TRAVERSE CITY — SwingShift and the Stars Dance-Off for Charity is expanding and will introduce a new fundraiser downstate next week in the Great Lakes Bay Region.
The new four-month competition — using the same SwingShift Band, singers and format, will debut Jan. 9 at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center in Bay City. The Great Lakes Bay Region includes Saginaw, Midland and Isabella counties.
“We hope this will be a good fit and that we can grow this and make it work in other communities,” said Harrison, founder of Traverse City’s SwingShift and the Stars fundraiser which launched in 2008. “We plan to take it farther than the Great Lakes Bay Region.”
The decision to expand comes after three years of research and planning, said Harrison, who is SwingShift Band’s lead singer, dancer and CEO of its parent company, High Impact Productions, which includes “Rebooted,” her country band.
The production company is a for-profit business that Harrison uses to help facilitate fundraising for local and regional charities. Harrison uses money from ticket sales to pay her band, rent a venue and cover the costs of promoting the events. Then the money raised during the voting portion of the competition goes directly to the nonprofits.
Harrison said the expansion will not diminish or have any effect on Traverse City’s dance-off and fundraising, which recently completed its sixth year.
“We have our seasons here down to a real science,” she said. “This is our home and where it began. We hope the next community can embrace it like Traverse City has. It is only a good idea if the community takes to it. I’m hoping that is what will happen.”
The Traverse City fundraiser has raised a total $971,000 for 36 community nonprofit charities since its inception. It runs from September to just before Christmas.
The six nonprofits involved this year earned about $284,000 in donations at three preliminary competitions and the Dec. 20 grande finale. Habitat for Humanity Grand Traverse led with $103,000 in donations. Father Fred Foundation finished with $69,000.
Great Lakes Bay Region charitable nonprofits will supply their own local “stars” to dance with with professional instructors, but the SwingShift Band organization will entertain the audience during breaks between competitive dances, plus provide marketing and organization support as it does in Traverse City.
SwingShift is partnering on the expansion with Bay City businessmen Ron Beebe and Jim McColgan, owners of Minnie Marie Bakers Inc. They purchased Livonia-based Awrey Bakery in February. Awrey is SwingShift and the Stars’ marquee sponsor.
Harrison said the SwingShift’s unique fundraising concept appealed to Beebe and McColgan because of its strong community interaction in helping charitable nonprofits raise money. She believes the new venue is destined to succeed because of their financial support and experience. Beebe already has lined up several car dealerships in that region to sponsor the Jan. 9 event.
“It will take some building, but it will be twice as fast.” Harrison said of the expansion to the Great Lakes Bay Region. “ With the first one everything was by the seat of our pants. Now, we have a lot of tools to help nonprofits be successful. What we offer is four gala events plus the fundraising kickoff. They incur none of those expenses.”
Harrison taught 12 years at Interlochen Arts Academy as a musical theater dance instructor and choreographer before starting Swingshift “to put the fun back into fundraising,” as she likes describe her work. She served seven years on a heart association board of directors in Grand Rapids, working on and attending many fundraisers before moving to Traverse City.
She and her husband, Brad, have two children. He is director of child sponsorship for Christ’s Hope International, an African-based ministry organization that focuses on caring for the AIDS affected children in eight different sub-Saharan African countries.
How the fundraising model works SwingShift and the Stars has two goals -- to offer an "amazing" fundraising opportunity to worthy charities, and to educate the community on the great impact the organizations make in area lives, founder Judy Harrison said. Six nonprofits are chosen through an interview/selection process conducted by Judy Harrison and another High Impact Productions staff member. The nonprofits organize and run their own fundraising and community education efforts with support from High Impact, which produces a four-minute-plus professional video that tells charity's story and work it does. Two of the six charity videos are featured at each of the dance competitions. The nonprofit also can purchase the video afterward for $250 and is given table display space for posters and other informational materials during the competitions. SwingShift handles all marketing, promotional, and entertainment for the nonprofits. All donations raised go to the nonprofits. SwingShift receives admission fees to dance events and sponsorships. Final dance team winners are determined by audience votes and judges' scores. The winning charity is selected by a combination of its fundraising total and points for its community education effort. Each SwingShift ticket-holder votes only once in each category but can put any amount of money into their voting envelope. The charities are required to open bank accounts to hold funds until final event checks are delivered in late December. High Impact Productions does not handle any of the donation money and does not have access to information about charity bank accounts.