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 café 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.