How tickets to Taylor Swift helped boost the coffers of the Calgary Folk Festival

The Calgary Folk Festival recently raised more than $75,000 — or roughly four times what they usually generate in raffle draws — when they included a chance at a Taylor Swift concert package in London, England.

The executive director says Swift tickets might not be the typical thing used to attract folk festival fans, but it was one they'd consider again, given the resulting financial success.

"We heard a lot of 'I'm entering this raffle, I'm not necessarily a Taylor Swift fan, but I've got a couple of Swifties in my house,'" said Sara Leishman, executive director of the Calgary Folk Festival Society.

Leishman called it a "quirky" idea that surprised a few folks. But at the same time, she says it drew more people in than they usually did with their tarp draw, a 50/50 draw, or even a trip.

"Folks were really, really excited and snapping up the raffle tickets as best as they could," said Leishman.

Saskie Phillipps,12, was surprised to learn her mom won a Taylor Swift concern package for London, England through a Calgary Folk Festival ticket giveaway.
Saskie Phillipps, 12, was surprised to learn her mom had won a Taylor Swift concert package for London, England, through a Calgary Folk Festival fundraiser. (Karen Phillipps)

The Calgary Folk Fest is not the first to cash in on the popularity of Taylor Swift when trying to raise money.

A quick internet search turns up a sprinkling of non-profits across the country auctioning off the highly sought after tickets.

And experts say, if charities can find a way to secure Taylor tickets, they may just be the saviour some are looking for to attract dwindling donor dollars.

"I don't think that you can put anyone up there — other than maybe Beyoncé, and I don't even know that that's true — that could generate this sort of economic excitement," said Moshe Lander, an economist with Concordia University.

Trip of a lifetime

The ticket winner, Karen Phillipps, says she's been trying to secure Swift concert tickets for her 12-year-old daughter, Saskia Clemens, for a long time.

That includes entering other raffle draws.

"She's a great role model for young girls … so I'm more than happy to try," said Phillipps.

Then, Phillipps says, she got an email about the Folk Fest's contest because she'd previously attended.

"I saw the opportunity and just with the game of odds, as an Alberta resident and Folk Festival, that it's going to attract mostly Calgary, right? So I bought 50 tickets for $50 and it ended up being a heck of an investment," said Phillipps.

Phillipps says that when she got the call last week, she couldn't believe it.

Neither could her daughter.

"It's pretty surreal," said Phillipps, "(She) immediately had to tell all her friends."

Karen Phillipps says she's excited to take her daughter to see her role model, Taylor Swift, after winning tickets in a Calgary Folk Festival raffle.
Karen Phillipps says she's excited to take her daughter to see her role model, Taylor Swift, after winning tickets in a Calgary Folk Fest raffle. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Template moving forward

The prize package, valued at $16,000, includes two concert tickets at Wembley Stadium in August, and cash for flights, hotel and transportation.

Leishman says they were given the opportunity to purchase the package from their online raffle seller, Tap 50:50.

But footing that upfront cost, says Leishman, was a bit of a risk.

"Things aren't getting any cheaper for us in our niche market, and so because of that, I think it was just a really good opportunity for us to really assess, you know, whether or not we could take this risk if we needed to (and) what does break even look like?" said Leishman.

Leishman says that, fortunately, as a charitable organization, they are extremely stable and can take risks.

And she says it proved to be worthwhile.

Lander says the success of the Folk Fest's ticket giveaway may become a template for others struggling to secure donors.

"There's now a sign that hey, this could work, this could be a way, then, going forward," said Lander.