10 Tips to a Successful Event

We went to a great fundraiser recently – the kind you wish you’d invited more friends to join you at. And that you hope they plan again … because you know you’ll want to be a part of it.

"Art Soup" was "an inaugural event to benefit the art and music programs at Synergy Services Youth Resiliency Center." Before launching into the tips, I think a bit of background is helpful.

Synergy Services is a well-established local organization, started in 1971 as a shelter for runaway and homeless youth. Since then, the agency has expanded its reach to include young children and women victimized by abuse.

In 2009, Synergy opened its Youth Resiliency Center (YRC). The YRC provides a "therapeutic arts-based programs delivered by the finest teaching artists in the community."

Or, in layman's terms, according to one of the Board Certified Art Therapists, Jennifer Kempema, to provide a safe, supervised open art studio to which youngsters can come and express themselves through art, poetry or music.

"There are no directed art projects or assignments," Jen explained. "We ask, 'What do you want to make?' and then see if we can help them make it."

The open, brightly lit space is crowded with paintings, writings and sculpted clay objects in various stages of completion. But it takes money to keep supplies available to nurture this kind of healing creativity. Which gets us to Art Soup, and the 10 ways it exemplifies how to organize successful fundraising event.
  1. Dare to dream. You have to have a vision of what you want to accomplish and the passion Jen and her colleagues have for their work with these kids is readily apparent. And that came through in virtually every aspect of the event, too. The focus wasn't on raising money - it was on nurturing creativity in kids.
  2. Keep your mission in mind. The event was a soup and wine tasting, and included the offer "and take home a hand-crafted bowl created by one of our youth artisans."  As you walked in YRC, virtually all available flat surfaces were covered in  brightly colored bowls and trays, which had been created and glazed by children in the program. As we left, multiple staff and volunteers checked to ensure we had selected a bowl to take with us. Local musicians played throughout the event as well, in keeping with the music therapy programs the Center also offers.
  3. Sell in-house first. Jen and fellow art therapist Callie Lawson initially hatched the idea. They reached out to two colleagues in development - Meghan Denney and Corky McCaffrey - and then to the Center's director, building a solid base of internal support while the event was still in its infancy.
  4. Spread the love (and the labor). After recruiting internal support, they turned to the Board. And to friends who knew and shared their passion and would be willing to help out. One of the biggest dangers of special events is that they become so consuming of staff time and energy they end up diverting an organization from its actual focus. A strong volunteer organizing committee will help preclude this (but that warrants its own post at another time).
  5. Be realistic. Both in time and scope. The event was scheduled more than 18 moths out to ensure time would be available to manage all the details. And from the outset, they planned to keep it small (target: 200 attendees) and manageable to help ensure its success.
  6. Think sustainable. This wasn't to be a one-time event. It had to be repeatable and scalable, something that could grow with the program and build on its opening success.
  7. Be responsible stewards. Sponsors were secured to ensure basic costs would be covered and to eliminate the risk of additional drain on an already-tight budget. Local restauranteurs were recruited to showcase their favorite soups and a local wine bar agreed to support the event as well.
  8. Make it accessible. Tickets were reasonably priced at $50. Dress, casual. Sunday afternoon from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. opened it to an afternoon or evening crowd.
  9. Spread the word. Jen and others on the committee reached out primarily through social media. Friends on Facebook. Followers on Twitter. They provided complimentary tickets to art teachers in the Northland school district and chefs at the participating restaurants, encouraging them to help spread the word as well. Synergy also promoted the event in its newsletter and mailed events to prior donors.
  10. Make it fun. Fun for the committee. Fun for the kids creating the bowls. Fun for attendees. The event was truly a celebration of the arts. Not some staid, pretentious exhibition, but an experience that is unique and inviting. Alive and in the moment. Inspiring and uplifting. In fact, we came away with a new appreciation of the healing power of arts.
And that, I think, that was Jen's hope from the very beginning. Which means the event was a success.