Fundraising Events

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.

It’s like herding cats ….

I went to the “wrap up” meeting for the 2009 Forks & Corks event tonight.

(As a sidebar –it was called “Diamonds & Coals” … a remnant of my years as chair: diamonds, obviously, are those shiny things we’re all proud of; coal includes those things when “given some additional time and pressure” could become diamonds …)

Ironically enough, I’ve also had meetings this week for two other events which are just getting off the ground. I’m struck by how much managing volunteers is like ‘herding cats” ( … oh wait, doesn’t that apply to almost any kind of management?)

So, here are random thoughts I’ve accumulated over the past 30+ years of assorted and sundry volunteer assignments you may be able to apply to your next commitment …

1. People come to the table for different reasons. For free or for hire, they have their own agenda. Do yourself a favor and try to identify it; unless you can make their goals work with yours, it’s not going to last.

2 Some people want to shine. To let that happen you have to get out of the way.

3. Some people just want the shine. Non-performers are everywhere ... in the volunteer space and in the workplace. If you’re in charge, you need to figure out how to minimize the drag of the people who will not carry out their commitments  (sometimes that’s with confrontation and sometimes it’s not!).

4. Are we “consensus” or “committee”? Consensus means we talk until we all agree (but, we all have to have some shared ownership to make that happen!) Committee means we have assignments, accept them and meet the agreed-upon deadlines.

5. Another meeting? If you’re running the meeting, determine the agenda in advance. Have objectives, have assignments, have discussion … but limit it to the information needed to carry out the assignments to achieve the objectives. (That whole “quote” thing is an entirely different posting to follow.)

6. Define expectations. See #1, #2, and #4 above. Hope against hope all you can, but chances are, unless you tell someone what you want, they’re not going to do it.

7. Ownership=accountability. This gets back to #2; if someone’s willing to take ownership for a task, let them … and hold them responsible for it.

8. Respect your workhorses.  In any situation (but especially volunteer committees) there are always a few dedicated individuals who will never fail.  Nurture and protect them; they’ll save you … but that’s not a blank check!

9. Share the vision. Most of us live day-to-day, but think far more broadly. Tap into that breadth (#1 not withstanding) … Why are we here? To accomplish some tasks, sure … but it’s probably more than that!

10. Celebrate the victories! A successful event, campaign, whatever…that’s the end result. There are 101 milestones that led up to it. A new sponsorship goal … a new idea to meet a recurring logistical challenge … a new publicity idea … the way to engender success is to recognize–and celebrate–it.

11. Make work fun.  Doesn’t all that “Protestant work ethic” “nose to the grindstone” talk make you cringe? Sure, we need results. And, sure, it takes work. But–and this is especially true if you’re volunteering!–can’t you make it a little fun? Otherwise, why would I be involved?

12. We’re all on the journey. If you’re heading up a committee, it’s probably because you’ve  grown into these responsibilities. As did the person before you. As will the person behind you. It’s about growth. And, to the extent you can nurture that growth, you will engender it.

Hmmmm … Zen.

Must be time to end.