performers' library
Randy Charac
An Interview with John Kaplan
A candid chat about profiting with fundraising shows.

by Randy Charach

RC -
How is it that you are touring the country, performing in theaters, year after year?

JK - I purchased Stan Kramien's course years ago. Although I never pursued the main focus of his fundraising show technique (telemarketing), nonetheless I received a tremendous amount of practical information that over time I've derived tremendous value from in building my own system and fundraising career.

RC - Okay, so you are presenting your show in conjunction with a fund raising effort?

JK - Yes, I started out by going through local white pages and contacting individual groups within an elementary or high school. Not targeting the school itself, but the parent committee, or the school Band Leader, or Drama Department or High School Grad or Year Book committee. Basically, any group that needs to raise money for a specific reason. For example, the parent committee may do it to raise money to upgrade the playground equipment for the school. Typically, a group will want to do something that costs money, the school doesn't have the extra funds, so if they want to do whatever it is they are planning - they have to come up with a way to raise the funds themselves.

RC - And in walks John!

JK - Using components of Stan's original course, I developed a step-by-step guide for the sponsors that takes them from their first committee meeting, right through to the day of the show. It is a fill in the blanks system.

RC - What do they get?

JK - Included in their system is a lot of camera ready ads, promotional tools, flyers, posters, and over time I developed and provided radio and television commercials too.

RC - What year did you start, and what did you start out with?

JK - In the 80s I started with a small packet, a fold over booklet and posters.

RC - Great. Now John, give us an idea of the scope, the depth of this market. Detail the opportunity for us.

JK - It's a huge industry catering to a high demographic market. We are catering to baby boomers that are raising families. Lots of schools, minor sports leagues, Scouts, Cadets, they all need money. Government funding and cutbacks make them even more reliant on raising funds themselves.

RC - Okay, let me get this straight. You approach community oriented groups that have a need or desire to raise funds for a specific purpose. You provide all the tools they need to raise the funds. The primary function of their campaign is based on selling tickets to your family oriented Illusion show. Right?

JK - Yes. I give them a failsafe, hard to mess up, fundraiser to run. A lot of groups I work with, schools, community groups, small grassroots organizations, usually only think in terms of how much does the show cost, how big is the hall, how many seats does it hold, how much can we sell tickets for, or how much do we have to charge for the tickets to make this work. That's as far as it goes. So the project kit that I give them, with the additional revenue source opportunities and all the other tools, blows the lid off that narrow thinking and really opens their eyes up to the potential opportunity of bringing my show in. That's how I can go to a small grassroots community and bring a $3,000 - $5,000 illusion show to their town that they can literally not only afford, but will actually show them a profit at the end of the day.

RC - Talk about being creative in your approach. And what a wonderful win-win situation you have created. The group raises funds, the town gets a show, and you do the kind of work that you enjoy. Nice. Triple win actually. I want to back track a bit and refer to a comment you made regarding telemarketing as a more common method of raising funds in these situations. I have my own thoughts and experience on this from a performer's perspective, but please expand on your previous comment about the topic of telemarketing.

JK - When I discovered Stan Kramien's course, I loved the idea of doing fund raising shows, but was reluctant to take the telemarketing route to sell the shows. I was just not comfortable getting involved in that because of the negative stigma associated with it. The concept of finding a way to make a good living in a market that has no money appealed to me. Stan's book was a springboard for getting started, but I just didn't want to run a phone room. In addition to the bad press some of these operations were receiving at the time, running that end of the business was just not my thing. While there are many reputable and highly profitable companies and entertainers doing this, I just wanted to find another way.

RC - Right, and so you did.

JK - Yes, with my method, there is no need for telemarketing or me relying on a percentage of the door and hoping there will be a large enough crowd to make it worth my while. I get a guaranteed performance fee, and they get the show, and all the tools they need to help them raise funds above and beyond the cost of the show.

RC - Please share some numbers with us. If you don't mind, I would like you to be candid about your fees and expenses as well as the kind of dollars your sponsor typically ends up with after running with your program. Also, outline the responsibilities that are divided between you and your sponsor.

JK - The client, the sponsor, is responsible for paying for the show. Included is the project kit that I put a value of $250 on. If they book by a certain date they get the kit free. Also, there is a money back guarantee attached to the kit. If they do not make a profit after using the tools, they get $250 refunded (whether they pay for it or not). They are responsible for providing the venue, promoting the show, and selling the tickets. I take them by the hand and show them exactly what to do in order to sell the tickets to the show and raise money though various other methods related to the show. I call this piggyback fund raising. For example, I have developed a souvenir program that the sponsor can sell advertising in. They get the template and then sell ads to businesses. I do not take a cut of this additional revenue stream, it is a value added service. I have a couple dozen similar ones now, but it all started with that souvenir program. It enables the groups to cover their base cost so they can get my show completely paid for right away. It can double and even triple the earning potential of each show. It enables me to offer a more attractive package to the group. By providing all these opportunities beyond just selling tickets, it is pretty much a fail safe system. The show sells for $2600 for a single show or $3100 for two. They can buy their cost down by close to 50% by using certain fee reductions that I offer.

RC - Like?

JK - For example, if they provide 2 motel rooms for my cast, and myself they can deduct $150. In many cases they get the rooms donated, and it is a cost I would need to incur anyway. We travel in a truck with a 20 foot equipment trailer and carry our own concession. Our sponsor can deduct $500 from our show fee if we get exclusive rights to the concession for food and souvenir items.

RC - Popcorn, cotton candy, chocolate bars, drinks?

JK - Yes, and magic sets, t-shirts, videos, and souvenir programs. They also get a reduction if they provide people to help us load and unload the truck, set up and strike.

RC - How much do you deduct if they actually do the show themselves (grin)?

JK - (laughter) Good point. A lot of groups do take advantage of the $500 concession discount and either way it works out about the same for us. This enables me to sell a higher price product (the show) to a group that doesn't have the money to pay for it. I give Stan credit for the idea of carrying a concession.

RC - Tell us about the other products besides the food items.

JK - I put together magic kits by getting pre-packaged tricks from wholesalers in bulk, and add custom packaging.

RC - Which wholesalers?

JK - Robbins, Royal, EZ Magic, Oriental Trading, Adams. I stick a photocopied label sheet (doesn't even have to be color) to the box, and shrink-wrap it. Shrink-wrapping is relatively inexpensive and adds high perceived value. I throw in some booklets and instructions to maximize the number of tricks without adding extra props. And, I have more expensive sets that include a video and a few extra tricks. By adding and actually selling the kits, I realized that some people will spend money on higher ticket items. I added the magic kits at $49.95 and $69.95 and was surprised, but they outsold the videos two to one. I sell a few each show. Oh, and I bumped up the price of the t-shirts and videos and it didn't decrease the sales volume. By the way, when I first started, I just sold the wonder mouse and a few small tricks for 2 - 3 bucks.

RC - Right. So, at the end of the day, how much does everything, your fee and product sales, typically net you? What would be your average take per date?

JK - On average, I end up with around $1700 a day. We do $200 - $1,000 gross in product and average above $500 in profit on that end.

RC - Right on. Now, who travels with you?

JK - I travel with a sound man, and 2 dancers.

RC - And describe a typical performance scenario. Venue and size of audience.

JK - We mostly perform in school gyms. Some towns only have 500 people, and most will come to the show. The sponsor from a small town often taps into close by community businesses to buy the tickets for the show and advertise in the program. We average 300 - 400 people, and the range is 200 -1200 people.

RC - Okay. Now I am going to think like the sponsor. That is, before you educate them. How much are tickets to the show? Do you dictate the amount, make suggestions, or need to approve the amount? How does it work?

JK - They can charge what they want for ticket prices, but I suggest $8 and $12. $8 for kids and $12 for adults. The range is $5 - $15.

RC - So, if they bring in, say $3,000 in combined ticket sales and your piggy back fund raisers, and have taken advantage of your fee reductions, bringing their cost for your show to as low as, say $1500, they have made $1,500. Right?

JK - Yes. And that is a fairly typical scenario.

RC - Any real success stories displaying higher numbers?

JK - One group grossed $8,000 with a profit of $5500 (for a single show) with my program. They had a unique style of promoting it. They paid $1,000 to rent a theater. This was against all of my recommendations to get a school gym for free, and keep their expenses low in order to add to their bottom line. But this person's plan was to sell lots of ads in the souvenir program and make it a bigger event. She raised $2,000 from the program, covered all her costs for the show and theatre, and then every ticket sold was their profit. They sold 1200 out of 1500 seats, at $5 each.

RC - I imagine you modify your manuals for your groups as you discover new possibilities and surprising results. After 20 some odd years, just like a performance, I bet you have a pretty tried and tested system happening.

JK - Yes, thank you. I believe I do. And yes, what they did, by booking a larger and more costly venue, worked for them. So I no longer strongly advise against it. Every year I update my manuals for the groups and add what has worked for others during the year.

RC - So, what kind of entertainer is this work suited for? Certainly they do not have to put on a full-scale illusion show to duplicate your system.

JK - Any variety act that performs family shows could do this. As long as they can do a great show.

RC - What is the typical requirement, or standard show length, and number of performances in a given day for a single sponsor.

JK - 90 minutes of performing. First half is 50 minutes, followed by a 20 minute intermission, then a 40 minute second half.

RC - The two halves so you can give them a break from sitting, and it allows for sales during the intermission.

JK - Right. A solo entertainer could put together a variety show if they were concerned about keeping the audience entertained for this long. We usually do one show, sometimes two, rarely three in a day. Let me also point out, that they should be able to perform anywhere and should bring their own sound system. The more self contained you are the better. You may find yourself, as we have, performing on the Gym Floor, in an Arena, Recreation Centre, Community Hall, a Theater, and even in Church basements.

RC - And your typical sponsors are?

JK - A good mix of schools, clubs, and youth groups.

RC - How do you find them?

JK - I get the municipal directories from the town or municipal office, or chamber of commerce. Some give them for free, some may charge around $20. More and more are becoming available digitally too.

RC - (grin)

JK - I knew you would like that.

RC - Exactly. So you gather the directories and then phone, fax, write, and email potential sponsors?

JK - Yes. Well, I used to phone initially for the directories and now I send out a fax with my request. How I receive the lists dictates how I contact the potential sponsors. Often, I send a one page lead generation fax to the groups. I have a database of 20,000 prospects in Canada. I update it every couple of years by referring back to the last time they helped me out, and request new information.

RC - Is that how you started. I mean, finding the groups, the sponsors? Sounds possibly expensive and quite time consuming.

JK - If you buy 200 lists at say, $20, and each list may be good for 2 - 10 viable prospects, the acquisition cost can be expensive. I did build up gradually over the years and started off by just finding groups in the white pages. Now, I also buy ads in the newsletters of groups like the Rotary, Lions, Kinsmen, and Elks.

RC - Right. How many of these shows do you do a year?

JK - I work around 50 dates a year. Have done up to 70 one-niters in a year, which take about 3 - 4 months to complete.

RC - Okay, and is there a high, low, busy, slow season to this market.

JK - Good question. Summer is dormant for this market as the schools are not open. I mostly do Fairs and Festivals during this time.

RC - This is slightly off topic, but will prove interesting for the readers, I'm sure. What other streams of income have you created to fill in the slower months of touring with your fund raising show?

JK - I market the Hades Finger Chopper, and some information products for magicians. Like you, I want to spend more time at home with my family. I also book a second performer, Tony Eng, and his Illusion show to do the overflow dates that I cannot do. You know Tony.

RC - Yes, Tony's a great guy. A really kind man, excellent performer, and straight ahead kind of fellow and businessperson. Are you at liberty to share with the readers what type of deal you made with Tony? In the interest of their education on this topic.

JK - Sure, I pay him a flat fee for the tour. This way I keep and service the client, and give work to another performer that I admire. Some clients book the same show 3 - 4 years in a row, most often they want me every second year or so. It depends on how transient the community itself is. I have worked for one group, 6 - 7 years of the last 10 years. Personally, I like to use the same show for at least 3 years to amortize the investment of creating the show. I needed someone who has a good show and integrity. The sponsor gets a different show each year so they can bank on the fundraiser event.

RC - Truly another multiple win situation. How far in advance do you usually book your tour?

JK - I book up to a year in advance. Sometimes I will market right up until February for dates in the coming spring. I will market right up to June for my Fall and Halloween season of local fundraisers. Six months is typical. I do an advance marketing campaign to existing clients and offer a discount for booking early while giving them an opportunity to pre-book and lock in the date.

RC - Well, John, I think I have sucked enough out of you for now, and I appreciate your candidness. Let me ask you about your philosophical approach to marketing and performing. As well, I am interested in knowing what you attribute your success to and why you are sharing this information. Two sentences or less please (grin).

JK - (laughter) Okay, the main reason for the success is because I am able to sell a product for a flat fee to a group that has no money to pay for it. I am competing with fundraisers that cost them no money and offer them no risk. Having a good show and reputation helps, and the idea of a family event, as opposed to selling chocolates or whatever, appeals to the sponsor. It is challenging because my competition is every other opportunity to raise funds. Free, no risk options, as opposed to my show that will cost them up front money. I have managed to package it in such a way that it is appealing regardless of those potentially negative perceptions of getting involved in my program as a fundraiser. I have packaged it in such as way that I still have a sellable commodity. And I don't do all the work for them like a telemarketer does. The key thing to that success is that the sponsor receives my package that makes it safe and easy for them to profit from my show. The key is that I am thinking from their perspective. What can I do for my sponsor to make sure they are going to be successful. What kind of additional revenue streams can I create for them. What promotional tools and strategies can I give them to help ensure their success. I have groups working with me year after year. All as a result of putting them first as opposed to what's in it for me first. I never thought about it in terms of marketing before.

RC - We think a lot alike John, perhaps that's why we have always gotten along so well.

JK - You know, I just came across the concept of lead product marketing by seeing what you are doing with your Secrets book. You offer a terrific product at a very low acquisition cost to your customer. You are giving them a ton of value up front as a way to prove yourself to them. You then build a loyal and dedicated customer base eager to do more business with you. You continue providing excellent service, products, and value, and your initial acquisition cost of the customer begins to pay off in dividends.

RC - Okay, fine, here's a hundred bucks for the plug (laughter).

JK - Seriously, without realizing and analyzing the fact until now, I have been operating in a similar fashion in my business all these years. Sometimes, it is okay to go negative on the front end. Often I accept dates that I have not made a lot of money on in the past, but the spin off has made it all worth it. I always look at these things as long term, and building a career. Marketers think of that in terms of what it costs to acquire a client, and then what the lifetime value of that client is worth to their business. Right?

RC - You are a very wise man my friend. Okay, any final words of wisdom, advise and/or explanations as to what you are planning for the future.

JK - I have never been reluctant to invest in myself because I believe in my abilities to do what I do. I have always been comfortable with putting money into the show and promotional material and anything that requires a hefty investment. These investments don't always pay off, but overall it is a philosophy that works for me. The opportunity to share what I've learned, and pass along useful information that can benefit others interested in considering this field, is another reason for my releasing the Fundraising Magic Program.

RC - John, thank you for your time and for sharing this information.

Copyright 2001 Randy Charach and Sharac Productions, Inc.
All rights reserved. Released to

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