Getting people to open their wallets is no easy task, but when you have a dedicated group of individuals, combined with a successful event, it’s possible to raise significant funds to help a worthy cause. So what, exactly, is the formula for a successful fund-raiser? That’s a question best answered by the pros.
Organizing a successful fund-raiser year after year takes months of planning and countless hours of legwork, says Joan Wendt, who, for the past two years, has served as co-chair for the USO’s Annual Salute to Heroes Gala. She says the No. 1 factor in any event is the cause. “I never expected to be as involved as I am, but my heart is just with this organization,” she says. “To have a successful event, your heart has to be in it.” Wendt herself has had two sons serve in the military. She says the troops and their families inspire her to give her all. “They’re making such sacrifices, and if we can do anything to help them, I’m all for it,” she says.
Wendt says another way to ensure a successful turnout is to have the right people on board. “In any event, the name of the game is the committee,” she says. “Over the years of serving on committees, I’ve found that there are people you can count on, and those are the people you ask to help you out as vice-chairs.” She says the vice-chairs are the ones who take charge of certain segments of an event, such as decorations, corporate sponsorships and auctions. In addition to an awards presentation honoring local military heroes, the USO gala also offers cocktails, dinner, entertainment, dancing and a silent auction. Wendt believes that variety is part of the reason the event draws 450 to 500 people a year. “For all we offer, we do keep the price rather low so that people really get a lot for their money.”
Pricing, combined with other logistics such as timing and publicity, will keep people coming back year after year, according to Judy Ciapciak, executive director of Friends of Kids with Cancer, an organization that has held a highly successful fashion show and boutique for the past 15 years. “Timing is essential. Once we decide on a date, we let our attendees know immediately and invite them back,” she says. Publicity is another piece of the puzzle, she says. “Getting the information out early, and letting people know what they can look forward to this time around—from the emcee to the celebrity models—those are definite draws.”
But Ciapciak believes the fashion show’s main attraction is the cause itself. “The children with cancer are our models,” she says. “They are 25 or so of the cutest children around—they are the draw.” Ciapciak says the fund-raiser seems to grow even more popular each year. “We started out having a luncheon, which always sold out within two weeks. So in recent years, we’ve added a second show in the evening to accommodate the demand,” she says, adding that the second show has also helped draw more men to the event. “When people hear the word ‘fashion,’ they assume it’s geared toward women. That’s what makes our show so unique: Men, women and families show up to support us.”
All the hard work and effort that goes into planning a fund-raiser can fall apart without a Plan B, according to Micki Keim, associate director of development for Life Skills. This holds especially true at Life Skills, which considers its annual golf tournament its biggest fund-raiser each year. “Weather is definitely a concern when planning an outdoor event,” she says. “Our alternate plan has always been to offer a clinic in the clubhouse in case of severe heat or a rainout.” Fortunately, Keim says, Life Skills has not had to resort to its Plan B in the tourney’s 22-year history. “We’ve had 100-degree weather, and play always goes on,” she says. “We make sure people are staying cool enough, and we always have cool, wet towels and plenty of water available.”
Keim adds that location is important, especially when golf is concerned. “The selection of the golf course is key,” she says. “Our partnership with Meadowbrook Country Club comes with a prestige factor that we can offer our attendees.” Another asset to any event, she says, is name recognition of the key players. For many years, NHL Hall of Famer Bernie Federko has served as honorary chairman of the tournament.
“People participate because of his involvement, and he’s probably the reason we sell out every year,” Keim says. “Each year, we try to figure out how to accommodate more people.” But as Keim and everyone else involved with fund-raisers will tell you, making room for more people is a welcome challenge and a sign of good things to come.