I started putting together fundraisers when my dad passed away from ALS. It’ll be 10 years this June.
It’s hard to believe that much time has passed, but when that happened, I was inspired to do something to help others in the ALS community. So I threw a benefit. Year after year, I’ve continued my fundraising efforts but have shared the love amongst a few charities like The Thirst Project, Art of Elysium, and Homes 4 Families.
I have a friend getting ready to do the Aids Lifecycle ride – 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles – and he was a bit stuck on how to fundraise. So I thought, more people might benefit from these simple tips – so here goes!
1. Just ASK!
When I threw my first fundraiser, I procrastinated. I was afraid to start. I didn’t know where to start and I was certain everyone would tell me no.
The truth is, so many people were willing to help; I just had to take the initiative to ask. Start by visiting your favorite establishments and asking for in-kind donations. I went to dinner at my favorite sushi spot (Murakami) and after the meal, asked the manager if they’d be willing to donate a gift certificate for the silent auction. They happily obliged and have been donating year after year. I did the same with Vida Emmanuel Day Spa, where I’ve been getting facials for 6 years. They generously donated and now are also regular donors.
Start where you have established relationships. It may seem awkward at first, but it was easy, and they get a tax write off.
2. Pick a Slow Night of the Week
My first fundraiser was at a bar called Don’t Tell Mamma. I got the venue for free, thanks to a friend who waitressed there. Friends in the service industry can easily talk to management for you and gauge interest.
Pick an off night, like a Tuesday. Most establishments would be thrilled to have 50 people supporting their bar on a night they aren’t usually busy.
3. Make it Fun!
You’ve got a silent auction and a venue, now make sure the event is memorable!
Tip #1 is the most important for a reason. That first year, I did even more asking by enlisting some of my comedian friends to perform at my benefit.
Hot tip: Comedians LOVE getting stage time. I had no trouble booking seven(!) fantastic working comics to perform at this benefit for free. It was a huge success. Another year, I put together a show full of talented musicians who generously volunteered their time and talents. More recently, we love doing Karaoke nights. So do our guests.
No matter what you decide, make it fun. Guests want to come to something special and they will happily support your cause if you give them an excuse to have a fun night out.
3. Utilize Social Media
Share fundraising links on your social platforms and engage a broader audience. Create a call to action. Be specific and share facts about the cause.
For a recent World Water Day fundraiser, I found that letting people know that a $25 donation provided clean drinking water for 1 person for life was a powerful fact. And related it to something tangible. That’s just one meal out, or a couple rounds of drinks (or 1 round in LA 😩)!
Or create a challenge. Set daily goals and watch how eagerly your network will rise to the occasion. Perhaps ask for 10 people to donate $5 that day. You’d be surprised who steps up, and people often give more than the ask.
4. Repeat Yourself
Social media is great, but don’t depend on it. Create an email list of friends, family and colleagues who would be interested in supporting you. If anyone asks to be removed, do it, pronto (no one will, it’s charity, and I’ve found people will just delete your message if they aren’t interested).
That being said, you have to craft on average, 3 well-worded, concise emails. Research shows it takes that many exposures to create action. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself, but also be creative. Don’t cut and copy the same email three times. Write something new and fresh, but repeat the important information – date of the event, link to the fundraising page, why it’s important to you.
5. Give Back
Now that you’ve got some silent auction items, save one or two things for a door prize, raffle, or online contest. Your friends and family will love the chance to win something.
I’ve found that selling raffle tickets can generate a lot more money than placing certain items in a silent auction. Be strategic. But remember, people love the thrill of winning something!
6. Do What You Can
You don’t have to raise an exorbitant amount of money, or throw a huge party to be successful.
Get a small group of friends together for a backyard pot luck and place a donation envelope by a build your own tacos bar. Host a movie night and ask for friends to donate what they would have spent on a ticket and concessions. It doesn’t matter how much you raise. It all helps. And any amount you do raise is more than what you would have raised without trying at all. Do be afraid of so-called failure. The only way to fail is to not even start.
10 years later, I’m proud to say, we’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars for some amazing causes and have had a great time doing so. I personally enjoy planning these events and attending them. I get to catch up with friends and colleagues who I don’t see all the time and they know they’re coming to a fun party that they’ll feel good about attending. It’s truly a win/win.
Happy fundraising, Do-Gooders!