Recently in Special events Category

May 26, 2011

Volunteers' Guide to Fundraising Newly in Print!

If you could only know the process that goes into creating a book like The Volunteers' Guide to Fundraising -- a bit like sausage-making, but in a good way.

FLIB.gifThis latest addition to the Nolo nonprofit series is meant for PTA parents, team and band booster volunteers, librarians who never realized their job was to include fundraising, church, synagogue, and other religious group members, and so on.

It's a guide to the most likely types of fundraising when your group is short on time, paid staff, and other stuff that an established nonprofit might have, such as a database of donors and a five-year plan.

 These include special events, selling candy (and many alternatives to candy), auctions (online and off), walkathons, home & garden tours, benefit concerts, and more.

Now, back to the writing process: To make sure the book didn't just recite tired instructions that you've heard before, I talked to dozens of people in the same categories just described. They generously shared their stories, favorite tips, nightmare mistakes, and so on. The book includes direct quotes from many of them, along with sample materials, checklists, and other advice. Here's a quick sampling:

  • Regarding scheduling an event, Emily Shem-Tov, a volunteer fundraiser with the Morgan Hill Library Foundation, warns: "One year we held our Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest on the same afternoon as the Super Bowl. That was a mistake. We thought that crossword puzzle people and Super Bowl people would be mutually exclusive, but no, attendance was definitely down."
  • Regarding planning house tours, Michael Crowe, of the Oakland Heritage Alliance, says, "Tourgoers do like to see big, grand houses. No matter how much you talk up the virtues of more modest homes on your tour, they may stay away entirely if you don't present at least some grand ones."
  • Regarding hiring a professional auctioneer, Jackie T., a parent volunteer, says, "Our hired auctioneer suggested clever ways to us to have the kids help out -- like having a little girl carry the quilt onstage that all the kindergarteners had helped make, with cutout patterns of their hands -- it sold for several thousand dollars, our top revenue -producer for the live auction -- or having the Cub Scouts get on stage in their uniforms to model the leaf raking that they'd do for the highest bidder."
That's just the beginning! Read and enjoy.
May 16, 2011

Rubber Duck Race Planners: What's Your Duck Budget?

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As any fundraising special events planner knows, part of the key to making a profit is to create a budget that carefully accounts for all possible expenses, and then to make sure that the likely income from the event will exceed the total expenses by a healthy margin.

But who knew that rubber duck races were getting so popular that you might need to purchase upwards of 40,000 ducks?

That's right, from Texas to Hawaii, duck adopters are flocking (oops, bad pun) to join the race. You can read about it in the article, "Rubber duckies go with the flow of charity," by Kristin R. Jackson.

The good news for the people making the budgets is that, according to my online research, two-inch rubber duckies can be had for about 39 cents apiece. So maybe it's storage space that should be your biggest concern.

May 9, 2011

Nonprofit Auction Item: A Vasectomy for You and Your Cat!?

The humble school bake sale is dead, according to NPR's recent story, "Forget Bake Sales: Schools Turn to Luxe Auctions," by Lauren Silverman. The story describes how (as every parent knows), trying to fill the gaps left by reduced government funding is forcing parents to put in as much effort at special events such as auctions (live or online) as they did for their own weddings.

Even if to you, this is old news, the story is worth a listen for:

  • its ideas on the latest items to attract bids (though not every school has access to an unwashed Lance Armstrong T-shirt, I assume) and
  • the professional auctioneer demonstrating how she slows down her normally rapid-fire patter when dealing with a benefit auction audience (who isn't used to live auctions).
cat.jpgUnfortunately, you won't find anything in the story about what type of doctor is able to offer a vasectomy to both the top bidder and his cat!

Whichever of your volunteers can line this one up probably deserves a prize. 

March 10, 2011

Hawaii Library Shows Link Between Fundraising and Volunteerism

The headline in American Libraries' magazine aptly reads, "The Little Library That Could." The article, by Brian Matthews, describes how the largely volunteer-run Makiki Community Library in Honolulu manages to stay afloat even without collecting library fines for overdue materials!

What I'd like to know is how, beyond the "aloha spirit" mentioned, the library manages to do such a great job keeping volunteers interested. They've got some volunteers willingly cleaning the bathrooms, for God's sake! That sort of commitment doesn't come without effort on the part of the organization, and good leadership -- which it sounds like the Makiki Library has, in the form of a former librarian turned Friends group president, Wendy Maxwell. 

In any case, it's a fine example of how rallying volunteers can supplant some of the need to raise straight cash.

February 23, 2011

Holding a Book Sale? Watch Out for Mildewed Books!

A friend of mine recently attended an antiquarian book fair in San Francisco, where scores of booklovers and vendors met to discuss things like the value of a first edition Wizard of Oz, or where to get a 15th century illuminated manuscript. In other words, these are people who have a passion for books unbeknownst to average mortals.
books.jpgWhich is why I found one of the Q&As especially interesting. Someone asked what impact mildew has on the value of a book. The response? "Throw the book out." Mildewed books are apparently not only unappealing, but an actual health hazard, particularly to people with respiratory sensitivities.

And the mildew can spread to other books, as described in this writeup on As you read it, take careful note of the suggestions for how to store books so that they don't develop mildew problems. And if you're holding a fundraising book sale, consider this your official permission to simply toss any books with a bad smell into the recycle bin.
October 25, 2010

Charitable Events: Secure the Cashbox!

Here's a news story that's a perfect reminder of why, even though you trust your group's own members and donors, you've got to consider the worst possibilities when it comes to handling cash. Beware the passing kid on the bicycle . . . .

October 22, 2010

Fundraising Garage Sales Move Goods That the Thrift Stores Won't Take!

Have you tried donating used goods to places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army lately? Having recently moved, I've done so by the carload -- and often end up carting stuff right back home.

"No, we don't take cushions." "Sorry, no stuffed animals." "Not if it needs repairs."

I'm not blaming them -- they no doubt get a lot of plain old garbage, and have to draw the line somewhere.

But that leaves some major challenges for people trying to get rid of stuff that isn't ready for the landfill. And that's where nonprofit garage sales can come in. If you can accept items that the established resale places can't, you'll be doing a service to both the donors and any interested buyers, and help the environment by reducing landfill volume. (If you really think no one will be interested in buying an item, put it in a "free" box.)

At day's end, of course, you may need to get creative about disposing of things, as you yourself realize that Goodwill and Salvation Army aren't going to take all the leftovers. Scout around your community ahead of time. The local animal shelter, for example, may have a use for bedding that others won't take.
October 13, 2010

Your Charity Benefit Events: Will They Interest People Who Don't Know Your Group?

The season of both charity benefit performances and germs is upon us, as I was unhappily reminded last night when stomach flu kept me from seeing comedian Robin Williams at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. He was doing a benefit performance for the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society, whose facility serving homeless dogs and cats was recently destroyed by fire.

Why look, here's one of the dogs they placed for adoption before the fire!

Anyway, as far as I know, the people who got my tickets were simply eager to see Robin Williams, no matter who the event benefited. With that kind of star power, the event itself is  practically a guaranteed success.

But the more interesting question, given that not every organization will be lucky enough to sign up Robin Williams, is whether those guests who were just there for the fun went away with some interest in supporting the Humane Society in the future? I'll never know for sure, but it's an interesting lens through which to view your own events. How do you make sure your message will reach not only your loyal supporters, but friends of friends, substitutes for people who stayed home sick, and so forth -- who may have only a dim idea of what your organization does?

Putting up posters and other visual representations of your organization's work is a good start, as is a rousing speech during intermission. I believe the Humane Society brought a dog along. In any case, remember that such an event offers a rare chance to compellingly and succinctly state what your organization does, why it does it, and why someone who just walked in off the street should care. Let your message outlive the event!

Now, back to my cup of ginger tea.
October 4, 2010

Moment of Fundraising Jealousy

There's just no getting around it. No matter how closely we examine our fundraising connections
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and assets, none of us active in U.S. fundraising will ever be able to hold a charity event quite like the one recently hosted by Bee Gee Robin Gibb and his wife Dwina (an artist and Druid) at their Oxfordshire estate, to benefit the group Against Breast Cancer.

Twelfth century mansions and former monasteries are simply hard to come by around our fifty states.

Especially ones that, according to their owner are haunted by a prank-playing ghost who mysteriously winds nonexistent clocks and fills up the chapel font with water.

Oh well. At least your major donors are less likely to face any spectral surprises.
September 6, 2010

Catch the Magic of a Live Auction on A Prairie Home Companion

Silent auctions seem to have become every nonprofit's default -- they can be tucked away in a side room during a gala dinner, and you don't have to pay an auctioneer.

But, for, a reminder of the energy that a live auction can create, check out the September 4, 2010 edition of A Prairie Home Companion. Host Garrison Keillor interviews auctioneer Bill Berg (ever wondered how someone becomes an auctioneer?) and they auction off two stuffed chickens (as in the fuzzy, toy kind) for charity -- and bring in a whopping $220. (After clicking the link, scroll down to "Segment 3," and move the little bar to "78:25.")

As Keillor says, Berg is "capable of taking charge of a large crowd of people and extorting more money from them than they ever thought they had to spend." And he does it in such a happy voice, almost as if he's singing. If you end up wanting to hire him, however, get ready to pay his plane fare from Minnesota.