Category Archives: Special Events

Fundraising Kudos to: Strike Debt

Okay, let’s just all drop our collective jaws at the success of Strike Debt’s recent telethon, which raised money for a project it calls Rolling Jubilee. The group brought in a whopping $293,000 — enough, it figures, to buy $5.9 million in unpaid medical debt obligations off creditors, and thus save a lot of people from bankruptcy. (Around 62% of bankruptcies are caused by medical debts.) The group is calling it a “bailout for the 99 percent.”

Why did the fundraiser work so well? I’m sure much could be said about the organizing, skills, and determination of those running the telethon, but it also sounds like, in the words of the Village Voice, they “struck a nerve.” With the group’s origins in the Occupy movement, it tapped into Americans’ frustration at the crippling nature of debts that arose for reasons beyond their control.

Being able to point donors to the exact way in which their money would be used is an unusual feature of this fundraiser, as well.

Strike Debt is basically acting as the middleman to a person in need — which should be true of many nonprofits, but the link is often harder to demonstrate.

What’s more, donors are getting a “bargain” — their money doesn’t pay off another’s debt dollar for dollar, but is going to buy bad debts on the secondary market, where the creditors are typically willing to sell them off for pennies on the dollar. No wonder this one’s going viral!


Lost-and-Found Booth Crucial to Special Events!

Whether at a carnival, benefit concert, or other special event, participants will probably lose or forget things. Just ask me — I left my sweater behind at the “Free for All” series of concerts on the UC Berkeley campus just last weekend. (The late summer weather was too hot to even contemplate the existence of sweaters!)

I knew perfectly well that leaving the sweater on the concert hall seat was my own fault. And yet, irrationally,  its loss made me sad enough to feel less excited about the event overall.

But wait! There’s a happy ending: The efficiency with which the event volunteers rounded up my sweater and later made it available to me were so impressive that I have to write a blog about it.

Here’s what they did, which your nonprofit may well want to emulate, in order to turn other sad faces into happy ones:

1) Assign volunteers to check the venues for lost items after each concert.

2) Have those volunteers drop off lost items at the information booth.

3) Display a big sign on the information booth saying “LOST AND FOUND” so that participants could easily find where to look.

4) For straggler items (like my sweater) that didn’t make it to the booth by day’s end, designate a location where items would be kept, and a person to call to ask about them.

Your event may not be as big as the Cal one, but if it is, you may want to take the added step that they did: Draw up a written list of all the lost and found items, so that when people like me call, saying, “Um, it’s a black sweater, I can’t remember the brand,” they can easily read down the list of descriptions instead of pawing through a pile of stuff.

Soon, I hope to be reunited with said sweater.

Planning a Big Event? Train Your Volunteers Ahead of Time

“I have to go to a pre-event training? Just to volunteer? Really?” At least, that’s what I first said (under my breath) when asked to come to an evening training in order to participate in setup at the upcoming “Bay to Barkers” dog walk and festival. Bay to Barkers is an annual fundraiser for the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society (BEBHS), being held this year in Albany, California on Sunday July 29.

Of course, I dutifully arrived at the training. And now I get it: For a big event like this one, there really is a lot of information that the organizers need to convey – and questions that volunteers like me might have.

As Ashley Hurd, President of Eventful (with which BEBHS contracted in order to put on the event), “I’ve learned from years of events-coordination that when they’ve got lots of moving parts, we can save a lot of time and trouble by getting volunteers briefed ahead of time. Once volunteers get to the event, they then know where to go and what they’re doing.”

You don’t need to hold an advance training for every type of nonprofit fundraising event, of course. If the event is small-scale or simple, perhaps with only a few volunteers (or only a few who haven’t done this event before), there’s no need to add another item to everyone’s schedule.

But now that I think back, I can remember instances where I wish the group holding the event had, in fact, held a preparatory training. There was the one where the (overworked) organizer told me, upon arrival the day of, that I’d be the primary First-Aid person. Surprise! Luckily, I’ve had First-Aid training, and don’t mind the sight of blood if it’s not coming out of me, but the organizer didn’t know that. Then, somewhere in mid-afternoon, after a participant complained that the toilet paper had run out in all the Portapotties, the organizer told me with a “didn’t you know?” tone that refilling them was part of my job, too. I bet a lot of participants wish I’d gone to an advance training for that event.

With all that in mind (or not), here are Ashley’s top tips for holding a successful volunteer training:

  • Give people plenty of advance notice of the training date. “People don’t like to commit to an extra meeting too far in advance, but if you wait too long, they’re already booked. Continue following up with people about both the training and the event itself.”
  • Offer food. “Pizza and sodas, for instance, are always a good way to get people to a meeting.”
  • Convey information. “I like to give the big picture of what will be happening and when. I also cover things that participants might ask about, like where the bathrooms and other key things are. You can get into the details of specific volunteer positions, too. In some cases, as people have a few days to think about their job, they ask important questions in between.”
  • Pass out a map of the event. “I’m a visual person, so I like to give others the chance to picture where they’ll be, and something to refer to once they’re there.”
  • Leave time for questions. “You’ll get plenty of them; everything from, ‘Oh, it’s on Sunday, not Saturday?!’ to ‘Can I bring my own dog along?’”
  • Make sure people are comfortable with their job assignments. “If you don’t know all the volunteers well ahead of time, this is a chance to not only make sure people are comfortable with their positions, but that they’re well matched to the work requirements. Not everyone is really suited to be a greeter, for example, or should be out in the parking lot for hours, alone.”
  • Thank people. “It’s always important to let volunteers know they’re doing important work, and are appreciated. Saying thanks at a training is one more opportunity to get this message across – and doubly important if it gets inadvertently overlooked at the event itself.”

Me, I’m looking forward to putting all my advance knowledge to use on Sunday. (Yes, Sunday.) But no bandaging, this time.

Fundraising Events Bring in Fun-Lovers: But Donors?

The Guardian (U.K.) recently brought together a group of experts to give their top tips for holding a fundraising event, in “Best bits: making events-based fundraising work.” All of the advice is worth a look, but what intrigued me was how many experts focused on the issue of connecting the event and its participants to the ongoing work of the nonprofit.

By way of background, many nonprofit fundraising events have no thematic consistency with the nonprofit’s mission or activities. Scanning the headlines these days will give you a pretty quick indicator of this. Aside from the Cicero, New York family that’s holding a dog-washing event to raise money for their child’s service dog, most of the stories you’ll find are about events like a Relay for Life marathon to support cancer research, a dog walk and fun run to support the Salvation Army, and a bowling tournament for a children’s foundation.

I’m not saying these are inconsistent or antithetical to the nonprofit’s mission — just that they’re as likely to attract people wishing to take on a personal challenge or have fun with friends as people with any long-term desire to support the nonprofit in question.

Here’s what the Guardian’s slate of experts had to say about this issue:

  • “Focus on participants: . . . It’s really important to listen to them, thank them and provide them with the tools to get more involved with the charity.” – Hywel Mills, partnership manager, Movember.
  • “[When] charities bring in a new audience and add them to their main supporter database[,] [t]he events supporters then receive what feels like irrelevant and disengaging messages because they didn’t get involved due to the cause. Targeted and transition communications are essential for retention.” – Al Bell – freelance consultant, Directory of Social Change (DSC).
  • “We recently conducted a study on a mass-participation run (80,000 runners) and found that the challenge of the event was more important than the fundraising for participants. Charities should find a way to keep their brand and cause central . . . .” – Simon Lockyer – marketing director, Blackbaud.
  • “We have given out free DVDs with a few short films at appropriate events as they are good way of getting our charity’s message across.” – Claire McHenry – events team manager, Help for Heroes.

It’s definitely a tough balance to get right. You’re focused on making sure the event goes smoothly and on schedule, and that people are enjoying themselves. Going to an extreme like, say, sitting everyone down for a half-hour video about your nonprofit is not going to work. But in my experience, too many nonprofits head toward the other extreme. Aside from knowing the nonprofit’s name, participants may leave knowing nothing about what the group does, what it needs, and what their participation and donation did to help. Don’t let that happen at your next event.

Fundraising Kudos to Emeryville’s “Shortest Triathlon Ever”

Sometimes all it takes is a little twist on an old fundraising theme to capture people’s attention. With its “Shortest Triathlon Ever,” the Bay Area Orthopaedic Sports and Spine Foundation has done just that, in a benefit for the Emery Unified School District’s Health & Wellness Initiative.

I noticed the event because it’s garnering local press coverage, such as in the March edition of the East Bay Monthly.

“[S]o short, anyone can do it!” is the foundation’s catch phrase for this event. It combines a 10o-yard swim, 2.5 mile bike race (on flat ground), and a 2.1 mile run — on a window-shopping course that includes a mall, no less. Kids and people of varying fitness levels are encouraged. (Hey, I think I could even do it!)

By having a shorter race, they no doubt cut down on the hours which they must ask of volunteers, or for which they must get permits or rent facilities. Of course, this doesn’t mean plenty of planning won’t still be required. For in-depth guidance on what’s required to plan this type of fundraising event, see The Volunteers’ Guide to Fundraising.

The Positive Side of Re-Giving

Last year, donor Bill Knight paid $12,000 at a charity event for a guitar autographed by Gene Simmons of Kiss — and later donated it to another charity for auction. This year, he paid $20,000 for another Gene Simmons-autographed guitar. He plans to give this one away to charity, too. (See “Kids With Cancer Society sets $300,000 fundraising record.)

What a great tradition! It makes you wonder you many memorabilia items are sitting in donor’s houses that they’ve enjoyed for a while — and are maybe ready to pass that ownership thrill onto someone else. (It also makes you wonder how many more Gene Simmons guitars Bill Knight will buy. Stay tuned for next year’s auction . . . .)

No need to wonder, however, whether this picture shows a Gene Simmons guitar. It doesn’t.

Podcast Interview With Ilona Bray About The Volunteer’s Guide to Fundraising

Here’s podcast three of three, drawn from the recently published The Volunteer’s Guide to Fundraising. In the attached podcast, Author Ilona Bray reveals her own first (and misguided) experience with fundraising, and describes highlights from the book.

So That’s How Walkathons Got Started!

A good portion of the population has never known a world without walkathons, and probably wouldn’t be able to imagine it. But I was surprised to learn that this now-ubiquitous type of nonprofit fundraiser didn’t even exist until I was in grade school.

Walking for a cause dates back to 1969, according to a recent article  by Anne Kadet in SmartMoney magazine, “Cashathon: The Rise of Charity Races.” That’s when a group of Christians in Bismarck, North Dakota, had the idea of marching in solidarity with the world’s poor (hey look, an actual mission link!) while raising money for food programs. As Kadet explains, it “was half fund-raiser, half protest.”

They should probably take credit for the gift of prophecy, given how their strategy has since taken off.

Kadet’s article does a great job of both outlining the history of the “thon” and looking at what it has morphed into today — with sky’s-the-limit budgets, increased competition between groups, ever-weirder variations on the theme (walking over glass shards, anyone?), and increasing participant expectations for swag. It’s the kind of scenario that might lead to predictions that the whole enterprise is ultimately doomed. I wouldn’t bet on it, though Kadet does point out that some groups are facing reduced income from their walkathons for the simple reason that so many others are going on — sometimes at the very same time.

Basically, you’ve got to read the article. In fact, if you’re planning or developing the budget for a walkathon or charity race, you might want to pick up the print version, if only to see the expanded version of the “Where The Money Goes” chart (the full version of which is not available online). This breaks down all the major expenses, and helps to answer the question of why only 48% of the net proceeds of these events, on average, go to charity. Who knew that you’d have to spend 6% of your income on participant T-shirts, 2% on toilets, 3% on signage, and 8% on permits and security?

Fundraising When the Economy Is Down: Newly Released Podcast

Fundraising is harder for every group out there, but small, mostly volunteer-led groups face particular challenges — and have come up with unique ways to overcome those challenges. Hear from parents, event planners, and other volunteers who contributed to Ilona Bray’s recent book, The Volunteer’s Guide to Fundraising, in this newly released podcast (from the CD-ROM that comes with the book), “Fundraising in a Down Economy.”

Getting Creative With Fundraising Methods: Newly Released Podcast

Wondering how important it is to come up with a fundraiser for your group that’s new and different? Or how other groups have managed to come up with winning ideas? Check out the podcast “Bringing Creativity to Your Fundraising Efforts,” drawn from Ilona Bray’s recently published book, The Volunteer’s Guide to Fundraising. It includes tips and stories from parents, events planners, and more.