It doesn't take much money to make an event look special. You might be a top flight organization whose donors have high expectations, if so you'll likely have a budget to match. However, if you are with an organization that has a tight budget, you'll need to get creative to make your events sparkle.
I like to create "vision boards" with pictures from the internet put together as a collage so I can pitch my ideas about how I want the event to look and feel. Here's one I did recently as an example.
This shows many of the actual materials I planned to purchase and the colors I wanted to work with as well as the way I would deploy the decorations at the event. My budget was only $500 and I had to make these decorations work for 4 different events and they would end up being shipped across the country 4 times.
One of my favorite websites for party decor is Shindigz. Amazon also has some great deals and their Prime shipping is great when you need something for an event last minute.
I like to start with gossamer from Shindigz, which can be used as table runners or to tie up tablecloths around highboy tables. Gossamer comes in a 40 foot roll and can often be used for more than one event. Usually I pair it with some other material with some texture for variety. Burlap would work or tulle or in the case above, I used a shiny, fuzzy black material. Everything I bought was interchangeable variations of the school's colors, so I could switch up the way I used the materials at different events.
Flowers cost lots of money and cannot be reused, so paper lanterns with LED lights are a good option with candles on the table too. Confetti also adds budget sparkle to a table but check with your venue before using as it can be difficult to clean up.
I'll be returning to donor events as a regular topic on Real Deal Fundraising. Future posts I have planned include creating playlists for donor events, what should be on your donor event planning checklist, working with event vendors and several others. Subscribe today if you don't want to miss a post.
Here are some pictures of how the materials above actually looked at one event:
Scrubs is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. If you aren't familiar with the show, it's a comedy (sometimes dramedy) about a medical resident, his friends and their lives in a hospital. The theme song says, "I can't do this all on my own. I'm no superman."
This lesson is something that I had to learn the hard way. I was always the student who hated group work, because I shouldered most of the responsibility. So, over the course of my career, I came to view myself as a bit of loner. "I like to work independently," I would tell myself.
The problem, of course, is that you can't. As a fundraiser, you are immediately in a position of dependence on the donor. The donor is not obligated to support you. Our profession is by definition, dependent.
Secondly, you can't stuff all the envelopes yourself. You'll need to work with staff, interns, or vendors to meet all of your job tasks. And working in an office in any capacity is a dependent situation.
When I came back to my alma mater to work, I was hired along with 5 other individuals, 4 of whom were development staff. We went through training together and helped each other through our time at the organization. We called our little group "Our Pledge Class". It was with the pledge class that I finally realized that you are stronger if you form alliances with others. Even if I could do it on my own, it was easier and a lot more fun with others.
Scrubs ended but I have read that Zach Braff and Donald Faison (the actors who play the two main characters from Scrubs) are still best friends. All of my "pledge class" has moved on from that organization but we keep in touch. I know if I called any one of them for advice or a favor today, they would help me out.
So, my takeaway for today (inspired by the show Scrubs) is to cultivate your work relationships as much as you cultivate your donor relationships.
And here's a compilation of all the Scrubs EEEEEEEEAGLEs to make your Friday awesome!
What follows is an excerpt from my upcoming e-book How to Staff Your Phonathon Super-Fast: The 7 Secrets to Fill the Seats. Subscribe today for a chance to win a copy of this guide to help phonathon managers get off the hamster wheel of caller turnover and begin raising serious money and loving their jobs.
Make your job "The Best Job On Campus"
When a student on your campus tells other students that they work at the call center, what images are conjured in the minds of those other students? Does an image of a telemarketer pop up? Do they liken it to mind-numb drudgery like a drive-thru worker? Are they confused, not understanding exactly what they do at the call center? None of these images bode well for your future recruitment prospects.
What image would you like there to be of your call center on campus? You have an opportunity to create it starting today. The brand I wanted to create at the University of South Carolina was simple. I wanted it to be seen as “The Best Job on Campus”. Nothing less in my mind was enough. To be considered anything less than that made my job ridiculously and unnecessarily difficult. I truly believed, having been a student caller myself, that this was the best opportunity on campus for student employment.
What did it mean to be the best job on campus and practically speaking, how did I market that concept?
Define for yourself what it is about your call center that makes it the best. Here’s some things to consider:
Bonuses and Prizes
Free Food (Sometimes)
Communicating your brand (in words)
The most important way your brand is communication is word of mouth within the student population. Make your call center as awesome as you say it is and you’ll garner the goodwill and support of your current callers as ambassadors. Don’t neglect this step.
Simply listing the benefits is good but it should be as short as possible and not be a long list. Finding clever snappy ways to word the perks is essential. It will require your creativity. You have a ready-made focus group in your current student callers. Write 80-100 taglines and have them pick their 5 favorites.
A shortcut to this is to name your group like it is a student organization. My call center was called Carolina Callers. The name is still in use today. It wasn’t the place that was important it was them, the callers. Being a Carolina Caller was an identity, joining akin to signing up with a student organization. When you name the group and student leaders join the group, you communicate everything you need to about your brand just by saying “Carolina Callers: The Best Job on Campus”.
A good way to collect language to use is to ask your callers “What call center means to me?” or to finish the sentence, “I love being a caller because….”. When you have these quotes, you can use them in tandem with caller photographs to create advertisements that essentially testimonials for being the best place to work on campus.
Communicating your brand (in images)
Follow standard graphic design practices. Make sure you use consistent fonts (and not too many of them) to create your advertisements. Use classic images like simple and sleek black and white clip art or photographs of your current callers. In your images of callers, always have them wear tee-shirts of your institution in the official school colors of your institution.
Don’t crowd your images. And make sure, whatever you go, that your advertisements stand out. Use fluorescent paper for bulletin board flyers. In photos, callers should have headsets on so it doesn’t look like any other job. Or maybe you show them eating pizza or cupcakes in a group to highlight that “perk”.
Lastly, call center is a place where you can be a little bit silly. Find the popular meme of the moment on Facebook and create a similar one about call center. It will serve you well in social media promotions and it will show that the center isn’t too serious.
All year I look forward to summertime because So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) comes on. I absolutely love this show. All the various styles of dance and the surprises of dancers who become standouts, especially outside of their main style. This year, they are showcasing kids, ages 8-13. It’s amazing.
One my favorite dancers ever is Gene Kelly. One of the many reasons he is so admirable is that he became proficient in several different areas: dancer, actor, singer, choreographer, director and more. I realize this is part of the reason I love SYTYCD. The emphasis on versatility and stretching your talents into new territory draws me in.
In this there are important lessons for fundraisers. Fundraising is inherently multi-disciplinary, drawing on a panoply of skill sets. You can be a super-star at the soft skills: active listening, securing the meeting, chatting up donors, asking. But you also need to be at least proficient at the hard skills: data analysis, research, calendar planning, financial literacy (like endowments). In certain areas of development you also need be somewhat of a graphic designer, web designer, copy writer, event planner, and human resource professional.
On the show SYTYCD, hip hop dancers with no formal training are sometimes thrown into jazz or contemporary routines. They have to do lifts and point their toes and move in a way that is a whole new vocabulary for their bodies. Dancers of many different styles must pull off Bollywood routines and ballerinas must master hip hop.
The dancers that succeed on the show not only work very hard and practice incessantly to master the new style but they approach the new style with a spirit of fun and challenge. And most importantly, when it comes time to perform, they carry off the routine with confidence. And when you are in your own style, you have to SHINE! You maximize your impact when you are playing on your home turf.
Throughout my career, I seem to have alternated between jobs that allowed me to do a “dive deep” into an area where I have a good deal of confidence and jobs where I had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at me. In those “stretch” jobs, I learned so much and developed that sense of versatility and confidence. That confidence allowed me to shine when I was in a role with a more narrow focus.
You might be a people person but your boss gives you a grant to write. This is one more chance to expand your scope and skill set. You might be an introvert but you have to plan a huge event. Embrace this. When you are back in your “style” maximize your impact and wow everyone.
People love a good theme.
They will deny it but it is true. Ask for $25 and it falls flat. Ask for $20.16 in honor of your Class of 2016 and suddenly the same group is completely inspired.
Throw a Faculty-Staff Campaign kickoff and it is just another reception with peach tea. Throw a Glee inspired Lip Sync Contest with an ironic high school prom theme and it’s something no one has ever seen before.
Is your leadership annual giving society threshold $1,000 per year? What if it were named for your first president or most beloved president? What if the threshold were based on your founding year, for instance $1,904? (You could have special lower levels for young alumni.)
When I worked for The University of Southern Mississippi, our team started the Aubrey K. Lucas Society. It is named for our longest serving president, who also happens to be our longest consecutive year donor. He is famous for wearing bow ties. Each year those donors who have given a gift in each of the last three fiscal years gets a black and gold bow tie-themed car decal. Who would ever want to miss a year of giving? It's too fun to miss out on.
The key is that the themed events and ideas are specific. They show off the unique character of your institution and your personality as a fundraiser. Therefore they work on two levels: they are fun and enjoyable but they also reinforce and strengthen ties to your institution.
Go ahead and embrace the theme. Your job will be more meaningful and fun. Your donors will be amused and happy to participate in something fun and original.
Video is such an amazing tool for connecting with donors. I love finding gems of inspiration on youtube. So, to keep this Friday fun, here's some of the funniest advancement and fundraising videos I've seen.
These first two are from the first Face of Y'ALL campaign (Young Alumni Leaving a Legacy), which was a tremendously successful young alumni campaign from the University of South Carolina. Some of my Carolina Callers were included in this first video. The second video is a creative way to use the president and a mascot to hilarious effect. Dr. Sorensen even had a stunt double for that video but I've been sworn to secrecy about who it was.
I'm so envious of this video from Bowling Green State University. What a dream to have donors with such a great sense of humor! This video not only celebrates their giving but surely it inspires others to get involved. What a wonderful thing!
And I can't do a video post without some awesome flash mobs!!
Jessica Cloud, CFRE
I've been called the Tasmanian Devil of fundraising and I'm here to talk shop with you.