(Or Why the Yappy Hour Should Come Before the Fur Ball)
When you run a non-profit animal rescue group, you can’t do it all alone. But time and time again people try. A few months ago, I was talking to a woman who runs a small dog rescue group in California. With only two or three volunteers, they have managed to pull hundreds of dogs out of shelters and find them new forever homes. Of course, doing this type of work requires money.
So like the old saying goes, to raise some money, they decided to put on a show! Unfortunately, unlike Judy Garland and Micky Rooney, they didn’t have the whole town backing them up. Armed with only a few volunteers, for their first fundraiser, they opted to put on an elaborate and expensive black-tie “Fur Ball” event.
Can you say burnout?
The worst thing was that even with all this effort, after the dust settled, the fundraiser didn’t turn out to be a financial success. It was an exhausting, demoralizing let down for everyone involved.
The moral of this story is that you have to crawl before you can walk, and walk before you can run. If you have a small organization or you’re just starting out, realize that you have some learning to do. And experience is the best teacher.
I always suggest that people start out with simple, easy fundraisers that have low overhead. One of the easy ideas in my book Funds to the Rescue is the “Paw Print” fundraiser, which basically works like the Muscular Dystrophy shamrocks you see in grocery stores around St. Patrick’s Day. You go around to businesses and ask people to sell Paw Prints for a dollar and hang them on the wall. The only out of out-of-pocket cost is one ream of paper (about $10). Yet you can earn hundreds of dollars using this simple fundraising technique.
After you’ve done one of the super-easy fundraisers you can graduate to an event. But again, start slow. Don’t do a extravagant fundraiser to start. Talk to a business about doing a simple “Yappy Hour.” where people get together and schmooze with their dogs. This helps you establish a community or “fan base.” As any band will tell you, it’s impossible to get a stadium gig, if you haven’t played a whole lot of small nightclubs first. You need to get your name out there and build a volunteer, adopter, and (potentially) membership base. Only your most passionate fans will attend the big “black tie” events, so you need to establish a base of support first.
Once you’ve cut your teeth on a few small fundraisers and events and have some success and money in the bank, then consider the big black tie “Fur Ball” event with big-money silent auction.
Remember, not every fundraising idea is going to be right for your group. Look at your situation and resources first, then decide. Don’t jump into something complicated and demanding before you’re ready.