Young donors have rhythm

October 1, 2010       Kate Rogers      

Nonprofit leaders have long debated about how to garner support from Gen Y and keep them interested enough to continue giving into adulthood. From The Concert for Bangladesh staged by ex-Beatle George Harrison in 1971 to Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid concerts that started in 1985 and Lilith Fair started in 1997, music has been at the center of advocacy for a long time.

Gen Y artists are now starting to feel the rhythm. Reverb began engaging artists and their fans by setting out on the road for tours. The Portland, Maine-based organization was founded by acoustic-pop group Guster’s Adam Gardner and his wife Lauren Sullivan in 2004, and seeks to minimize the environmental impact of musicians’ tours. Reverb has "greened" 91 national tours at venues that house 15,000 to 20,000 fans.

"As soon as an artist takes a stance with a certain issue, it can amp up the message and ultimately help that issue," said Elliot May, manager of strategic partnerships and the organization’s Campus Consciousness Tour. "Artists have a huge ability to reach a great number of people directly through their concerts, and the environmental movement is huge to youth. We are empowering them to be able to make change from the bottom up."

Reverb’s greening elements on these tours include:

* An on-site greening coordinator at every stop;

* Coordinating biodiesel fueling from local and sustainable stock for touring vehicles;

* Waste reduction and recycling at venues;

* Hospitality and catering coordination of eco-friendly choices backstage, including locally-sourced organic food;

* Green cleaning supplies; and,

* Carbon offsets for calculation and neutralization of carbon emissions created on tour.

The charity also brings out one or two local nonprofits from every stop, exposing music fans to not only its own environmentally conscious mission, but also local groups in need.

"It’s about having a community with these fans," May said. "We want to establish a tradition of giving with a younger audience now, and we also bring in local nonprofits because they will still be there when the tour rolls out of their town."

Through Reverb’s latest Give & Get Campaign, donors who contribute $15 or more receive one of the organization’s 300 donated items, which include T-shirts, posters and autographed memorabilia from the tours with which it has been involved. May said this helps to get younger kids involved without having to donate a lot of cash.

"It’s a super-low buy-in for them," he said. "It’s not about the amount of money we raise, but about how many people participate. We wanted to do something cool to get general music fans and younger donors who don’t necessarily have money, to start giving to our organization."

The campaign had 240 of its 300 donors in a little more than a week, and a matching contribution of $2,500 from musician Ben Harper, May said. The money will go toward local charities Reverb ties in on its greening tours.

To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) began as a local effort to raise money for a Florida girl to go to drug treatment and turned into a global nonprofit. The charity realized its message resonated with music lovers after a friend in the band Switchfoot wore one of its T-shirts at a concert in 2006. The band’s fans searched the Web and began purchasing shirts of their own, and reaching out to founder Jamie Tworkowski to see how they could get involved with the movement.

"We realized, ÔMan, maybe this thing was supposed to exist on a bigger scale,’" Tworkowski said.

The Switchfoot concert opened doors for TWLOHA, which has since worked with a few dozen artists and celebrities. This year, for the fourth consecutive summer, the group traveled on the nationwide Vans Warped Tour, hosting a tent and selling T-shirts. This is how the group developed many relationships with the bands on tour, Tworkowski said. The organization does not sign contracts with artists, and many of its famous supporters have reached out to TWLOHA through MySpace, where the grassroots movement began.

"We are hoping it’s more of a conversation and a friendship," he said of the artists who support and advocate for TWLOHA.

"In speaking directly to our audience, we are really careful with the language we use. It’s more authentic, and we are really connecting with folks," he said.

Music is engrained in the charity’s work, Tworkowski said, because so many of its supporters have a deep love of artistic expression. TWLOHA takes part in more than 200 music-related events each year.

"We really believe music has a unique ability to make us feel alive, and realize it is okay to feel things and ask questions, and the conversation that we represent is oftentimes something that doesn’t get talked about," he said.

T-shirt sales online and on tours brought in $766,000 in 2009 and $1,183,483 in 2008, he said, proving micro-donating can add up, and young people will give to causes they believe in. Contributions were $374,000 in 2009 and an additional $102,000 was raised through speaking engagements. The organization does not actually solicit donations, but instead lists information on its Web site that tells how and where to donate without making formal donation appeals.

The Keep A Breast Foundation is another organization that has reached out to youth through the Vans Warped Tour. The Carlsbad, Calif.-based charity has been on tour with Vans for the past 10 summers, where it showcases and sells merchandise and breast casts, modeled and painted by various musicians. Kimmy McAtee, marketing manager for Keep A Breast, said the tour gives the organization amazing

exposure every summer, and Web traffic often climbs to four times the norm throughout tour season from artists promoting their cause.

"These kids are spending money on what they really care about," McAtee said. "They want to be activists, and are excited to be activists. They want to play a bigger part."

Keep A Breast was on the road for 241 days at nine different music festivals and four tours on various continents during the past year, she said. The average donor is between 14 and 26, and all of the artists they work with are not contracted. Keep A Breast raised more than $500,000 last year, including more than $50,000 from Warped Tour and more than $9,000 from breast cast exhibitions.

Tying in artists such as Pierce The Veil and Angels and Airwaves has helped to spread breast cancer awareness and support for Keep A Breast, because younger donors look up to their favorite artists for advice and inspiration, McAtee said.

Invisible Children has traveled with the Vans Warped Tour for the past four years and has collaborated with artists such as Switchfoot and Fall Out Boy to make PSA-style videos artists play before their sets while touring, said Alexander Collins, tour coordinator. The San Diego, Calif.-based organization has traveled on nearly 20 tours with different artists, reaching approximately 10,000 fans each night since 2007, Collins said.

"The high school-age kids still kind of have that idea that they have the ability to do something big and make a change," he said, which is why the documentary-style videos resonate well with them. "Three out of five times kids will say they heard about us from a band. It’s amazing what we have been able to do through the (music) industry."

Two other musically rooted movements have grown from Reverb — The Green Music Group and the Campus Consciousness Tour. The Green Music Group includes artists like Maroon 5, Willie Nelson and John Mayer, and is a coalition of artists who set out to be leaders in the music industry to set the standards for how large bands should be performing. The group held a 20-week challenge with its nine founding artists to get fans involved with local nonprofits and take serious environmental action by doing something "green" or volunteering with a nearby charity. May said the challenge was for "strictly raising awareness."

Collins said Invisible Children is looking to launch its own music tour in the year to come, and is looking to collaborate with Fender and Gibson to make special edition guitars that will benefit the charity. The Warped tour brought in $37,000 for the organization in 2009 and $28,000 in 2010, Collins said.

"When we tour with these bands, we are constantly meeting new people," he said. "We are extremely grateful to the artists that have us out on the road with them, even these bands that are struggling to make it show their support and get behind us, and that is pretty spectacular." NPT