Where traditional nonprofit fundraising ends and the house party fun begins

Chad Cooper, executive director of the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, doesn’t want to just host another gala.

Chad Cooper, executive director of the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, at the organzation's 8th annual house party

Chad Cooper, executive director of the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, at the organzation's 8th annual house party Rod Morata

When it comes to nonprofit fundraising, the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music takes a different approach to the traditional gala format with its annual house party.

Its latest fundraiser on Nov. 9  raised funds for music education and music therapy programs with five floors of live music, two outdoor stages and a total of 135 performing musicians. Visitors at the 8th annual event were treated to signature cocktails, musical pairings and eclectic foods sourced from around the borough. Members of the public were treated to performances on outdoor stages at Seventh Avenue and Lincoln Place while benefit ticket holders had additional access to the conservatory’s Park Slope Victorian mansion, where every stage, studio, classroom, and even elevator bank had been turned over to musicians.

“Before I became the executive director of the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music I was on the organization’s board of directors. We were really struggling financially and back in the day we would have much more traditional galas,” said Chad Cooper, executive director of the nonprofit. “Traditional galas cost thousands and thousands of dollars, just to rent a space, pay for the caterers, pay for event planners, and pay for event related fundraising support. And these events barely made their costs back.” 

Cooper said the conservatory broke from the mold of traditional galas and reimagining fundraising events out of a financial urgency. During his first year as executive director, he completely overhauled the way in which the nonprofit organization formatted fundraising.

 “We didn’t want to have an event that is called a gala, that looks like a gala and feels like a gala,” Cooper told New York Nonprofit Media. “We want people to come and have an incredible time and experience and do our best to raise money in that setting. So that was the impetus for trying to reinvent the way we saw that kind of traditional fundraiser.”

The conservatory’s Park Slope 10,000 square-foot building provided venue space for the event with its 17 studios and concert hall. Thirty musical acts and experiences were happening at any given time, allowing party-goers to roam the building and discover different performances. The musical acts and experiences included performers Martha Redbone, Red Baraat, The Brothers Footman, Femem Jam, D.J. Spinna, and Brass Queens.

 “People came together and the house party was fun and functioned as this communal outlet for people to come out of their catatonic studio and reconnect with each other, drink, dance and listen to music” Cooper said. “It’s fun, it’s interactive, it’s diverse. I think it just reflects who we are and tells our story as an institution without having to make a big speech and show a video. It captures the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music just through the cultural experience.”

This year’s benefit was also sold out. “It’s an expensive event for us to throw but we raise a good amount of money and that money goes right into our community based music education and music therapy programs” Cooper told NYN Media. 

The conservatory provides music education and music therapy to about 7,000 New Yorkers. Around 1,300 use the organization's Brooklyn facilities while the conservatory meets the other 6,000 or so where they are. They provide music education and music therapy to about 77 community partnership sites across the five boroughs. In almost every one of those sites, the music education or music therapy students get those services for little to no cost. “The vast majority of these folks live at or below the poverty level. So we use our resources as a nonprofit organization, use the earnings that the music education generates from our building, we take those earnings, and we combine them with fundraising to invest all of that money in support of our expansive community engagement programming,” said Cooper. 

Cooper emphasized the importance of music education for New Yorkers. 

“We think music education is vitally important. It creates joy, it creates happiness, it creates opportunities to develop really critical skills like empathy, teamwork, listening to other people, and discipline. These are skills that are important to be good citizens, important for personal growth and to create career opportunities.” he told NYN Media. 

However, hundreds of thousands of young people in New York City remain with no access to music education. “There’s really great inequity in access and oftentimes that correlates to race and the socioeconomics of a particular school, neighborhood or community. So we think that it’s really important to ensure that as many New Yorkers as possible have access to music education,” said Cooper. 

In addition to music education, the conservatory offers access to services in music therapy – a psychotherapeutic discipline where a professional therapist uses music as their medium and as a tool to help a client achieve clinical goals. Music therapists have discovered that music positively affects the brian by improving mood, altering the brain’s biochemistry in doing so, and creating the opportunity for a lot of positive outcomes. “Music therapy is used in a variety of settings. For people with physical impairments, for people with developmental delays, for people with social limitations – we have hundreds of clients who are on the autism spectrum – seniors with dementia, at-risk youth, there are many people for whom music therapy is beneficial,” Cooper said. The conservatory works with about 2,000 music therapy clients in Park Slope and at about 45 partnership sites around the city. “For many folks, it’s a crucially important service, it helps them express themselves, it helps them regulate their mood, and it helps them connect with others. Almost 10% of New Yorkers have disabilities and hundreds of thousands of people are still reeling from COVID and the mental health crisis that arose from the pandemic so music therapy is a proven and effective clinical practice,” said Cooper. 

The house party’s fundraising will go towards the organization’s music education and music therapy programs. 

“Once again, Brooklyn turned out for the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music’s house party, along with civic and cultural leaders from across New York City, to share the most joyful celebration of music and community. The 135 musicians who performed at the event brought so much extraordinary talent and energy, making it another unforgettable night.” said Cooper. “I am honored to lead this beloved community institution and grateful to the staff and supporters who’ve shown such unwavering dedication to the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music’s mission through the years.”