Bands Give Back

Photo courtesy of the CSU Marching Band

Students and marching bands as a group donate their talent and time to support charitable organizations. By helping others, they have found that they can improve themselves as well.

Even though the marching arts depend so much on fundraising to survive, many bands are taking the time to raise money for helping others.

Bands and marching organizations are coming up with creative new ways to participate in philanthropic activities— from participating in existing events as a group, to dedicating a halftime show, playing a benefit concert, or hitting the streets and volunteering.

A Halftime Helping Hand

University marching bands are using their most basic function—a halftime show—as a vehicle for philanthropy. At Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins, the band raised money to rebuild a home that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Dr. Christopher Nicholas, who is in his first year as director at CSU, wanted to get the band involved in some kind of charity. He partnered with the St. Bernard Project, an organization that rebuilds homes for Katrina survivors, and the Fort Collins Musicians Association to bring the Dirty Dozen Brass Band to perform at halftime and at a nighttime concert.

“I’m really interested in how groups like a marching band can affect change by using their resources to help people,” Nicholas says. “It was months of planning.”

Nicholas and his students sought out corporate and private donors for the project and to help bring the Dirty Dozen.

“We also had students volunteer to sell jambalaya as a fundraiser,” Nicholas says. “It was great; they sold tickets for the concert at the student center, and the band bought over 200 tickets themselves. They sold out the show, and that was what we had hoped to do.”

In addition, fans at the football game could donate through text messaging as the marching band played with the Dirty Dozen on the field.

“It was the biggest roar I’ve heard at a college stadium for a band,” Nicholas says. “It was off the hook. At the concert itself, it was just amazing; people were coming up to us and saying they had never seen or heard anything like it before.”

The students especially enjoyed the opportunity to perform alongside the Dirty Dozen.

“Because we had the collaboration with the professionals, I thought that was one of the most rewarding things,” Nicholas says. “Seeing the students get the chance to interact with people who are legends and having an awareness of helping people that are less fortunate— that collaboration was really special.”

Marching For Hope

In other parts of the country, marching bands are taking on very broad causes. At the University of Houston and the University of Kansas (KU) in Lawrence, students are collecting sponsorships via the Marching for Hope program to benefit the ALS Association—a not-for-profit organization that fights against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”

“I do not have personal connections to this cause, but one day, I might,” says Kyle Martin, trombone section leader for the KU Marching Jayhawks. “I am going to take away a sense of pride, knowing I made a difference.”

Students collect pledges from friends and family through personalized web pages for a certain halftime show, and fans in the stadium can text in donations during the game as well.

“We are young adults with large social networks, and we should be able to make a huge contribution to the ALS Association when it is all said and done,” Martin says. “I honestly have never done a fundraiser that was as easy as this. The computer has been my best friend in raising $245 so far. I have not initially contacted any potential donor in person or over the phone.”

The KU band, in general, has raised more than $12,000.

The concept of dedicating a performance could be applied for any charity.

“I think it could become a nationwide program for marching bands to support charities,” says Cheryl DeLeonardis, president and CEO of Ocean 2 Ocean Productions, the charitable event organizer that established Marching for Hope. “If it grows big enough, maybe there could be three or four charities they could help.”

Personal Programs

Philanthropy doesn’t necessarily need to be a full band activity to make a difference. At the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., students participate in about a dozen different charity programs through the band.

“The local projects are helping schools in towns that don’t really have music programs and families that can’t afford music lessons,” says Dr. Ken Dye, director of bands at Notre Dame. “We have about 60 students that teach music lessons and run small elementary school bands.”

Notre Dame also collects, repairs and donates old instruments to young students through a program called Horns Reborn. Some of the instruments from this project go to yet another one of their charities, the Jamaica Band project. The Notre Dame band sponsors community marching bands in Kingston, Jamaica, by sending old instruments, used high school uniforms and instructional staff.

“It’s for kids that are easily involved in gang activity—Kingston is a very destitute place; there are all kinds of urban problems,” Dye says. “It is so rewarding seeing the look on the little kids’ faces and their families’; hearing from their parents that they’ve never had this opportunity before, and it’s made them do well in school and get really excited about being a part of something.”

Working Within

Marching groups can also give back by participating in already well-established charity events and organizations. Color guard members are putting their own spin on the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, a walk benefiting breast cancer research and awareness, by starting a team “Colorguard Spin for the Cure.”

Catina Anderson began the project based on a Race for the Cure themed winter guard show performed by students from Broad Run High School in Ashburn, Va., and Heritage High School in Leesburg, Va., in 2006. The group fundraised throughout the season. When she founded the website,, she continued her efforts by reaching out to the general color guard community.

“Throughout the season we set up fundraising tables at our competitions, collected money, passed out literature about prevention and tried to raise awareness in our local community in order to allow our performers to experience how they could use their art and passion,” Anderson says. “It was really powerful. They learned that they had the power to affect people and to make positive change.”

Anderson’s Colorguard Spin for the Cure team still participates in the walk each year and has raised more than $23,000.

Greta Patterson, a member of Assembly Line Winter Guard in Cary, N.C., had heard about Anderson, and soon the two were talking about Patterson starting another team in her area.

“The coordination was a new challenge for me,” Patterson says. “The easiest part was sending out the Facebook group and inviting friends and family members to join us on there, and then it was about getting people to actually sign up.”

Charitable Conflicts

With the marching arts in great need of funding, conflicts of interest may arise between fundraising for your group and fundraising for a charity.

“There were a couple parents who were resistant to the idea of adding more fundraisers and who made it clear that they didn’t want any money diverted from our general funding,” Anderson says. “That’s understandable. Fundraising is the least favorite part of our activity for most participants. So for us, we planned a couple extra events specifically for our project that were separate from the band booster fundraisers.”

At the university level, every school and athletic department wants more money, so there may be roadblocks in raising money through halftime shows. Nicholas and the Colorado State University Marching Band had to be very creative with wording and methods.

“We had to phrase it such that you could text this number if you’d like to lend your support; we couldn’t say donate,” Nicholas says. “They didn’t want to necessarily show the logo of the nonprofit we were supporting either. It wasn’t like a problem, and they didn’t make it difficult, but we had to be a little creative. They have a job to do, too, and if there’s fundraising going on, they want to be the principal entity, but they were very supportive and receptive every step of the way.”

Time commitments for students are always an issue, but in most cases, students have proven to be incredibly enthusiastic and supportive of charity projects.

“We have more student volunteers than we can handle at any given moment; it’s just a question of utilizing their time and keeping it in balance with their academic requirements,” Dye says.

“It has really built a balance into the band program that the students appreciate everything more when they work with people who are in need. They are more respectful, and it really brings out the best in college students.”

Martin at KU has been pleasantly surprised with the personal support and donations he has received, but as section leader he has had some difficulty getting the whole section to participate.

“Personally, I don’t understand how members in my section have not even registered, given the overall ease of this project,” Martin says. “Ultimately it is optional, so the pressure has to be positive. Sometimes I want to shake them and tell them to give it a shot, but I can just keep asking and hope they come around.”

Marching With a Purpose

The experience of giving back stays with students and participants far beyond their marching band days.

“I think it’s important for every one of us as a human being; it’s our duty to help those who are less fortunate,” Nicholas says. “If students can learn that they can change the world for the better right now, I think that they become lifelong philanthropists and people that are concerned with making the world a better place because we have the power to do that.”

Dye expressed a similar sentiment. “When they can help others, it makes them grow and become more appreciative members of society. It’s not that you’re philanthropic for a year or two, but you carry those ideals into your later years.”

In addition, helping the community is a way to thank them for all they’ve given to the marching arts.

“It’s good advertisement for color guard or other marching groups to show that they care,” Patterson says. “I’ve lost my mother and two other family members to breast cancer, and I lost several friends as well, so I figured it’s the least I can do.”

Many believe that marching bands participating in outside philanthropies is a trend that will continue to grow. “It doesn’t have to be about fundraising,” Anderson says. “They can perform, lead programs or participate in local service projects. It doesn’t matter so much what they do as long as the kids get that experience of how a small group of people can make a big difference. Yes, it’s one more thing for coaches to have to plan, but in the end, the experience will pay it forward with rewards that cannot be measured.”

About the Author

Elizabeth Geli is an editorial assistant at Halftime Magazine. She began playing the flute 13 years ago in Placentia, Calif., and marched in the Valencia High School Tiger Regiment. She earned a degree in print journalism from the University of Southern California (USC) and marched in the Trojan Marching Band (TMB) for four consecutive Rose Bowls and Parades. Now she is working on a Master’s in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) at USC and is a graduate teaching assistant and band librarian for the TMB.

About author

Elizabeth Geli

Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor of Halftime Magazine and a journalist/communications professional in Southern California. Her 11 years at the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band included time as a flute player, graduate teaching assistant, and student advocate. She holds a bachelor's degree in Print Journalism and master's degree in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.