Posted tagged ‘Fundraising’

Should governments operate more like nonprofits?

March 5, 2019

Last year, my then 11-year old son and I were watching a TV news story about a fundraiser for a girl with cancer at a Hawaii elementary school. He burst out, “Why don’t they do a fundraiser for rail?”


He suggested that government could find kids who would ride rail and tell their stories, like a girl who can’t get to school without rail.


“Sometimes kids have better ideas than government,” he said seriously.


I didn’t have the HART to tell him that when governments engage in fundraising, it’s called “taxation.”


And then I thought: why can’t governments hold fundraisers?


Governments are often admonished to act more like businesses, by providing better products (government services), good customer service, and lower prices (to avoid raising taxes).


Maybe governments should try to operate more like nonprofit organizations.


Nonprofits are usually recognized for their passion for a cause, their commitment to service, and their shoe-string budgets. They don’t have any taxing power, so they rely on donations, volunteers, and in-kind gifts.


Instead of raising taxes for everyone, maybe state and city governments could hold annual fundraising campaigns. The people and organizations could donate money to support specific departments or initiatives.


Government-nonprofit operations are proven to work; consider the annual school carnivals and Friends of the Library of Hawaii. Schools and libraries are government organizations that really do operate like nonprofits, and are supported by nonprofit fundraising.


And possibly the biggest effect on taxpayers: receiving thank you letters instead of tax bills.


At the time, I told my son to write a letter to the newspaper outlining his idea and offered to send it in for him. He wasn’t interested, and went back to his homework. But I wanted to share his idea with you.


What would motivate you to donate money to government?


Four small ways to give

September 4, 2018

We all want to make a difference.

There are so many worthwhile charities and nonprofits to choose from, but many of us don’t have a lot of money to donate. Or maybe we aren’t ready to make a commitment through a will or trust.

Every gift matters.

We don’t have to wait until we’re “successful” or have a lot of money to support a cause we feel passionate about.

You’ve probably heard of these ideas before, but here are four small ways to give that can have a big impact.

Loose change. We can start small, by collecting loose change in a piggy bank and writing the name of a nonprofit on it. There are also bank accounts, debit cards, and credit cards that will “round up” our purchases to the nearest dollar and transfer it into a savings account.

Birthday gifts. The older we get, the less we need – and the more we can buy for ourselves. Instead of buying a gift or throwing a party, ask family and friends to donate to your favorite charity or nonprofit. Some social media companies will help us create a birthday fundraiser, set a fundraising goal, and may even make a small contribution.

Matching donation fundraisers. One of the easiest ways to make our donations go further is to contribute to a matching donation campaign. In September, we could choose the Foodland Give Aloha Campaign, which matches each donation up to $250,00 for all organizations combined. If we shop at Foodland or Sak-n-Save, we can make donations right from the check-out line. Golfers and golf fans might like this one: In November through January, we could choose the Aloha for Hawaii Charities Campaign, through the Sony Open in Hawaii, which gives charities a “bonus boost” if they raise at least $1,000 in donations.

Changing beneficiaries. We can give a donation in the future, without committing to a specific dollar amount today. All we need to do is name a nonprofit as a beneficiary on a checking account, savings account, or retirement plan. We don’t need a lawyer, we don’t need to specify an amount, and we can change beneficiaries at any time.

How do you give back to our community? Which charities and nonprofits do you support – and why do you support them?

Lessons from a benefit dinner

June 5, 2018

I was nervous planning my first benefit dinner for our nonprofit organization. I’ve planned a few events before (family parties and a wedding, exhibit tables and trade shows), but never something that was supposed to raise money. I felt a lot of pressure to make the event memorable and successful.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to start from scratch. I could follow the event plan from previous events, with a few updates. The event taught me a lot about fundraising, planning, and expectations.

Here are five things I’ve learned from planning a benefit dinner:

Start planning earlier than you think you need to. The biggest thing I learned is that there is never as much time as you think. If you’re hosting a benefit dinner, you need to start “selling” tables, finding a Master of Ceremonies, and booking entertainment six to eight months in advance. We waited too long – not because we were over-confident, but because we had so much to do and limited staff. By that time, any organizations and groups already had plans, or could not make a commitment in such a short time.

“No” is not personal. At first, I was uncomfortable asking for silent auction donations. I had to constantly remind myself that I wasn’t asking for me, I was asking for my nonprofit. It was hard to learn that “no” (or no response at all) isn’t personal. I won’t lie – it was never easy, but it got easier to make the ask.

Make a connection between donors and beneficiaries. I was really anxious about making a short speech, and I spent a huge amount of time writing and re-writing it. I knew that I didn’t want the speech to be about me or the organization. I wanted to focus not on our organization’s achievements, but on how our donors and supporters make our work possible.

You can’t thank people enough. It was really important to thank people for supporting us. We thanked donors and sponsors in the welcome speech and in the dinner program. We also took some time to do a thank you video. We asked each of our staff to say a few words, and put it together in a short video. It was a nice way for staff members to remember why we were there that night. And after most people went home, I surprised our staff and volunteers with a small handmade gift to show my appreciation.

Expect that not everything will go as expected. Event planners follow checklists, make schedules, and plan for contingencies. But at some point, you have to expect that not everything will go as expected. And that’s okay. For example, our silent auction was successful – everyone paid, everyone went home with the right items, and no one was angry. Only I knew that it didn’t go as smoothly as I planned.

At the end of the night, we cleaned up, packed up, and headed home. I knew that I couldn’t rest yet – small nonprofits can’t take breaks – but I was thankful that we came together as a team, pleased our guests, and made a positive impact on our beneficiaries.

Have you attended a benefit dinner or gala event? What are the most memorable and enjoyable fundraisers you attended? What do you wish more fundraising events would do?

Planning a benefit concert on a budget

December 12, 2017

Earlier this year, I helped plan a benefit concert. It was a fundraiser for a nonprofit organization, and in the beginning it seemed like a straight-forward event. We had a dedicated volunteer with a lot of energy and drive. We had performers. We had a venue. We even had a grant to cover concert expenses, like the invitations, program, security, and parking attendants.

In the end, we pulled off a successful event. We had a respectable number of attendees for a stormy night. The attendees, performers, organization staff, and venue staff were pleased. We raised more money than we expected. There were no problems or “uh-oh” moments.

It’s the middle part of event planning that was stressful. There’s more involved to planning a successful fundraising event than sending out invitations and waiting for people to show up.

You can find comprehensive fundraising checklists and event plans online, but here are a few insights that I learned from planning a benefit concert on a small budget.

* Build a trifecta of partners. For a well-planned event on a budget, you really need a trifecta of strategic partners: an expert (someone with knowledge, talent, content, or connections), a venue (someone with a good location), and a media outlet (someone with print, radio, television, or website reach). A donor or sponsor (someone with money) is nice to have, and can let you expand the event; but without the three key partners, it’s hard to keep to a modest budget.

* Budget more time than you think you’ll need — you’ll need that extra time. Event planning consumed a lot more time than I expected. Even adding extra days to our timeline wasn’t enough; we were constantly running behind, because we can’t control how other people use their time.

* Show them a glimpse of what’s to come. Share a short rehearsal video online to encourage people to attend the concert, inspire volunteers, and energize performers. It doesn’t have to be polished – in fact, releasing a candid, behind-the-scenes video can give acquaintances the feeling of being insiders.

* Find volunteers – early. I waited until the last weeks before the event to look for volunteers, and it was a scramble to assign tasks. You can learn from my mistake, and ask for volunteers early on. In fact, over the last few weeks before the event, you can email weekly updates to keep concert performers, staff, and board members informed and excited.

* Add something unexpected. Show your appreciation for concert attendees, as our volunteer organizer did when he created a songbook to give to attendees after the event. And show your appreciation for event volunteers, before, during, and after the event. Our volunteer organizer shared his enthusiasm through a songbook that was given to attendees after the concert. You probably can’t afford an honorarium, but if you have a hobby (like knitting, pottery, or jewelry-making), you could create small, hand-made gifts that have more meaning than a store-bought gift. Plus, you can spend time doing something you enjoy.

One final thought: People attend benefit concerts for many reasons. They may simply enjoy music, or want to spend time with other people, or know the performers, or feel loyalty to your organization. But the most important reason is to support the children, individuals, and families who need a helping hand.

Which events or fundraisers impressed you with something well-coordinated or surprising (in a good way)? Have you ever planned a corporate event or fundraiser? If yes, what worked well – and what do you wish you had known?



Artwork courtesy of

School fundraising while we shop

January 29, 2013

It’s the start of the new year, and possibly a new round of fundraisers for parents. By the end of the school year, most of us are worn out from ticket sales, donations, and volunteering. But there are a few painless ways to raise money for our schools.

Here are nine ways to help your local school, just by buying the products you usually buy:

1. Recycling: drink it up! Donate your aluminum cans, plastic bottles, and glass bottles to your local school. In Hawaii, they’re worth 5 cents per container.

2. BoxTops4Education: clip box tops! Earn cash for your local school by clipping Box Tops labels from participating products. Get the kids involved with cutting and taping the labels on the sheets. You can earn even more cash for your school by shopping online. Each Box Top is worth 10 cents.

3. eScrip at Safeway: buy groceries! Register your Safeway or Pak ‘n Save loyalty card and they will contribute up to 4% of the purchases you make to your local school. And when you shop at the eScrip Online Mall, you can earn up to 10% more. 

4. Give with Target: click to vote! Between July and September, vote weekly for your favorite school online. Schools receive a $25 Target gift card for every 25 votes received, up to $10,000 in gift cards. No purchase is necessary; the campaign ends when in September or when $2.5 million in Target gift cards have been awarded.

5. Labels for Education: clip labels! Earn educational merchandise for your school, such as computers, software, sports equipment, musical instruments, and library books, when you redeem Labels for Education UPCs and beverage caps. Labels for Education are worth 1 point (except for specially-marked packages). You can also shop online at participating retailers to earn even more points.

6. MyCokeRewards: enter codes! Donate your MyCokeRewards points to your local school and help them get things like athletic equipment, classroom supplies, learning aids and more. The kids can enter the codes online. Most codes are worth 3 points; codes on multi-packs may be worth 6-25 points.

7. Shop and Score at Times Supermarket: buy groceries! Between August and October, when you buy participating products at Times Supermarket, you can earn points for Hawaii high school athletes. Times is giving away $250,000 in Adidas uniforms. 

8. Help Literacy in Hawaii Shine with Longs and Kraft: buy groceries! Between February 3 and March 2, 2013, when you shop at Longs Drugs, 10¢ for every participating Kraft product you buy will be donated to the Friends of the Library of Hawaii (up to $10,000).

9. Shop for Higher Education at Foodland: buy groceries! Between February and March, you can earn points for participating high schools by shopping at Foodland and Sack N Save stores. Foodland awards $200,000 in college scholarships to 100 Hawaii high school students.

It’s a great feeling to help local schools just by buying the things we usually buy.

5 things I learned about school fundraising

November 27, 2012

Last year, I got involved with my son’s elementary school by writing teacher bios for the parent-teacher association, attending family night fundraisers, and chaperoning field trips. This year, my son is at a different elementary school, and I decided to take on a bigger challenge. I volunteered to coordinate one of the first fundraisers of the school year: the Foodland Give Aloha campaign.

It’s my first experience with fundraising, and I was inspired by a public school that achieved amazing results last year. I adapted their planning ideas and set a modest goal for the campaign.

We got off to a late start, but the PCNC (parent-community networking center) coordinator worked hard to get the word out in parent emails and the Student Council worked hard to generate student buzz.

After weeks of preparation, a month of worry and anticipation, and weeks of satisfaction, here’s what I learned about school fundraising:

1. Choose a fundraiser that is easy. The fundraiser collected all the money for us and even matched a percentage of our donations, so our money would stretch farther. They offered to put a banner for us in their store (though we missed the application deadline). And they promised to deliver a check within one month of the fundraiser’s end.

2. Consider the timing. Our fundraiser was only during the month of September, creating a sense of urgency and giving us a limited time to focus our energy. It was early enough in the school year that parents weren’t worn out from fundraising.

3. Wow them at the first meeting. People were only vaguely familiar with the fundraiser, but I went to the first meeting with two things to “wow” them: a large poster of the school mascot to measure our success in reaching our goal, and an amazing fundraising result from another school. It’s not just parents that you have to convince; wow the parent-teacher association too, instead of assuming that they will support your fundraiser because it’s a good one.

4. Get kids excited. Nothing compares with a child’s enthusiasm – and nagging. We motivated students with an ice cream party for the class with the highest contributions. We coordinated with the Student Council to get the word out, and they came up with classroom announcements, flyers, and a poster that measured the amount of class donations in ice cream scoops.

5. Communicate early and often. We told parents and the community why we’re raising the money and how much we wanted to raise, spelling out how to make a donation and offering small prizes (like a $25 gift card or a school t-shirt). We sent out email updates and mentioned the fundraiser in the school newsletter. We followed up with a “last week to donate” reminder. At the end of the fundraiser, we thanked everyone who helped with the fundraiser, told parents how much we raised, and shared the names of the prize winners.

The results: From $0 raised last year, we exceeded our $3,000 fundraising goal. We had about 15% parent participation, and received 21% matching funds from Foodland and the Western Union Foundation.

What are your most effective fundraising tips? What is the most innovative fundraiser that has inspired you to contribute?