Banding together to make a difference

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — When five Raleigh friends got together on Sept. 11, 2001, to watch the news about the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., they decided to try to do something to support survivors’ families.

Their solution was Band Together for Our Heroes, a live concert in downtown Raleigh two months later that featured four bands, included two firefighters from New York City, attracted 1,300 guests and raised $56,000 for the Survivors Fund.

A year later, the friends formed Band Together, a nonprofit that would use live music to raise money, particularly from the business community, to support disaster relief and local nonprofits.

Typically partnering with a single nonprofit each year, Band Together has donated nearly $5.5 million to local nonprofits and become the largest charitable music event in the Southeast.

In 2005, it raised $175,000 for Raleigh-based Stop Hunger Now to provide relief for victims of the tsunami in South Asia, and $47,000 for the Raleigh-based Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina to provide relief in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

In recent years, it has developed a strategy it calls “partnership philanthropy,” working closely with an annual partner to raise money together and strengthen their respective organizations.

“We invest ourselves into that organization, and they invest themselves into ours, working for a year in a major campaign that ends in a massive concert,” says Danny Rosin, a co-founder of Band Together and owner of Brand Fuel, a promotional advertising firm in Research Triangle Park.

The goals each year for both partners are “not only to raise funds and awareness, but also to learn better nonprofit skills,” says Rosin, a self-described “uber fan of live music,” who served until four years ago as Band Together’s volunteer director and until a year ago as its board president. He now heads its advisory board, which raises over 60 percent of its funds.

This past year, Band Together’s partnership with StepUp Ministry in Raleigh — the two groups also partnered in 2010 — raised $2 million.

Band Together raised $500,000 of the total through a series of fundraising activities, including a live concert on June 27 at the Red Hat Amphitheater in downtown Raleigh, and StepUp raised $1.5 million. Each had challenged the other to raise those totals.

StepUp, an interfaith nonprofit founded in 1988 that works to equip low-income and homeless people with skills to live independently, plans to use the funds to open a Durham operation in August, to create StepUp North Carolina to oversee the startup of new StepUps throughout the state, and to support the original StepUp in Raleigh.

The partnership with Band Together helped boost awareness of StepUp throughout the Triangle and helped it raise money by treating the partnership like a capital campaign with a specific focus, in this case expanding to Durham and eventually other communities, says Linda Nunnallee, executive director of StepUp Raleigh.

Band Together, which counts on volunteers to handle most of its fundraising and concert planning and logistics, is an “open-source” nonprofit, Rosin says, sharing donor information with its annual partner, visiting prospective donors together, and co-branding marketing materials.

Rosin, for example, brought Nunnallee on a fundraising visit to Cargill, a Band Together funder, which agreed to give $10,000. Band Together gets 15 percent of the net proceeds of funds the partnership raises to support its operations, and StepUp receives the remainder.

“Together we’re better,” Rosin says.

Band Together picks its annual partner based on an intensive vetting process, operates rent-free in its partner’s offices, and works with its partner to strengthen the leadership of their respective organizations.

“We want to leave our partners better than we found them,” says Matt Strickland, who became Band Together’s first executive director and paid employee in 2011.

Now, Band Together aims to increase the value of its annual concert for donors and sponsors, such as improving VIP networking opportunities for their clients, employees and vendors.

And it is looking for ways to provide smaller nonprofits with some of the funds its annual partnerships raises, and possibly help build those smaller groups’ organizational “capacity,” Rosin says.

“There are smaller agencies doing great work that we want to support,” he says.

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