at a charity event that we want to support, I usually ask to be paid (£250 is usual) and then return the money as a donation. This, I hope, helps to establish at least some value in what we do, even if it does sometimes seem a bit futile.

        1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

          Hi Dyrck. I certainly agree with you that musicians in general are undervalued, particularly singers, in my opinion. I think there’s a general feeling in the minds of non-musicians that singers are fortunate, rather than skilled. When people hear me perform as a soloist, I often get comments along the lines of ‘you’re so lucky to have a beautiful voice’, rather than ‘you must have worked so hard to develop that voice’. Perhaps that feeds into an idea that singing, more than playing an instrument, is essentially vocational, rather than professional.

          Tania’s absolutely right that we all have to do our bit to counter that idea. You obviously take the same view as I do that even when you choose to donate your professional time, it’s important that that’s recognised and not taken for granted.

  2. Thank you for this. A really valuable reminder.

  3. So honest and helpful. And so easily done. Thanks for sharing this wisdom. So many times I’ve been caught out by the devil in the detail. But so lovely that your choir was willing to stump up the cash in the end. Says something very positive about your ethos.

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