Mobilizing support for positive social change through live events — Interview with Marika Anthony-Shaw of PLUS1

PLUS1 partners with live events to mobilize support for positive social change. Matching artists with impactful organizations, PLUS1 adds $1 to each ticket sold and gives away 100% of the money raised to the chosen causes. This interview with co-founder Marika Anthony-Shaw has been edited for length and readability.

You’ve described the “plus-one” ticket sales add-on as the easy part of what you do. For someone who doesn’t understand the rest, what’s the complicated part and why is it important?

PLUS1 goes to places where people are already gathered and uses those opportunities to bring an added dimension to the experience — one that is geared toward active social change. We aggregate public dollars and help activate a fanbase. It’s not simply adding a dollar to every ticket sale and spraying charity dollars, confetti-like, in every direction. We’re much more intentional about what we’re doing.

We use these opportunities to think carefully about the issues, apply an equity lens, and direct  the funding to innovative changemakers that are part of the solution. We need to go beyond traditional concepts of charity and understand how issues intersect with each other. For example, immigration reform, criminal justice reform, conservation and the environment — these things are linked in complex ways. Linking issues is a big part of our practice.

In the future, the lines between political work and culture work are going to become increasingly fuzzy. Our part is to raise awareness, not in a political way, but in a social impact way, asking the question: “How are we taking care of each other?” Our tagline is “compassion is contagious.” Our society needs to raise the baseline for how we take care of each other.

Can you describe what success looks like — i.e. when PLUS1 has hit a “home run”? How do you know? What are the indicators?

We want to achieve seamless integration with the touchpoints that bands have with fans. Just as bands have a PA system and a bus — it’s automatic — they should also have PLUS1 along for a tour. We want to connect directly with the artists, go for dinner with them, talk about the issues they care about, the news, and what’s keeping them up at night, and how those things connect to the songs they’re writing and what they’re talking about.

After that, PLUS1 can become a natural part of everything bands do. They can speak to these issues on TV or radio or on stage. It’s an authentic experience, and then the fans get to hear about it and are part of it. The artists thank the fans for their support. 

Then you do it all again — night after night, tour after tour.

Can you share a story that illustrates the impact of your work and the kinds of relationships you help build between fans and the and causes PLUS1 supports through specific charities?

PLUS1 doesn’t just mean “plus one dollar” — it’s about bringing along another person, inviting them to be your “plus-one.” The Canadian band Arkells has been a really active example of this. They support Rainbow Railroad to help LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers. The band members are personally engaged and fans have become part of that cause — and not only on the night of the show. Thousands of people have gained an understanding of the issue through Arkells’ work. That’s a home-run. 

In the States, we worked with Tyler, The Creator of the Camp Flog Gnaw Festival in Los Angeles, who has severe asthma. When he first partnered with PLUS1, the initial idea was to give a dollar from every festival ticket sold to a national asthma charity. But we know from public health data that you’re ten times more likely to die of asthma if you’re a person of colour than if you’re white. We also know asthma is a leading cause of school absenteeism. Absenteeism is part of the school-to-prison pipeline. So we found an organization to support called Breathmobile, which goes into neighbourhoods in Los Angeles Bay area and parks on school grounds and provides free asthma services to kids right there. This really resonated with Tyler.

Through stories of impact, fans can start to see the connections among the causes they’ve helped support. I saw a post on Instagram from a fan who said, “I’ve given $10 through Plus1 this summer”. They had been to ten PLUS1 shows. They were so proud of it.

Describe the journey from one-time fundraising events (like Live Aid) to “normalizing” the PLUS1 model? 

Our relationships with bands at the beginning were extremely bespoke, high-touch and not scalable. We had to change and get involved with tours that were going to sell over a certain amount of tickets per night. We generally work with the same promoters over and over, and so the process becomes more streamlined at the back end regarding ticketing, granting and getting the dollars. But managing the relationships is still very personalized.

The PLUS1 model is a long-game, but we think that’s the way we need to be to have a greater impact.

What have you learned through PLUS1 that was most unexpected to you — that defied the expectations you had going into this?

There has been so much learning! [Laughs.] We’ve been trying to identify the barriers to making this model normal. One of the barriers is credibility and trust. At the beginning we thought we’d make the process so light-touch that artists would forget they were even doing it, but now we see many artists that are eager to do more and be highly involved.

We’re on track to distribute $5 million in 2019, without asking anyone for money. That also means we’ve interacted with five million fans. So we’re interested in how we aggregate and evaluate impact to achieve greater outcomes. We also had to learn how to build an organization — what kind of staff do we need? What processes can we automate versus what parts need to be highly personalized?

It’s very exciting. We’re learning how to offer the very best of ourselves.