Austin Group Throws Incredible Fundraiser with Help of Headliners

March 1, 2010
by Mark Coats

Our February fundraiser featured Julia Bolz. She kept the crowd rapt with her stories of Afghanistan schools and children. I was quite moved by the engagement of the community. A peace organizer who has traveled often to the Middle East looked around the room and recognizing many people commented that we sure brought together a good group.

How it all came together? To start, knowing that Julia Bolz had offered her time to fundraise in Texas on a particular date gave us a solid kick in the butt to get started.

We quickly reserved a venue we’d used before and printed save-the-date postcards. Those got sent out around New Year’s. To provide some start power, David, our newest partner, roped in speaker Jim Hightower, a nationally known populist and author who lives in Austin. With these essentials nailed down we printed up invitations, complete with pictures of Julia & Jim. The invitation included a donor reply form on the back, and a self-addressed envelop, giving invitees an easy way to support our work even if they would not be attending.

Inviting was key. It really helps to begin with big list of allies on an excel spread sheet, a list built up from networking in the community and past RESULTS events. Anne uploaded this to a Google doc for the team to share. We added columns to log progress and check off steps.

The Google doc was a great new tool this year. It enabled the inviting leader to track how many people were being contacted and where to focus additional help. Our tracking document included the following columns: Save-the-Date sent, Invitation Sent, # Attending, and Confirmed. The key column was the ‘# Attending’ and its automatic total cell.

Inviting was not limited to the list, though. Partners kept invitations with them and could bring up the event anywhere, whipping out an invitation to go along with Julia Bolz’s story about a little girl who was the first to learn how to read in her family. I invited three people from the gym that I might not even recognize in street clothes. None showed up, but one mailed a check for $100!

Two day’s before the event the team met on a conference call and finalized our attendance estimate. With 170 in the ‘# Attending’ column, we rounded down by 25% for no-shows, then added back in a few in anticipation of the public responding to calendar announcements in local papers (which yielded very little). We were quite pleased to estimate 150 guests and end up with 145 actually attending.

Several partners put together an excellent printed program, which included an outreach meeting we scheduled exactly one week later. Eight guests signed up to come and learn what it means to be a RESULTS partner, so we’ll see how many make a commitment at our outreach event.

Something we’d never gotten quite right at any of our previous events was laying out the room with the right number of tables. This time we nailed it. With twenty tables seating an average of about six people, the room was full of energy and felt packed — despite it being a basketball court! And the refreshments ordering was on target. (We’ve learned from past events that dessert is so much easier than a meal and guests seem just as satisfied.)

The event itself went off smoothly. As people came in they were greeted, given a name tag, and checked off or signed in. Greeters directed them to help themselves to the vittles, find a seat, and make themselves comfortable.

Recruiting plenty of volunteers paid off. We had dessert wranglers, clean-up kitchen help, and sign-in greeters ready to go. A few experienced “church ladies” who were familiar with the kitchen at the church activity center, helped us avoid stressful situations, like how does one operate the Hobart dish washer and the industrial sink and faucet sprayers? No worries there. This freed up the partners to spend time with the guests, both before and after the presentations.

Although we fell short of our stretch goal of 200 people and $20,000, having that goal gave us a target to reach for. With donations still coming in, we’ve brought in over $12,000. We suspected it would come in low, because we’d just conducted a friends and family campaign in the fall, before we knew Julia Bolz would be in Austin. We invited those donors of course, but with the assurance that they were “paid up,” having just recently made a donation.

It ain’t over even after the event evening. We are still collecting feedback on what worked and what could be improved. And never forget the essential thank you cards for every donor and volunteer.

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