Successful fundraisers are the key to survival for any not-for-profit organization. Critical decisions need to be made in order to throw a successful event. Budgets need to be tightly managed. You must analyze each expenditure to make sure it has a positive effect on the bottom line. In the process there are many obstacles along the way. For fundraisers it is important to provide perceived value to the attendees so they feel good about donating large sums of money. Providing value often requires taking financial risks in hopes that it will entice guests to buy tickets and make sizable donations.
Our company was hired by the FIDF (Federal Israeli Defense Federation) to produce a first-time event called Rekood, which means to dance. The mission of the FIDF is to help raise funds for Israeli soldiers for things like jackets and clothing and to provide educational funding for college after their service is complete. First time events are difficult because there is no history to rely on for forecasting. The event took place in Los Angeles. We were responsible for almost all aspects of the event, including venue selection, catering, entertainment, production and marketing consultation.
We flew from Chicago to Los Angeles for a site selection visit. We toured several event spaces, ultimately deciding on the Belasco Theatre. This venue gave the event a concert like feel but had many other functional spaces which would help with crowd control. The theatre capacity was 1,500. This was important because it would allow us to charge a bit lower of a ticket price to encourage a higher volume of attendees. We were shooting for an age demographic of 25 – 45 which typically has a lower disposable income than most fundraisers which cater to the 40 – 70 year old crowd. Additionally, the theatre had many production elements in place, like house sound and lighting, which helped reduce that line item in our budget.
The event revolved around booking multiple acts, like a music festival, with shorter sets and quick changeovers. The acts had to be interesting and relevant to our target demographic while still fitting into our budget. We began with thinking about our 35 – 45 year old demographic. We liked the music of the 90’s but worried that Celebrity Artist’s from that era were either too expensive or did not have the catalog to carry the night. We came up with the idea of hiring the national cover band Maggie Speaks and finding a celebrity artist to sit-in as a guest. This was challenging as most celebrities do not want to play with a band they have never worked with, potentially putting their reputation on the line. We spent a lot of time talking to different agencies, compiling a list of names that were comfortable with the concept. We settled on Mark McGrath from Sugar Ray. Mark was perfect in that he had four Top 5 hits with “Fly”, “Someday”, “When It’s Over” and “Every Morning”. Additionally, he was still relevant to the younger audience as the host of “Extra”, “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” as well as multiple reality TV appearances. Mark agreed to perform his four hits, backed by Maggie Speaks. The impact was perfect as the audience was not forced to sit through any B-Side material. They heard all the hits and nothing but, while Maggie Speaks rocked through covers of other favorites from Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake and Beyoncé.
Secondly, we booked hip hop artist Warren G to perform in the upstairs lounge. We made this area a higher ticket price in order to attract more revenue from guests who wanted exclusivity.
Back on the main stage, we shifted our focus to the 25 – 35 year old crowd by booking Iggy Azalea and Lil Dickey, finishing up the evening with DJ Vice spinning for the after-party. Our overall entertainment budget was around $100,000. Packing all of these artist into the bill was a challenge. We researched options and negotiated all of the talent with the major agencies. Iggy was particularly interesting as she had just switched agencies after her previous agent had somewhat mismanaged her career. We were able to pounce at just the right time to secure her for a discounted rate with the new agency as they felt our event was going to put her in front of the crowd they were striving for. Lil Dickey was also well researched in that our crowd was primarily Jewish and he was a YouTube sensation for being a Caucasian Jewish rapper. DJ Vice is a national DJ that tours the country and is extremely relevant to the young 25 – 30 year old crowd.
We staged these Artists on the main stage with short 20 minute turnovers in between in order to keep people’s attention. With Warren G in the VIP area and a courtyard where we served food, it provided a great flow to the event.
For catering, we knew we would need to provide great food, but would have to keep it affordable to stay within budget. We decided to go with more of a festival feel and selected a street food type menu that consisted of gourmet street tacos, flatbreads, kabobs as well as late night bites. This was perfect for the open-air space we selected to present the food.
For marketing, we were shooting for 1,500 people to attend at ticket prices ranging from $150 -250. The goal was to raise $275,000 from tickets sold, plus another $150,000 through sponsorship. The breakdown was to cover the costs of entertainment from sponsorship and to cover the venue, food and marketing expenditures out of ticket sales in order to reach out target first year raise of $200,000. We marketed mainly through social media, utilizing Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to geo-target our audience through boosted posts. Our event sold out and we reached our goal of raising $200,000 for the first-time event. The venue costs were $30,000, food/beverage cost was $60,000 and marketing was $10,000. Our entertainment and production was $125,000.
We made the decision not to do a live or silent auction as this was a first-time event and we wanted to focus on entertainment and keeping the room lively and energetic. We felt that an auction would be too much of an undertaking and would disrupt the flow of the evening, while not being a match for our clientele.
Our biggest challenge came after we locked in our event date. The Mayweather – McGregor fight was announced on the same night. This turned out to be the largest pay-per-view fight in boxing history and cut right into our target demographic. It forced us to pivot and shift some of our production and entertainment budget toward figuring out how to show the fight on a big screen behind the main stage. This presented many technical challenges, but we were able to pull it off and use it to our advantage in our marketing campaign.
First time fundraisers are challenging. Through our industry expertise, hard work and creativity, we were able to set and achieve ambitious, yet attainable goals for our client. The ultimate compliment was paid in that we were retained for future fundraising events in 2018.