BLOG: Can fundraising be fun-raising?

By Assunta Ng

How do you measure the success of an organization’s fundraising event? By the amount of money it raises? By the number of attendees or the quality of the program?

What if you measured success by how good of a time the attendees had?

If you make an event fun and memorable for your supporters, they will be more inclined to return next year. Not only that, they might want to bring their friends along, too. Don’t just think about maximizing your profits for the short term — make your event special and intriguing for guests. That’s how you build a successful, sustainable event. Make sure your guests enjoy the program, rather than making them suffer through the whole thing. Chances are that your guests have been to so many boring charity events that they can recite the program before they even show up.

Making your event stand out can be challenging. Sometimes, it’s the message, drama, performance, or food that surprises the audience. However, sometimes, it can be the professional organization of the event, which focuses on timing and overall excellence of the program.

Foster BEDC 2012 from the Cañon de Sol Winery (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

Here are some examples from a few events that I have attended recently that demonstrate thoughtfulness and strategic thinking from the organizers:

A powerful moment

If you can create one powerful moment at your event, what would it be?

“If you pledge $100 for a scholarship now, please stand up, a student will bring a bottle of wine to you,” said an alumni of the University of Washington’s Foster Business School, who had given testimony on how the Business Enterprise Development Center (BEDC) had helped her at its annual dinner.

Immediately, over 150 people rose. It was an impressive sight, and that was $15,000 in less than five minutes. I couldn’t be more proud of the crowd’s enthusiasm towards BEDC. How could someone refuse receiving a gift and supporting a good cause simultaneously — especially since it didn’t cost them a fortune?

Some guests said they were not planning to give at all, but gave anyway. The wine donor, also a former beneficiary of the BEDC program, received maximum exposure in front of 600 guests. The event was a win-win for all.

Be hilarious

How would you like to follow the Seafair pirates in their pirate ship? Though a rowdy bunch, the pirates served as welcoming entertainment at the Interim-CDA fundraising dinner last month. Interim also used them as an auction item. Of course, there’s no need to use a slide to show the pirates. They were there live!
Make it fun

Seafair pirates Doh Estice, Capt. Kidd, Danny Sullivan, Arnuts!, Davy Jones, Red Beard, and Ai Kidd (Photo by Assunta Ng/NWAW)

Create a signature act for your program. The Seattle Chinatown/International Preservation Development Authority held its annual dinner at the Georgetown Ballroom recently, featuring a spring roll eating contest. The contest was the highlight of the evening.

Round it up

“No” was the answer that grocery stores got when they asked people to donate $1 for nonprofit organizations at the checkout stand.

But Goodwill Industries was able to turn a “no” to a “yes” at its checkout stand when I shopped there last December.

“Would you like to round up the amount, so the change would go to [job training and education programs]?”

I could not even hear the last part of the sentence, but I realized it had to be for a good cause.

Yes, keep the change, I said. Those 65 cents was an amount I and many others could afford. The idea is to give coins and not a dollar. I didn’t see anyone else object while I was there.

Betsy McFeely, Goodwill communication director, said the six-week round up campaign raised over $100,000. Another round up program will begin in mid-May this year.

Make it painless

YWCA Keynote Speaker Geena Davis

It didn’t matter that the room was packed with over 2,000 people for the YWCA over the past few years. The event never topped a million dollars.

You can’t just ask people to give a big sum. People often put a limit on themselves during fundraising events. Someone at the event has to set the tone and provide the vision to help guide the donors to the mountaintop. Make the asking amount reasonable.

The Y’s annual lunch at the Washington State Convention Center did just that on April 30. Union Bank Vice President Tim Otani, also a Y board member, was excited to share with me the news that the Y had reached its $1 million goal by flashing dollar signs across the big screen TVs in the venue.

The message was clear for the audience. If each of the 2,500 attendees increased their donation by $27 over the minimum of $150, the Y would top a million bucks.

The family of KING-TV Anchor Lori Matsukawa (Photo by Eugene Tagawa)

Celebrity family ask

At many events, celebrities do “the ask” for charitable organizations.

The Japanese American Cultural Community Center of Washington did it a little differently at Seattle University. Lori Matsukawa’s entire family asked. Each family member gave the audience an example of how they supported the center. How sweet of Matsukawa’s parents to fly from Hawaii to Seattle for the occasion? (end)

To read the publisher’s blog in Chinese, visit

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