Most everyone has been part of a fundraising event. Whether you purchased tickets at the “request” of your boss or an important client, were strong-armed into volunteering by your spouse or a co-worker, or helped to organize one because you sit on a charity’s board of directors, you’ve likely been there and done that. And you have the gift certificates and objects d’art you “won” at the silent auction to prove it. (There’s a reason that alcohol is usually served at these things, you know.)
What you might not know, though, is how great special events are created. A lot of people believe that they are delivered ready-made by the director of development or the chair of the board’s fundraising committee – kind of like how the stork drops that cute little baby off on your doorstep. The reality is more like the facts of life: a sometimes messy mix of love, necessity, commitment, accident, passion, and luck.
There are three essential ingredients for a truly exceptional charitable special event: 1) the event must be fun; 2) it must raise much more than it costs; and 3) there can’t be a mismatch between the event and the organization’s mission. An event that includes an open bar and the opportunity to test drive Formula 1 race cars might be lots of fun, for example, but it will also be very costly and not a great match if your organization’s mission is to prevent drinking and driving.
I have been privileged over the last nine months to participate in the birth of a very special event that has all three ingredients: Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity’s UpScale ReSale Design Challenge. It started when a group of staff and volunteers were tossing around ideas for a new fundraiser after work one day. We wanted to replace a long-time spring fundraiser – a fashion show – with something different that would have a greater connection to Habitat’s mission. We also needed to meet the very ambitious goals for fundraising that our board had set for the next fiscal year while finding new ways to showcase the two Habitat ReStores where we resell donated furniture, appliances, accessories, and other household goods.
We threw around a number of ideas, but all lacked at least one of the essential ingredients. Then we hit upon the UpScale ReSale Design Challenge. Could we have local interior designers compete with each other to see who can make the best-decorated room – using only items they find at one of our ReStores? And how about displaying the rooms as vignettes at the Schwartz Center, where they will be judged by style gurus and the general public? Could people even buy all or part of the vignettes on the spot? Yes, yes, and yes! An event that highlights how low-cost items can be turned into designer furnishings while raising funds for our homeownership program is a perfect storm of fun, financial benefit, and mission consistency.
If you’re thinking of helping a charitable organization bring a new special event into the world, be responsible. Make sure that it is fun, profitable, and consistent with your mission. Ask any florist, printer, or caterer who is solicited weekly to help with a charity fundraiser: event over-population is a real problem! So make sure that the event you create is the right one for the organization that you love.
Like a 1950s father-to-be, I’ve been able to observe the whole process from a safe distance while the professionals take care of everything. A volunteer committee has been handling the pre-event examinations and preparations, while designers have been working furiously to bring new life to donated items from the ReStores. I’ll be there at the Schwartz Center on April 25th and 26th when the event is delivered – outside the delivery door, naturally. Come say hello and I’ll give you a bubble gum cigar.
Steve Spain is the Executive Director of Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity. Over the last 25 years, CFHFH has provided first-time homeownership opportunities to over 150 families and currently builds a dozen new houses a year. To explore volunteer or sponsorship opportunities or to learn more about Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity’s programs, visit www.capefearhabitat.org. Contact Mr. Spain at [email protected]. Like CFHFH on Facebook: www.facebook.com/capefearhabitat.
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