Right on the Money: Garnering Community Support for Your Special Events

Photograph of young people ballroom dancing.

When the curtain went up on the fifth annual “Dance with the Stars & Conway’s Got Talent” show, there wasn’t an empty seat in the house.

Choosing to Excel recently held the fundraiser to help support its Conway, Arkansas-based Mentoring Children of Prisoners program. The talent show featured home-grown celebrities like Miss Arkansas and local news anchors. The event helped the organization earn new donors, boost publicity, and raise awareness for its cause.

Planning a big event can be a nerve-wracking business, though. How do you make sure that people will actually come?

“Awareness in the community is key,” says Thelma Moton, executive director of Choosing to Excel, which, as a 20-year-old organization, is well-established in the community and among local schools. Moton told us how they got there and how newer programs can dig in, plant some roots, and garner community support.

Start from within.

Ask people involved in different facets of your organization—staff, board members, young people, families—for their input on fundraising events. “Allow others to provide their perspectives, and don’t worry about having to change your plan," says Moton. "Adding a variety of insight will improve the outcome, and it lets everyone own the event.”

Involve community stakeholders.

For a youth mentoring program, one of the key constituents is youth in the community.  Moton assembled a youth leadership committee involving over 30 young people from area schools. These eighth and ninth graders helped to plan the event and get the word out about it. “The youth played a major role in the event’s success,” says Moton. “And they fulfilled their community service requirements in the process.”

Moton also reached out to school officials and administrators for both guidance and talent. The superintendent of schools performed as an Elvis impersonator, and the athletic director, guidance counselors and coaches performed as Gladys Knight and the Pips. Moton says getting community members involved makes the event more fun, and it also broadens the universe of people who come to the event. Those people then became potential new donors or volunteers for the organization.

Showcase the work you do.

To help people make that transition from audience member to donor or volunteer, you need to highlight your program and your efforts to help the community. During their event, Choosing to Excel showed a video of mentors, mentees, and families talking about their experiences with the program. “Highlighting actual successes through the stories allows people to see what’s going on with their dollars and know there is impact being made,” explains Moton.

“You want them to walk away knowing, ‘I want to support youth and families,’” she says.

In the article, Ten Rules of Events Fundraising, NCFY talks about the potential financial and intangible benefits of putting on fundraising events.


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