It’s a party! Unique non-profit special event fundraisers: Part 1

Welcome to non-profit special event season. At least that is the case where I live. So, my partner and I have been making the rounds, and I thought I’d share some of the more unique special event ideas I’ve seen throughout the week. Today, we’re talking about the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County’s Hearts for Helping Wine & Cheese fundraiser.

This last Friday John and I climbed into our car for what we thought would be a “Thelma & Louise” moment. For those of you from outside of the Midwest, please understand that Illinois residents are not very welcome north of the border.  It should go without saying that it was scary for two guys to cross that state line at night in search of a little wine and cheese.  😉

When it was all said and done, the Club ended up raising more than $100,000 that evening. We walked away slack-jawed, impressed, and with our Illinois tails between our legs. (Note: Cheeseheads call us FIBs . . . can you guess what the “F” stands for?)

I mean “come on” . . . how do you raise that much money with a little bit of wine and some cheese?

On the ride back south, John and I talked about what we saw, and I thought you might want me to share:

  • The event was held in a hotel in the shadow of the historic Wisconsin statehouse. I don’t know about you, but I love events staged in and around seats of power and influence. They always seem to set the stage for me.
  • We purchased our tickets online (just like you would for a music concert from Ticketmaster). We printed those tickets from our home computer, and the online ticketing system sent us reminder emails as we got closer to the day of event.
  • There were many opportunities to give your money over and over and over again. There was a special VIP reception ticket that could be purchased. There was a main event ticket. There were silent auction tables with fun little packages. There was a live auction with even bigger packages. The program book illustrated plenty of corporate sponsorship packages (of all sizes).
  • The media was there in force. Television cameras were filming and a local radio station provided emcee and auctioneer services. It felt like a place for important people.
  • Speaking of people . . . the room was packed! There might have been close to 500 people in a room that would’ve been better suited for 300 people. Before you wrinkle your nose and judge that as being bad, let me just say that the buzz and electricity that comes with being in an undersized room shouldn’t be under-estimated.
  • Miss Wisconsin was on site and anyone wanting their picture taken with the beauty queen was able to do so.
  • There were two different slide shows continuously cycling through pictures of kids and mission-focused factoids.
  • There was a live band in the background setting the mood and generating excitement.
  • The Wisconsin Attorney General showed up and briefly spoke about the importance of the Club and announced that he was giving all of the Clubs throughout the state a grant to help underwrite an internet safety program.
  • The U.S. Department of Education showed up and announced a huge multi-year federal grant to help underwrite educational programming and collaborations.
  • Various other donors periodically interrupted the wine and cheese tasting experience to share tidbits of good news and tell the packed room why they invest in the Club.

Wow! I never would’ve believed that a little wine and cheese could create so much magic. Congratulations to CEO Michael Johnson and his board on putting together such a great event!

Rather than spelling out for blog readers what I think the “lessons learned” and “best practices” are around special event fundraising, I thought I’d turn that opportunity over to you. What struck you as interesting? What takeaway lessons do you see? What best practices were used? Please also feel free to share best practices that your non-profit agency uses during the implementation of your events?

Where should you provide answers to these questions? Please scroll down and use the comment box found below.

Here’s to your health! Tomorrow, I talk about the “Sweetheart Auction” we attended on Saturday. (Oh yes I did)  😉

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


  1. Erik, Love these ideas! though we have decided in recent years to hold our main special event here at the Boys & Girls Club (read: no alcohol) we have had much success with our efforts. I am looking forward to planning our annual campaign kick-off and one of the ideas I had was to find a ‘rock star’ to get the excitement up. I have been having some difficulty explaining what type of person I meant – I mean, really, what constitutes a ‘rock star’? Isn’t it different for everyone? anyway, I am sharing this post with my annual campaign chair, my special event chair and the marketing/admin staffer who coordinates everything. I hope they can begin to see what might give us a big boost to make our pretty good events, great! Keep posting for us – it really does give us a spark of creativity. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Vikki! Good luck finding that “rock star”. I have all the confidence that you’ll do it. Perhaps, you could engage a focus group of donors and do some brainstorming? Thanks also for your very kind words. I will keep posting. It also gives me a creative spark to just write the blog! I hope all is well. Please say hello to Bruce for me. 🙂


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