Spirit West Coast festival launches $200,000 fundraising drive

DEL MAR, Calif. — Promoters of the annual Spirit West Coast festivals need to raise at least $200,000 in private donations by late fall in order to produce an event for 2013.

"Our intention is to have a festival, not sure when or where, but our intention is to have one," said Jon Robberson, who produces the Del Mar and Monterey festivals through his Celebration Concerts. "Our nonprofit ministry is struggling financially, which I don't think is news, but we have to figure out if we have the finances to launch a festival next year. That decision is going to be somewhat driven by our fundraising campaign."

Like many other Christian ministries, the economy has impacted the festivals as fewer corporations are able to offer sponsorships and families have cut discretionary spending from their budgets. As a result attendance at this year's festival was 6,000, about half the previous years.

The financial reality prompted Spirit West Coast to take a hiatus from Del Mar in 2011. This year, the Monterey event was canceled after ticket sales had already started.

"We are kind of in a need to downsize, but we don't want to downsize as much as we just want to change our (financing) model because we feel we want to keep our presentation as it has been," the promoter said.

Previously driven by ticket sales alone, the festival will now add a fundraising component in which 20 percent of the revenue must be generated. Their goal is to have at least 400 people give $500 annually to support the ministry, which works out to about $42 a month. That process is just beginning, and they have already reached more than 10 percent of that goal.

"When you ask people to help you financially with the purpose and the cause that you have, when they do help you they are actually voting yes on the future of the festival," he said.

A decision on the 2013 festival will likely come in October.

Robberson said although the fundraising element is new to their ministry, he said other evangelistic outreaches, such as Luis Palau and Billy Graham, have been using the approach for years.

"We are as much a crusade ministry as we are a music festival," Robberson said.

Because music is a vital part of the Spirit West Coast vibe, the overall vision of the event can sometimes be pigeonholed as just an entertainment offering, he said.

But the mission of SWC is much greater, Robberson said, adding that all of the programming—music, speakers, workshops, children's activities and vending areas—are geared toward creating an environment for spiritual growth and insight.

Last year, even with much lower attendance, first-time conversions remained steady at more than 200. As many as 400 others rededicated their lives.

"The people who are really looking and their eyes are open, they see the spiritual impact of our event," he said. "In reality, the talent is just the bait to get people to come. That's not the end-all entity. If you go to a secular concert the end-all entity is the band playing. That's the product. Our product is getting people to come to an event so they can receive something that will be eternally impacting."

Even as they are ramping up their fundraising initiative, Robberson said they are also evaluating expenses and other variables such as venues and timing of the event. In all likelihood, though, the ministry will only be able to produce one event per year, perhaps rotating between Northern and Southern California.

"We're trying to bring down (the cost of) everything, contain everything," he said. "If you are going to present a big event like Spirit West Coast is, its going to cost a certain amount of money; you can't do a $900,000 festival for $600,000 or it will be extremely different and people will notice. We don't want it to look scaled down too much because then people may not come and then if they don't come, they are not going to be able to receive. The whole point is to get them to come so they will receive."

For more information, visit www.spiritwestcoast.org.