Playing for the Cause Connects Bands and Their Fans with Charitable Causes

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Mike Tomko and Lynn Cook, music and charity professionals, respectively. - TOM CARLSON
  • Tom Carlson
  • Mike Tomko and Lynn Cook, music and charity professionals, respectively.

"I've been in fundraising a long time, and when you have people happy and in front of you, they're more likely to give you money," says Lynn Cook, founder and executive director of Playing for the Cause, a newly christened 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in St. Louis. PFTC, which was awarded a $25,000 grant from Washington University through the school's Youthbridge Community Foundation in May, works as a middleman between bands looking to make charitable gifts and the many nonprofits in cities around the country.

The seeds for the project were sown in June 2013, when Cook saw a video released by one of her favorite groups, the Avett Brothers. The YouTube clip "A Day With Bob and Hallie Crawford" shows bassist Bob Crawford with his daughter Hallie as she undergoes cancer treatment and recovery, urging viewers to donate to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Cook was inspired by what she saw, but not in the way the clip intended.

"It was everything that a fundraising video shouldn't be," she explains bluntly. "It was kind of long and sad, and you didn't understand that there were actually some happy things happening in the video. It was just put out there, and they hoped people texted to give $10 in the end."

From here, Cook's project started to take shape, beginning with focus groups and market research, through which she found that people were much more likely to give if the money remained local. And although fundraising through music is nothing new, Cook believes that combining the two in an official capacity will benefit every group involved: the bands, their fans and the charities they support.

PFTC provides gift management for musicians who tour on a national level. A traveling band picks from six broad "causes" at the beginning of a tour -- Animals & Environment, Arts/Culture & Humanities, Community Improvement & Involvement, Education & Research, Health, and Human Services -- and Cook connects the artists to organizations in each city that support that specific category. Funds aren't whisked away to some larger national organization that might only cater to one group; PFTC ensures the money will stay inside the city where it's raised and directly benefit the cause chosen by the band.

"We provide the platform for a band who wants to be philanthropic," says board president Mike Tomko. "We not only connect them with organizations, but we do all the things in between, like printed materials, a text-donation platform, Web donations and things like that. They can very simply ask for money for their cause."

Continue to page two for more.

Cook brought Tomko on to serve as a second set of eyes and ears with roots in the music community. While Cook has experience working in capital campaigns for the nonprofit sector, Tomko is a concert promoter and musician, equipped with all the knowledge that entails. His annual series at the Firebird, An Under Cover Weekend, is wildly successful, and his band, Via Dove, is one of many participants in PFTC. Tomko works as a filter for Cook's goals and helps her to make adjustments that fit the needs of both artists and nonprofits.

"We're trying different things at concerts locally and regionally to work out the kinks," Tomko adds. "We're partnering with a bunch of local bands and treating their fall and winter schedule like a tour of St. Louis. They're not benefit shows -- they're shows with a philanthropic component."

This kickoff campaign is dubbed Giving in Concert, designed to both spread awareness and raise a little money for the project. Bands are asked to mention the program onstage while a street team hands out flyers with details on how to give and where the money goes. Attendees can take the info home or give on the spot through the text-donation system.

"Right now there's not a funding goal," Tomko clarifies. "It's more about what we can learn and improve."

The money raised during the Giving in Concert campaign is split evenly between twelve area nonprofit organizations, carefully selected from a pool of more than 60 applicants. The campaign lasts until February 2015, when Cook and Tomko intend to focus on broader missions.

"We expect to book at least five larger tours at bigger venues like the Pageant or the Ready Room," Tomko says of the foundation's future. "But that's just the start. We'll have smaller events happening, too."

"And to become self-sustaining," Cook adds. "That, too, is a major goal. We'll want to keep going."

For more information, visit playingforthecause.org.

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