"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