Technology is imperative for managing a community chorus in the 21st century.
There are several technological systems out there that help community choruses solve their day-to-day challenges. But with tight budgets, choruses don't always plan to include these systems in their budget.
This article will walk you through the different systems your chorus should have and how much you should budget. We hope this helps you get technology included in next season's budget!
Every chorus is different and every budget is different. Currently, there is rather limited information about budgeting in our niche industry. I've made several assumptions based on the knowledge and experience I have in the choral industry as well as some online research. The recommendations in this article are only meant to be used as benchmarks and guidelines to help you make more educated decisions when budgeting.
"Industry" Benchmarks for Choral Technology Budgets
Community choruses operate in an incredibly niche industry so it can be pretty tricky to establish "industry benchmarks" for budgeting purposes. So, we must look to other industry benchmarks and best practices to guide us.
In 2014, the Nonprofit Technology Staffing and Investments Report showed that nonprofits spent an average of 3.2% of their budget on technology.
However, according to a study done by Deloitte Insights, in 2017 nonprofits averaged a bit higher, spending 5.77% as a percentage of revenue on technology. This is a significant increase (almost double!) even in just three years from the aforementioned report from 2014.
We'll almost certainly be seeing an increase in technology spend in 2020. One recent study from Gartner projects that technology spend will grow an additional 3.7% in 2020.
So what does this mean? It means that nonprofit organizations will likely be spending somewhere in the ballpark of 5-10% on technology in 2020, and maybe even more in 2021! If your chorus's operating budget is $100K, then you may plan on spending between $5,000-$10,000 on technology.
Recommended Budgets for Each Technological Solution
So what technology do you actually need for your chorus? Using our ultimate tech stack article as a guide, here's a breakdown of technological line items you might wish to include in your budget.
Website - Estimated Budget $300
Choruses need a content management system to house their public website. Luckily, websites are incredibly affordable. You can expect to spend anything from $0-$500/year on web builders such as SquareSpace or Wix.
If you have volunteers to manage your website, you won't need to budget for website design and maintenance. Larger choruses may want a more robust website which could require a web designer and manager. These can be costly ranging from several thousand dollars to a full-time salary! Most community choruses likely will not need to pay for these types of services.
In addition, you will likely wish to purchase a unique domain for your website. Most domains cost only $10-$15/year.
Web analytics tools can also come in handy when analyzing the success of your website. For most choruses, Google Analytics or your content management system can give you a good analytical starting point. Larger choruses with bigger budgets may want to budget in additional analytics tools such as Crazy Egg or Hotjar.
Email Marketing Software - Estimated Budget $200
You'll likely need email marketing software in order to stay in touch with your patrons. These solutions are priced based on the features you'll need as well as the amount of contacts you'll need to store.
Most choruses won't need to spend much on this. Around $200/year can get you pretty far with an option like Mailchimp. But more complex, larger choral organizations may require something more robust which can cost up to $3,600/year.
Donor Management Software/CRM - Estimated Budget $500-$3,000
Donor management software can serve as the primary CRM for nonprofits. In business, CRMs are essential to operate the company and to keep track of all contacts and prospects. It's probably one of the most essential technologies any nonprofit can purchase for their organization. And choruses are no different since we rely heavily on relationships to grow
Donor management software is typically priced based on how many contacts your organization stores. If you add up the number of members, ticket buyers, donors, email subscribers, and prospects you have, how many are there? The more contacts you have, the more expensive the service typically is.
My guess is that a majority of choruses have less than 15,000 contacts. With this in mind, I estimate that choruses will spend anywhere from $500-$5,000/year depending on the service you purchase. This estimate is based on comparing services like NeonCRM, Kindful, and Network for Good.
It's important to note that there are free donor management software options out there, but they are typically limited in functionality (like anything that is free or inexpensive typically is). If you are a very small chorus with only a handful of donors, ticket buyers, and members, then a free option may be better suited for you. There are also high-end options that can cost up to $10,000/year.
Because a CRM/donor management software is so crucial for nonprofits, it's no surprise that it's more expensive than other types of technological solutions!
Online Ticketing Solutions - Estimated Budget $100
Online ticketing solutions are usually "free" to use but charge ticketing fees for every ticket sold.
Usually these ticketing fees include a fixed cost per ticket and a percentage of the ticket fee. Plus, there is a standard payment processing fee for credit card use which usually includes a fixed cost and percentage cost.
Here's a sample estimate of ticketing fees from various ticketing solutions out there:
- Estimated ticket processing fee per each ticket sold: $0.50-$3.50 per ticket
- Estimated ticket processing fee as a percentage of ticket value: 2%-3.5%
- Estimated credit card processing fee per transaction: $0.30 per transaction
- Estimated credit card processing fee as a percentage of cost: 2.7%-3.5%
With some technological solutions, choruses will need to eat the ticketing fees. In this instance, you can see right away why it's incredibly difficult to estimate a budget needed for ticketing solutions. You would need to know how many tickets you sell in a year for each ticket type sold. You would also need to know what your payment processor charges for credit card transactions and calculate out their fees. Basically, it's a nightmare to estimate.
However, some ticketing services give choruses the option to pass along all ticketing fees to the buyer. If you pass along the fee to the buyer, then you could actually use online ticketing solutions entirely for free since the buyer will be paying the fees. This is a good option to start with so that you can get an online ticketing solution up and running as soon as possible. As you gather data, and learn more about your ticket buyer behaviors and how much money you are processing, then you can start to determine whether it makes sense to eat the fees moving forward.
As a side, note even though these services are free, sometimes you have to pay for hardware (credit card processing machines) to process ticket sales payments at the door. So, I'm estimating $100 that you'll need for that type of hardware.
Accounting & Payroll Software - Estimated Budget $300
There are plenty of affordable accounting software options available to nonprofit organizations. Pricing is based on the features you'll need to use and often offer optional add-ons such as payroll services.
$700/year is on the higher end of accounting and payroll services. I estimated most choruses can get away with a smaller, less robust package of Quickbooks, Zipbooks, or similar. So, I think you could reasonably budget $300/year to start!
Project Management Software - Estimated Budget $0
Choruses have a lot of details to plan, projects to coordinate, and people to manage.
Project management software and/or volunteer management software might be something the chorus needs to help stay organized. Luckily, there are plenty of options like Trello and ClickUp that are free to use and still are incredibly useful! So, we can budget $0 for this — hooray!
Chorus Management Software - Estimated Budget $240-$1,500
Chorus management software serves primarily in the function of a membership management system for choruses. How you communicate with your chorus, how you organize and report on your member data, and how you streamline operations: this is what chorus management software helps you do.
Because chorus management software is an internal site for your members, pricing is typically determined by the number of users you need to have login to the system. This usually includes all your singers, board members, staff, and volunteers (as well as parents, in the case of children's choirs). In addition, some services limit the basic features in the system and offer add-on features for an additional cost.
The most inexpensive options come in around $240 for the year and the max spend is up to $5,000 a year if you have an organization with up to 2,000 users (I know most of you don't!).
Most community choruses in the U.S. fall under the 200-user category (the overall mean of singers in community choruses is 173 singers — according to Chorus America's 2018 Chorus Operations Survey). So, the range I've given above of $240-$1,500 assumes you have up 25-200 users. For larger organizations, you'll want to budget more.
Vice Chorus Connection's pricing page for an even more accurate budget based on your chorus's size.
How Much Should Your Chorus Budget for Technology?
As you can tell, there are many factors that go into estimating your chorus's technology budget:
- What type of content management system do you need for the unique needs of your chorus?
- How many contacts do you need to house in your CRM?
- How many contacts do you need to store in your email marketing system?
- Are you willing to pass on ticketing fees to the buyer?
- What features do you need in your accounting software?
- How large is your membership?
It's almost impossible to know what every chorus is going to need. But based on some assumptions, we can give you an estimate. My assumptions are:
- You are willing to use volunteers to manage your website and use a content management system such as SquareSpace.
- You have less than 15,000 contacts needed to be stored in your CRM.
- You have less than 100,000 contacts in your email marketing system.
- You are willing to pass on the ticketing fees to the buyer and will only pay for ticketing hardware.
- You need the highest level of accounting software functionality which includes payroll, 1099 processing, bank integrations, and more.
- Your membership is under 200 members which include - singers, staff, board members, and volunteers.
With these assumptions, I put your technology budget somewhere in the $1,640-$5,400 budget range.
If your chorus is less complex, has less singers to manage, has less patrons to communicate with, and needs less to operate, than your budget can be reduced. If your chorus is larger and more complex, then your technology budget will likely need to increase.
So, let me ask: does this successfully fall within 5-10% of your total operating budget?
Technology Budgeting Tips for Choruses
Don't be afraid to ask companies for their nonprofit pricing. In the case of email marketing systems, ticketing services, or accounting software, you can actually save a bit of money by asking about this. However, for companies that primarily cater to nonprofit organizations such as donor management software or chorus management software, you probably won't get very far asking for nonprofit pricing since most of their clients are nonprofits and the prices are already reflective of that.
Choose sustainable technological solutions that are easy to use. Choose solutions that require less tech-savviness than others. You'll likely be working with non-technical volunteers in the long-run and need to be able to effectively administer these solutions with those types of people. It's expensive to budget for technical help so it's much more cost-effective to choose easy-to-use solutions anyway!
Get technology in the budget as soon as possible. If you don't have a line item in your budget for technology, get that in your budget as soon as possible. Go, add it. Right now — before you forget! It's a lot easier to get technology approved when you've already budgeted for it than trying to add it later after the budget has been approved. Leave yourself a little wiggle room in the budget too so you can find the best solutions for your chorus.
In summary, all choruses need technology in order to operate. You should plan to budget approximately 5-10% of your operating budget for technology. In most cases, the cost you spend on technology will fall within reasonable industry benchmarks for technology spend.
While I cant perfectly calculate your technology needs and budget items, because each of your choruses are unique, I hope this gives you some guidelines for budgeting. Best of luck with next season's budgeting!
Tori Cook is the Director of Sales & Marketing at Chorus Connection. She sings with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and is a board member of the Greater Boston Choral Consortium. In a past life, she was the Music Director of the Harborlight Show Chorus and President of Chorus pro Musica in Boston. When not making music, she daydreams about adopting a golden retriever puppy and scuba diving to exotic locations around the world.