Air Shows Contribute Nearly $16 Million to Local Philanthropies Annually

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The average North American air show gives nearly $70,000 in direct monetary donations annually back to the communities in which the event takes place with donations, on average, being divided up among 11.1 charitable organizations. Over 2,400 local philanthropies each year feel the benefit of an air show taking place in their area.

In a survey of North American air show event organizers conducted February 23 through March 17, 2015, the International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) discovered that 63 percent of air shows make direct financial contributions to local philanthropic organizations. And, for those local organizations, such as the Boy Scouts or Rotary Club, that provide volunteer manpower during the event, 70 percent of air shows provide payments or contributions to that organization in return for their service.

Based on survey responses from 79 air show organizers, ICAS estimates that total direct monetary contributions made by air shows each year to local philanthropies equals $9,538,831;  and air shows that make contributions in return for volunteer manpower provide over $6.2 million to those community-based organizations averaging $40,955 per event annually.

Those kinds of donations have been happening for a long time. The average air show has made contributions to local organizations for 16.1 years, the longest running show having done so for 50 years, and three events saying they just began giving last year. Combining all of the years these types of contributions have been made, air shows have donated an estimated $112.5 million  over that span. 

According to the National Philanthropic Trust, in the U.S., corporate giving in 2014 increased 13.7 percent over 2013 to $17.77 billion. Air show events in 2014 accounted for .1 percent of the total. In May 2015, there were approximately 1,521,052 IRS-registered charitable organizations in the United States.

Forty-four percent of air show organizers say their event’s primary function is to act as a fundraiser for charities, philanthropies or local organizations. Just under one third indicate that fundraising is not a priority.

[Quote from Nancy Heath, Wings Over Wine Country – responded as show’s primary function is as fundraiser.]

Warbirds Over Monroe, an air show hosted by a municipality, doesn’t cite fundraising as the event’s primary function, but the organization still makes a sizable donation to a local nonprofit. They take a two-fold approach by supporting a philanthropy – they have partnered with Warriors and Warbirds, based in Monroe, North Carolina, which helps to support veteran activities and promote aviation – while also marketing that partnership throughout businesses and the community as a whole.

“We’re able to support a worthy cause and help them achieve goals that are in line with why we put on the air show by donating 10 percent of what is collected through ticket sales and sponsorship dollars as a means to give back to the community,” said Pete Hovanec, city of Monroe communications and tourism officer and Warbirds Over Monroe air show organizer. “By contributing to this organization, it not only helps to sustain their mission, it also allows us to market that partnership to large corporate sponsors.”

Hovanec said that by telling prospective sponsors that they contribute 10 percent of sales and sponsorship dollars to Warriors and Warbirds, it gives them another selling point to bring that corporate entity into the fold.

“For a small non-profit like Warriors and Warbirds, the money received truly makes a difference and allows them to do what they do effectively,” said Hovanec. “It’s a great partnership, as they also become more invested in the show by providing volunteers and helping to promote the show through their membership and circles.”

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Matt Warnock is the former Director of Marketing, Communications and Digital Media for the International Council of Air Shows.