Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Gripping the Grass Roots - It's Best and Worst In One Event

I've never been one to give up easily.

So much so, that I get very stubborn.

Michael Jackson once said, "I'm a lover, not a fighter." turns out that I'm both.  Especially when something or someone I care for is under attack.

Most people think that if an organization is lacking funds that they should just go and apply for grants.  It's really much more difficult than that.  Most grants don't apply to the current fiscal year, and they're all so highly competitive.


Personally, I think that going grassroots is another way to raise money.  You get the community's support, and you get the organizations name out there.  Word of mouth can be a very powerful thing.

So, in this past month, while I've filed for unemployment, I've been busting my ass to try to get a fundraiser off the ground.  It's been one of the most frustrating experiences I've had so far.  But I know I need to do this if only for my own sanity, so that I can feel like I tried to help keep the organization alive.

The truth of the matter is that we are a super small organization.  It's my boss...and me.  We have lovely social work interns...but, it's just the two of us paid staff.  The Board of Directors has always been small, and my supervisor wears multiple hats.  Not that that's any excuse, but it's been difficult at the very least to do a massive fundraiser.  And when we lost half of hour funding, it became clear how much we were really lacking.  But, it also became very clear how my supervisor and I really carry the organization.  If one of us is gone, the whole thing falls apart.

As a practical social worker, I know that responsibility is ultimately not mine.  But, as a macro social worker/community organizer, I couldn't live with myself if the middle school program fails.  I should have done more to ensure that everything could be easily passed on.  But shoulda coulda woulda, right?  Right now, it's still alive.  Onto bigger and better ideas.

The Planning Process
As with many things, it started with an idea - someone else's idea.  Their band wanted to get more exposure to different people, so a fundraiser for a nonprofit was proposed to me.  Obviously, I would think of the nonprofit that I work for when a fundraiser comes up.  But, perhaps because a fundraiser event was understood differently between the two of us, I didn't really understand what my role would be.  The way I understood it was that bands would perform, and proceeds would go to my nonprofit - almost as an afterthought.  But, it turns out that I was supposed to organize the whole thing.

Now, as the Event Specialist for my organization, I've done fairly well with planning events.  But they've all been family-friendly events, and they've been the same ones every year.  I never had to look for a venue.  I didn't have to worry about pricing stuff.  Luckily, I already know about how to request donations and be in contact with all providers.  That's providers....not performers.  They are two very different animals.

For example, for a camp fair, I ask summer program providers for a donation to reserve a table.  I set them up at a specific table, and they set up their wares.  Parents and kids come to check out information, and they understand that not all families are eligible or interested.  The end.  But performers?  There's equipment, they want all eyes and ears on them, how's the sound?, how are the lights?, how much will they be paid?

But I digress.  As I've been organizing and putting together this fundraiser, I've had to learn all over again how to put on an event.  It's been frustrating to be handed an idea and be expected to then follow through on all the details. 

First Steps and Falling On My Face
In the beginning of the month, I had been waiting for my friend to get organized and handle the bulk of the details.  But then I realized that I was the one expected to book a venue, set the date, and find entertainment.  "Well, shit," I said to myself at that point.  "It's like a-whole-nother full time job."  While I live in a neighborhood with many venues, I knew that they would all be booked, but I knew booking the venue was the first step.

Drowning in the process...

Like I said before, I don't know of a lot of venues that would be open to a quickie fundraiser, and I know even less venue owners personally.  Though, I did know of one person and one venue - but they're booked through the end of November.  This is where being a community organizer really comes into play.  I know that I couldn't possibly pull this off all by my lonesome.  I immediately think, "Who do I know that is connected to that world?"  When I think music and bands, I think of specific people.  One of those folks was familiar with my organization through one of the schools we worked at together.  He has been my savior through this whole process.

He pointed out several venues, and one seemed like an interesting spot.  He helped me get in contact with the folks who could help me confirm the event.  Though getting the information wasn't so difficult, getting a response in a timely manner was not possible.  This was one of the most frustrating parts of this process.  I don't know if it's a thing about people, or maybe just that I'm the freak that lives on my emails.  But getting responses on questions has been....utterly ridiculous.  So ridiculous, that the first date I tried to set for the event had to be pushed back.  I just didn't hear back in time for me to be able to properly advertise.

Then It Really Begins...
When I finally got the date and venue set, I had to confirm with my entertainment.  I'm quite lucky to know a lot of talented people, and when I was first worried that no performers would speak up, I had more responses than I realized I would!  At this point two weeks later, I have 3 musical acts, 3 belly dancers (plus me!), and my boyfriend and his turntables.

At this point, I picked up the pace.  I knew that time would not work in my favor, so I felt like I've been dreaming and living this event.  With the date set on October 30th, Halloween would be working in our favor.  I had a lovely friend who helped me brainstorm ideas, and we landed on calling the event:  "Dark Reverie:  A Masquerade Ball."  She pulled together an amazing flier, and I was able to quickly put together a press release and send it to local newspapers.  With her flier design, I also posted information about the event on online listings, such as and  Of course, I also posted an event on Facebook.

Community organizer senses tingling!

My community organizer senses were tingling.  Knowing that this was a fundraiser, I worked on getting donations.  I emailed all my social worker friends and then some - those I consider part of my web.  I know we are not always connected to people who would be the most help to our organizations (i.e. rich folks).  But with the heart and soul that these people I know carry, I knew they would be able to offer something.  They answered my call.  Some volunteered to help me organize the whole thing, some volunteered to donated raffle items, and some volunteered to donate baked goods for the evening.  Geniuses.  Lovely, amazing, geniuses.

A week before the event, I had gift certificates, jewelry, photography, and paintings.  Then, I got word that we would be getting 7 cases of beer from Boston Beer Company.  That's right, the people who bring you Sam Adams.  I didn't even know how many bottles of beer that would be!!!  But I was floored!

By 2 days before the event, I was still receiving amazing donations - this time from social workers in-training.  One of our interns parents donated tickets to a Celtics game.  Another intern has a brother that works for a local winery, and he will donate a case of wine to drink AND a gift certificate for a tour for 10 of the vineyard.  I mean...amazing.....utterly amazing....

At some point, someone asked me if I needed to get a license to have the alcohol.  Shiiiiiit......I have no idea.  Again, as someone who's planned events for families, I haven't ever had to deal with alcohol.  But, this whole shindig is turning out to be a "party with a purpose," and people ain't gonna be happy without some social lubricant.

Basically, the gist is that I needed to get a "Letter of Permission" from the "event premises." means getting in touch with someone who could provide me with that.  Obviously, I crammed months of planning into a 3 week period.  Somethings just aren't gonna happen.  It might be something completely out of my getting a response to multiple emails...

I found out later that as long as we're not selling the alcohol, we don't need a license.  It's still pretty nerve-wracking, though.  I'm trying not to focus on that one possibly huge "glitch," as my supervisor likes to say.

Less than 48 Hours left...
And counting....

I have to remind myself every so often that everything will be alright.  I've created a task list, a supply list, a price list, and a time line starting from the second I get home.  I'm in contact with the bands, the dancers, bakers, and my volunteer committee.  There are little bits and pieces that I'm still trying to put together.  Surely Murphy's Law will come into play with all of this.  But in general, I feel like everything is going as well as it could be at this point.

I've been dreaming, eating, living, and lacking sleep because of this event - my first foray into non-profit events where the guests are mainly adults. 

Breathe, C.  Breathe.

I leave you with this:

Forgetting to breathe amidst the rush of event planning.
Photo by Heather M. 2006, my first event partner in crime.

1 comment:

  1. YAY!! CECI!!!!!

    (though im sorry i failed at donating somethings!)

    you are doing it you are doing it!!

    everything will be ALL-RIGHT!!

    it has to be!!!!!


Well, hello there! What's on your mind?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...