A House Party For the Frugal Fundraiser

From Ms. Muse, who dispenses inspired solutions to your organization's challenges... 

In my last post, I described a common  house party scenario: the party is held at a fancy house, a local celebrity/leader/author speaks at the event, the co-chair makes an appeal, and at least some of the guests’ donations are hefty (however the organization defines “hefty”). I also promised to deliver variations on this scenario; what follows is Variation #1 (check future posts for #2).  I describe a group with which I worked, and how we adapted the house party concept to their specific situation. (Note: I changed minor details to protect the organization’s privacy.)

Variation 1: No identified local celebrity, rich donors, donor base, or fancy house … A small, new nonprofit that served a marginalized constituency of the local community faced a cash flow challenge. Unless they could raise some quick cash, the organization would have to survive the next 12 weeks on the amount of funding that typically lasted them only six. The board decided to hold a Valentine’s Day-themed house party three weeks hence; their main goal – to raise at least $3000.

This board did not want an event whose success depended on big names, big houses, or big checks; they were not sure they could identify the necessary "big" people, willing to help, with so little turn-around time. (This is why you want to have a healthy donor base and an updated donor database that at least two people in your organization can use.)

The Party: Unlike the more traditional house party, this event featured a variety of activities, carnival-style. For each one in which they participated, guests were asked to make a suggested donation ($1to $5). Here are some examples:
  • Photos With Famous Heart-Throbs: Volunteers, dressed as famous heart-throbs, posed for digital pictures with guests;  these photos were emailed (with written permission) to guests after the party.
  • Ambulatory Kissing Booth: The volunteer kisser, wearing lots of lipstick, would circulate among party guests, offering to plant a big red smooch on interested guests' cheeks. The kissing booth was actually a picture frame (sans glass, matte, and picture) from which hung a pair of red velvet curtains that the volunteer held in front of himself/herself while working the room. 
  • Tarot readings: Volunteers dressed as tarot readers divined guests’ romantic futures.
  • Evil Ex Drawing: Guests were encouraged to bring unwanted gifts from former partners to the party; these became     drawing prizes (and included a hand-painted desk, a variety of jewelry, artwork, and more). The quality of the items    generated a lot of participation in the drawing. The variety of items made for great entertainment, making the drawing   the hit of the party. 
  • Ambulatory Tattoo Parlor: Volunteer tattoo artists administered temporary heart tattoos from their ambulatory booths. 
  • Tray Girls/Boys – This was a variation of the 1950’s “cigar-cigarette-girl,” selling smokes, candy, and nuts… except that the items for sale on trays were candy and snacks, not cigars and cigarettes; and some of the girls were boys.
There were many other opportunities for guests to part with their cash, but you get the idea. Also generating revenue were donations for:
·         Admission to the house party,
·         Soda, beer, wine, mixed drinks,
·         “Tips” for the bartender,  and
·         An appeal for contributions that the organization’s co-chair made to guests.

The Bottom Line: The board was so happy with the event that they made it an annual fundraiser.

House Party Costs:
  • $350* to purchase beer, wine, and other beverages, and
  • 40 hours of board members' time, divided among five members, to:
                - Plan the party,
                - Issue invitations and publicize events,
                - Set up for party,
                - Clean up after party, and
                - Write and send thank you notes.

House Party Net Revenue/Benefits:
  • Revenue: $3150, and
  • Names of,  and contact information for, over 65 guests who had not previously donated to the organization.

Key to the Party’s Success

The party planners asked themselves these questions:
  • What is needed for our house party to be successful?
  • Who could help fill those needs?
  • What things would motivate them to help?
  • How can our organization provide those motivating things?
The chart below summarizes their discussion.

Organization’s Need
People Who Can Fulfill the Need
Enticements  That Would Motivate Them to Help

How Our Organization Can Provide Those Enticements

Event Planning and Production
At least five board  members to take charge of all aspects of party: planning, execution, follow-up; etc.
Working on a successful endeavor
By brainstorming creative and exciting new ways to put on a fundraiser
Volunteers to entertain and decorate
Chance to do something out of the ordinary
Encouraging volunteers  to design their own entertainment, and asking them to create/provide their own costumes and booths
Drawing Prizes
People to procure drawing prizes
Easy ask
Fun, funny ask
Easy follow-through

Evil Ex Drawing:
Asking people to donate things they probably don’t want anyway ( much easier than asking a cafĂ© owner to donate dinner-for-two, or a shop owner to donate an item from the store)

Soliciting prizes from prospective guests as part of event promotion
Money…Funding,,, Revenue…Moolah
Guests: People to show up and donate
Opportunity to meet people
Something different

Evil Ex Drawing
Tattoo booth
Tarot readings, etc.

And then they provided the enticements.

* I rounded numbers to the nearest nice round number.


"The Hell Raiser's Muse"

"The Hell Raiser's Muse" is a weekly advice column in which our very own muse offers inspired solutions to your questions on matters of fundraising, consciousness raising and hell-raising. Readers are welcome to submit their queries to HRMuse@lisaarnoldconsulting.comnames of actual organizations and events, and other identifying information will be changed. Due to the volume of questions we receive, we cannot promise answers to all inquiries. If our muse doesn't get to yours, you can always seek counsel from Lisa Arnold Consulting.

Note to readers from the Hell Raiser's Muse (HRM):
Below is an excerpt from a cry for help by a nonprofit board member who is haunted by memories of putting on last year's annual fundraiser. Her organization really needs the revenue from its annual fundraiser, but producing this event taxes board members’ nerves.                  
- H.R.M.

Dear Ms. Muse:

Help! After six months, lots of ibuprofen, several nights with the heating pad, several massages, and a couple of sessions with a therapist, I have almost recovered from my organization’s annual fall dinner-and-auction fundraiser, “Harvest of Healing.” Now it’s time to begin work on the next one! Already I have flashbacks: driving to feed and farm supply stores throughout the Seattle area to get 50 bales of hay; borrowing hoes from every neighbor I know even remotely; picking up the cookie bouquet and the spa-in-a-basket for the live auction… and those are just the day-of-event tasks. Is there an easier way to raise the $7000 that this event nets each year? (FYI: We have limited resources….we’re only three years old, with no staff, and a small board.)

Sign Me,
Crabby & Tired Just Thinking About It

Dear Crabby:

Have you considered holding a  house party or two in lieu of your annual fundraiser? Here's an example of a typical house party thrown by a small nonprofit: The five-member board of directors of a small community center in a mid-size city needed quick cash. They decided to hold a house party to occur in one month. Each board member invested an average of less than 10 hours and $10 in producing the party (except for the host, who purchased champagne for 25 guests and cleaned her house on the day of the event). The net? Just under $5000.

Here's how they did it: The host made invitations that she and the other board members each mailed to 10 people. All made follow-up phone calls to invitees (and follow-up calls to the follow-up calls) to:

    1) encourage attendance,
    2) ask those who couldn't attend to donate, and
    3) remind invitees of the event (the follow-up's follow-up). 

Each board member brought an hors d'oeuvre, dessert or beverage to the party.  All board members circulated among the guests, engaging them in one-on-one conversations. A local author gave a brief talk, and with the host, made a brief request for donations, while the other board members passed donation baskets and envelopes. After the event, they sent personalized thank you notes to donors. 

  • Helpful, but not crucial to your event:
           1) your organization has a few friends who can make donations of say, $500 or more,
           2) your event has a famous-ish person or other draw.
           More on the "not crucial" comment later…
  • DO: Let invitees know your event is a fundraiser.
  • DO: After sending/emailing the invites, follow up with phone calls. This is one of the most important things you can do to prepare for your event.
  • DON'T: Let board members huddle in the kitchen during the party, making coffee and washing dishes. (Their partners can do that.) Board members need to be mixing with guests, getting to know them, getting to know them better, and sharing your group's recent successes.
No famous person for your party? No rich people to invite? No house for the house party? No problem! With a bit of creativity, you can adapt this fundraiser to your group's unique conditions. I will talk about how in tomorrow's post. Check back!

Ms. Muse


Audacity of Hope or Tenacity of Nope?

We can’t not come to the table!
That wouldn’t be very nice.
We can’t only tax the rich more -
We all must sacrifice.
We can’t sacrifice the good for the perfect.
Be happy with your little slice!
We can’t expect to have change now.
Impatience is a vice.
We can’t not wage war - folks are suffering…
We’ll manage despite the price.
We can’t afford to give out government cheese,
But here’s five pounds of rice.


If They Only Had More Brains

Welcome to my new blog! Here you will find posts related to one or more of these topics:

  1. People's cooperative efforts to make their corner of the world a better place (Let's call these efforts social change...);
  2. Raising money to pay for social change efforts; and
  3. Getting the word out about, and involving other people in, social change.
This blog is intended for people in the Puget Sound area of Washington, but some of the content may be of interest to the rest of you.

For this first post, I re-wrote the lyrics to the song, "If I Only Had A Brain," from The Wizard of Oz. (I didn't re-write lyrics to the chorus portion of the song. Do you know the chorus? I didn't think so.)

Here are the adjusted lyrics:

If They Only Had More Brains...

We’d have stronger regulations
On greedy corporations,
And no more holey planes.
No more radiated water,
Ecosystems getting slaughtered,
If our leaders had more brains.

Living wages for our teachers
And other human creatures
(More) Pell grants, health care, Head Start...
Bridges that are safe to drive on,
Monthly checks Gran can survive on,
If our leaders had more heart.

Maybe we’d have better health care
and much less corporate welfare
And less white collar crime.
No more tax cuts for the wealthy,
An economy that’s healthy,
If they only had more spine.

It is up to us, the masses,
To dethrone the jackasses
whose elections we rue.
And to the rest we should mention
That we are paying attention
And we will give them their due.

If you didn't click on the links in the lyrics and you want more information about the the current budget shennanigans (BS), click on the links below:

http://www.thenation.com/blog/159350/human-cost-slashonomics for more on the consequences of federal program cuts;
http://sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/news/?id=a25567ff-02c0-4730-a6df-bf1f0039ac78 for more on  corporate welfare;
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/08/washington-protests_n_846659.html for more on how Washington State residents are fighting corporate tax loopholes.

Workshop on Getting Grants 

Designed for not-for-profit organizations new to pursuing grants, this two-day workshop provides an overview of the entire grant-getting process. In particular, it addresses: assessing the applicant organization’s readiness to apply for a grant, researching funding prospects, cultivating relationships with prospective/current funders, writing the grant application, and what to do after its submission. The focus of the workshop is on foundation and corporate grants.

When:   Thursday April 21st: 9:00 a.m. -  4:00 p.m.  (module 1);  and
                Thursday April 28th: 9:00 a.m.  -  4:00 p.m. (module 2)
Where:   Highline Community College –  Burien Community Center Annex
                425 S.W. 144th St., Burien, WA
Cost:      $79 per module          
To Register: Contact Highline Community College at 206.870.3785. 

The Grant-Getting Process 
Grant-Getting Readiness: You Need More Than Needing Money
Researching & Cultivating Relationships With Funders           
Work Plans And Other Ways to Save Your Sanity
Completing The Grant Application
Make Your Application Stand Out
Summary of Key Concepts

About Instructor: Lisa Arnold is a consultant to not-for-profit organizations, has worked for over 20 years in the nonprofit arena, and has a Master’s Degree in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago. She has produced and/or taught numerous fundraising and other workshops for nonprofits throughout Puget Sound. These include a six-day training series in conjunction with the Gill Foundation (production); and workshops at the Evergreen State College, the University of Washington, Highline Community College, and South Seattle Community College.
For more information, visit www.lisaarnoldconsulting.com, or contact her:  206.755.8958 or lisaarnold@lisaarnoldconsulting.com.