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Fabulous Fundraisers

By Reyna Gobel

A fabulous fundraiser isn’t just about the dollars raised; it’s also about creating an event so memorable that it resonates with the host organization’s mission.

When Dallas Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) put on the Parade of Playhouses for 17 days during August in the city’s NorthPark Center, child abuse awareness was as important as the $156,000 the event raised. The event reached more than 1 million people and challenged the Dallas community to “Stand Up for Abused Children.” Despite the emotionally charged subject, the focus of the event was completely positive.

Give Reason to Celebrate, Despite Difficult Issues
There isn’t anything fun about child abuse, but there is delight in presenting the kinds of homes children deserve: loving and lighthearted. In the form of 17 playhouses, complete with furniture and toys, Dallas CASA brought attention to its mission and offered a reason to celebrate. A coastal-themed “Just Beachy” playhouse, built by LRO Residential, was so finely detailed there was even a surfboard attached to the exterior.

“Not only was it a solid structure that could withstand the ever-changing Texas weather; there were slatted shutter windows and doors, and even flip-flops and beach toys inside,” says Stacy Lillis, Dallas CASA special events manager. A record 2,200 raffle ticket holders spent $5 each to compete for “Just Beachy.” The moderate price of raffle tickets was intentional, designed to increase maximum participation.

More than 15,800 raffle tickets were sold to those viewing the 17 playhouses. Other homes were “purely Texan, like the one created by 505 Ranch and Eastern Partners. The 505 Ranch House came in at a close second in popularity,” Lillis says. “This little home away from home had such a wonderful rustic feel to it. Small would-be cowboys and cowgirls peeked inside this one a lot. There was a shingled roof, and, of course, a small front porch with deer antlers hanging overhead,” she says.

The fundraising event has become a part of the fabric of the greater community. Now in its 18th year, there are second and third generations that make it a point to tour Dallas CASA’s Parade of Playhouses.

“It means that we’re having an impact on residents here and creating a generation of awareness about child abuse,” says Lillis. “It’s a Dallas tradition to participate in this event, and every year we remind the community-just by looking at these adorable houses-that there are thousands of children right now who should be able to play and have joy in their lives, and are just waiting for that chance. 

Tie the Event to the Cause
A Mardi Gras party? No, we’re not suggesting guests pay a premium to line streets along the French Quarter. With the right effort, a fundraiser can hang its hat on a national event-and successfully raise money for a cause. It can ensure key influencers from the community, as well as the organization, address the audience with personal stories of the mission-as long as you have a firm focus on the details.

Event consultant Cheryl Johnson added a personal touch to one such Mardi Gras party. Instead of hiring waiters, “well-known citizens were celebrity waiters, and the male and female who made the most tips were crowned king and queen of the ball,” says Johnson, owner of Kingwood-based Cheryl Johnson Promotions.

Johnson also planned a live auction that included themed outings with elected officials, such as a tour of the capitol building with a congressman. “These were terrific moneymakers,” she says.

Value Venue Location Over Aesthetics
If you’re spending most of your budget to rent a highbrow venue, there won’t be many funds left for fundraising. Instead, you can make nearly any space fabulous with décor.

“For example, say you have to use a warehouse or gymnasium- type space for a black-tie event because it is the only venue available on your budget,” says Johnson. “You can transform it through decorations and staging. Adding touches like a valet, a specialty photo booth or amazing food stations help enhance a less-than-attractive venue.”

Keep in mind that having an upscale event in an area with a higher-than-average crime rate can hurt attendance and the comfort level of the guests. “If you are having a black-tie event, you do not want to have your event in a bad part of town,” says Johnson. “Besides being unsafe, the attendance may not be as good because of negative feelings or stigma associated with the location.”

Go Beyond the Colored Ribbon
Fundraisers often create a tie to an organization’s mission through the use of color: a pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness, or a yellow ribbon to support military men and women.

While this can be an effective visual, don’t stop there. Johnson plans an annual luncheon to raise funds for a battered women and children shelter; she incorporates purple because it is a national symbol of the effort to eradicate domestic violence.

The theme should then stretch beyond the color. “We usually have an inspiring speaker and a silent auction along with the luncheon,” she says. “There is a decorated table contest, and the items used to decorate the tables must be items that can be boxed up and used at the shelter afterward.”

Guests are invited to donate funds, but also to bring requested donations. Along with household items, they are asked to bring clothes and accessories for battered women who will be going into the job market.