How they did it: Pittsburgh Liberty Interfaith Choir

Sometimes—okay, pretty often—the road to successful crowdfunding is not a straight and narrow one. It can take time, a few tries, and possibly a rejiggering of resources to make the stars align.

Luckily, that’s just our jam! ioby has a decade of experience helping local leaders combine the right resources in the right order to create winning fundraising campaigns.

Here’s a good example: the Pittsburgh Liberty Interfaith Choir, led by Elizabeth Chitester.

pittsburgh liberty choir ioby

The project

Since 2015, Elizabeth has led the Rising Voices Youth Choir, which she says “uses music as a social building tool” for kids ages 8 to 18. (Its companion group, the Rising Voices Junior Singers, is like “Rising Voices lite” for younger children, ages 4 to 10.) Elizabeth’s vision for the newly formed, mostly adult Liberty Interfaith Choir is to “use music with a mostly white, middle class population to discuss social issues like race, gender discrimination, and sexuality.” Studying, appreciating, and performing music that deals with such complex and sensitive topics provides both groups a “way in” to talking about them. Elizabeth’s campaign raised money to print music and flyers, rent rehearsal spaces, and pay an accompanist.

For Liberty Interfaith’s inaugural season, Elizabeth chose a timely theme. “With everything going on in the political sphere right now, we decided to focus on stereotyping,” she says. “We talk about historical cornerstones and why things are the way they are. We discussed the song ‘Rivers of Babylon,’ a Jamaican Rastafarian hymn. We talked about the difference between Babylon—the things that hold you back—and the notion of Zion, which is achieving. We asked, ‘How are those forces at work in our society today?’ The group came to the notion that Babylon comes from ignorance. If you don’t know what you don’t know, that can be hard to escape from. A lot of people don’t know what they don’t know about racial inequality, for example. So this is, for the most part, what I try to do with music.”

pittsburgh interfaith choir

“Jamaicans would probably laugh at us,” Elizabeth says, “a bunch of white people trying to analyze this in Pittsburgh! We took a moment to acknowledge that the song had a very different original meaning—slavery—than the ‘first world’ problems we’re discussing now. They sang: ‘The wicked carried us away/Captivity required of us a song.’ But those lyrics were bringing us to this good discussion now. There is literal and metaphorical captivity.”

With her youth choir, Elizabeth says the focus is more on “definitional discussions.” “After we talk about it, the kids will say, ‘I heard a stereotype in school today!’ The tiny justice of the 12-year-old mind is a very good thing to see.”


The campaign, phase 1: From defeat to demonstration

In the winter of 2016, Elizabeth got some one-on-one fundraising coaching from ioby’s Pittsburgh Action Strategist Miriam Parson and tried launching her campaign for Liberty Interfaith then. But she had some trouble unifying her team around the crowdfunding effort.

“Some of them were very defeatist,” she explains. “They said, ‘This is so much money; I don’t know how we’ll make it happen…’ So first, Miriam told me to expand the circle. ‘Two people do not make a fundraising team!’ she said. So we had to do some work convincing our board and others that the campaign would be worthwhile.”

Elizabeth says the fundraising effort “went off the rails” for about eight months while she tried to persuade more people of its feasibility. “Then I got into discussion at Pittsburgh Mennonite Church, where the choirs rehearse, and we did a pop-up concert there. When 20-plus attendees showed up who weren’t formally connected to us, that hit a chord with our board—that showed them that other people out there really were interested.”

“Miriam told me to do that!” Elizabeth says. “She told me to do something tangible that could show people something and get them excited. That was a very sound piece of advice. It was good team-building for us, too.”


The campaign, phase 2: Zooming out to the larger picture

In the fall of 2017, Elizabeth attended ioby’s Conversations, Connections, Impact event in Pittsburgh as she got ready to launch her campaign again.

“While I didn’t meet many people there who worked in the same spheres as me—music and education,” Elizabeth says, “the activities were great, and helped me think more globally. I get lost in the forest looking for the trees, so those ‘dream big’ ideas helped me. There were also a bunch of successful campaigns posted on the wall. It was good to get a sense of what other people were doing, and to look at all these other groups who had succeeded in raising more money with less means.”

Elizabeth says the event also helped her to see some of her own “Babylons.” “Looking at some of those projects made me go with the stereotyping and racial justice themes for the first season,” she says. “I thought, ‘I can’t be the only white person out there who doesn’t understand the breadth of this need; maybe there’s something here. Let’s do some research within our network and see where our blind spots are.’ So it’s been educational for me, too. My approach has not been, ‘I’m the teacher; look at me teach.’ It’s been more: ‘We’re all people. Let’s learn together. What can we can teach each other?’”


The campaign, phase 3: Keeping track & staying motivated

Whereas she had met with Miriam in a local coffee shop, Elizabeth connected with ioby Leader Success Strategist Dominique Williams, who is based in New York, via email. “Dominique kept me updated with financial tips, which was really helpful,” Elizabeth says. “I get into the music and people part of the work, so it was nice to get her emails and think, ‘Okay, there is a body of knowledge here that I can touch on.’ The flowcharts and task manager sheets she shared were very helpful.”

“Dominique was also good on the ‘don’t give up’ side,” Elizabeth says. “I get really discouraged about issues with money: it can all just feel like too much! But Dominique was very motivational.”

In the end, the Liberty Interfaith Choir raised $1,810 on ioby—just a bit shy of their original fundraising goal of $2,195. Still, Elizabeth says, “having a couple hundred dollars less to worry about is a big stress relief for an organization as small as ours.”

“Crowdfunding didn’t just work within what we have; it actually expanded our network… I’m more aware of where the money came from.” – Elizabeth Chitester

Crowdfunding for the win!

Elizabeth had raised similar amounts of money in the past through benefit concerts. “Those can get you a lot of money in a short amount of time, but they’re not as network-expanding,” she says. “Crowdfunding didn’t just work within what we have; it actually expanded our network. If you throw a benefit concert again the next year and you haven’t expanded your network, the exact same people will come—and they’ll think, ‘I gave last year; I don’t need to give this year!’ So crowdfunding creates a new approach.”

Elizabeth says she found another benefit to crowdfunding, too: “I’m more aware of where the money came from. With a concert, I’m not even sure who-all was in the audience, because I’m so busy running the production. I know my boyfriend and my grandparents were there, but who else?! With crowdfunding, it’s a lot easier to see who’s actually making it happen.”


The Pittsburgh Liberty Interfaith Choir and Rising Voices Youth Choir will present the collaborative spring concert “Get on Board!” on Friday, June 15 at the Friendship Community Presbyterian Church. If you’re in the Pittsburgh area, go hear them make a joyful noise!

If you want to try crowdfunding for your neighborhood project, let us know! We’d love to help.