NCC Fundraiser by
(206 Stories)

Prompted By Yard Sales

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Jim and Annie

I joined the Newton Community Chorus is September, 2003. NCC is run as a non-profit, and we incur a lot of expenses. We pay dues, which covers the cost of our own music (surprisingly expensive, for those who have never purchased published scores of masterworks before). We pay our conductor and accompanist a fair wage for the weekly rehearsals, all their preparatory work and concerts. We also hire an orchestra for our concerts and provide their sheet music (depending on what we sing, the size of the orchestra varies). We print programs. We are lucky enough to be given free rehearsal space in a local parochial school, due to a friendship between the principal and our director, but we give back to the school in the form a donation to help a scholarship choral student go on their annual European concert tour.

I believe we pay a fee for our concert performance space, which we use for two nights; for our dress rehearsal and concert evening. We need to set up our risers, place all the chairs and music stands for the orchestra, string all the wires for the recording (we do record our concerts and pay for the person who does that. For those of us who help underwrite all of this, the CD is free). Then, of course, we need to break it all down after the concert. Lately, as the age of a typical chorus member increases, we got smart and hired some young, able-bodied people to do the set-up and break-down, but that also added to our costs. These expenses go well beyond what our dues can cover, so we must fund raise.

When I first joined the chorus, we held a large yard sale, organized by a key volunteer group, headed up by the husband and wife seen in my Featured photo. He owned an upholstery business in Newton, so had storage space and a large truck, could store items and transport them on the day of the sale. One of my closest chorus friends was a senior administrator in the Newton Public School District and arranged for us to hold the sale on a Saturday in late October in the parking lot of Newton North High School, which looked out on a major street, so had lots of through traffic, as well as parking.

We spent weeks collecting items for the sale (we tried to make sure it wasn’t filled with junk), put up fliers around town to advertise, put ads in the local paper and tried to spread the news by word of mouth. This was before social media was part of our lives. We all signed up to work shifts throughout a long day and prayed for good weather.

Jim and a few other chorus members truly worked their butts off. I have never been big on yard sales. I haven’t purchased anything ever, or gone to any others, but I combed through my belongings and tried to find some appropriate items to donate and, of course, worked a long shift at each of these to help out.

There would always be the real shoppers who would turn out early, looking for the real treasures. Friends and former choral students of our conductor (who spent his career in the Newton school system, though is now retired) would drop by throughout the day. If the weather was fine, we’d get good turnout. If it was cold or wet, we would’t.

Then we’d have to break the whole thing down and Jim and his truck had to take all the left-over items to some charity and give everything away. It was a huge endeavor every year. We were lucky if we made a few thousand dollars. This lasted for the first few years I was with the chorus. One year we had rain all day and few showed up. That was it. After all our efforts, Jim had to haul everything away, we made little money and had to fundraise in other ways.

Through the years, we have found other means to raise money and the yard sale disappeared from our calendar so long ago that I didn’t yet have a smart phone to record photos of the event. Even Jim and Annie left the chorus years ago. He was an outstanding president and great member of the tenor section. She was an attentive alto, but after the birth of their first grandchild, they filled their free time time with other pursuits, including a lot of babysitting. I miss them, but not the yard sales.



Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Tags: Newton Community Chorus, Newton North parking lot, long ago
Characterizations: well written


  1. Laurie Levy says:

    I’m with you, Betsy, in not missing putting together yard sales to raise money. Fundraising is very hard and it is a shame so many wonderful not-for-profit groups like your chorus have to do it to help defray costs. I was so surprised by the amount of work and expense it takes to keep the Newton Community Chorus afloat. I hope you have been able to raise the funds you need in less labor-intensive ways.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      We go to local businesses and sell ads (of varying sizes, for different amounts) for our program books. These sponsors receive free tickets to our concerts. Of course we sell tickets to our concerts (held twice a year in non-pandemic years) and since the end of the yard sale, we hold our own, internal fundraiser.

      For several years, we held “mystery dinners”. One member hosted (I offered my home a few times, while another member cooked, we both covered the cost of food and wine), but, paying a fee to attend, members were assigned based on “mysterious names” of the dinners around Newton for the main event. There would be about seven parties to attend, with probably 8 attendees at any one dinner. Dessert was held back at the school where we rehearse, as was a silent auction of some lovely items (jewelry, use of vacation homes, etc). We did raise a lot of money with those evenings, but it, also, took a lot of organization.

      Finally, we were able to hold a nice dinner at the school, each pay a decent sum (that went to our chorus) and continued to hold a silent auction. Easier to organize, still a good source of funds. We also pay different fees to belong to the chorus. Those can contribute more do.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Thank you, Betsy, for educating me as to the mechanics of yard sales. I have always considered them to be very huge effort undertakings, and you have confirmed my views. You’ve also confirmed the other half of my assumed equation: that, despite all the work, they may not be all that profitable.

    In my view, auctions are better fundraisers but, even there, you need to put in a a lot of work, get some donors willing to give amazing gifts (like big sporting event tickets or beautiful vacation homes) and bidders willing to ridiculously overpay for these gifts.

    But I am glad that you have been able to keep the Chorus going through other means. Except, of course, I assume all is on hold due to COVID.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Regrettably yes, John. We were frozen in time mid-March, due to COVID. We did pay our orchestra, since they had already been engaged for our early May concert, and paid our director and accompanist for the full season. But everything is on hold indefinitely for now. Who knows when it will be safe to return?

  3. Lots of interesting insights as to the nature of your fundraising efforts, Betsy, and in the comments by others, but I keep going back to your phrase about Annie: “She was an attentive alto.” Would love to know more about what that means!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I think I just meant that she payed attention at our rehearsals and was supportive, but never as involved as Jim was. She was fabulous with her hands, made an elegant outfit for our accompanist to wear to a concert once, made jewelry for the auctions, etc. That was her real passion.

  4. Marian says:

    Yes, tons of work, Betsy, both for keeping the chorus going and for the yard sales. Have you noticed in recent years that most of those fundraising types of activities have been abandoned for nonprofits? I think of the years I spent with my local Mills alumnae club working on house tours–the recruiting of homeowners, ticket sales, publicity, wow! We stopped several years ago. My little synagogue has similar expenses to your chorus (without the music and orchestra), and a few years ago we broke down and hired “schleppers” to move the ark and huge boxes of prayer books to our rented location for High Holidays. What a relief. Of course, with being virtual this year, we won’t have to do that.

  5. Suzy says:

    How disappointing that the sales weren’t more successful despite all your efforts. I recounted a similar story about my Girl Scout troop’s sales, but we didn’t work nearly as hard as you did to prepare. Glad you have found some easier ways to raise money. The mystery dinners you described in your reply to Laurie sound fabulous – I would have paid a lot to go to one of those.

    My choir is lucky to be funded by the temple, and congregants often make donations to us in appreciation of our music after the High Holy Days or a bar/bat mitzvah. So we have not done fundraisers, except our concerts, where we sing secular music and people pay to attend, put ads in the program, etc. That’s the most fun kind of fundraising I can imagine!

  6. Betsy, when life is back to normal I hope one day to hear you sing with your chorus!

    I have three friends who also sing with a chorus and I’ve heard them perform – with the St Cecelia Choir, the University Chorus, and the Brearley Singers – perhaps you’ve heard of the first two, I think they’re well known. Great fun!

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