Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has given you. — Deuteronomy 16:17
From October to November 16 this year my life was consumed by one thing: Eden House’s annual fundraiser, An Evening in the Garden of Eden. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, and I put my blood, sweat, and tears into this event. Okay, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration but it was definitely something I had never done before and there was a lot of pressure to get it done right.
An Evening in the Garden of Eden is our biggest fundraiser of the year. It’s based off the Benevon Model of fundraising, where the programs are short, strictly scripted, and it is made clear at every step of the fundraiser that guests will be asked to give money. The program itself follows a specific flow that has been proven effective in convincing people to donate, and it includes facts about the program, emotional stories and achievements Eden House has made. There were two co-chairs for the event who invited their friends to be table hosts. The table hosts invited enough of their friends to fill a table and send them personalized invitations My job was to do invite other donors to fill gaps and do all of the little stuff, and while the jobs were small, they were just as important to the smooth operation of the event and they all piled up very quickly.
Here is an overview of how I spent my last two months:
- Put together a list of everyone who donated $500.00 or more over the past year. Made a list with addresses to send them an invitation to the fundraiser.
- Found a printer who can print 500 invitations. Compared three different companies and called them all to see if they offer any discounts for nonprofits.
- Went over the guest list with the president and treasurer of Eden House. Took vigorous notes as they listed all of the spouses I didn’t know existed. Discussed at length the proper etiquette of which spouse’s name goes first and the ethics of using “and” over “&.” Was also informed that because of the high volume of invitations big donors receive, it would be impolite to send an invitation with a printed address labels. Told the interns they would need to hand-write each address.
- Double and triple checked the handwritten invitations to find repeats and incorrect addresses and spelling. We threw away a lot of envelopes…
- Cried a little bit.
- Registered every single guest with a table host in our online event site and then transferred their information onto a spreadsheet.
- Panicked because no one we sent an invitation to was registering and would not have a place to sit.
- Ordered vases for the centerpieces.
- Tried to figure out how to make our new website go live. It worked but took a few days to actually show up and I thought I broke it.
- Hired an audio-visual tech person to set up projectors at the fundraiser. Learned a lot about screen sizes.
- Played with a baby kangaroo that an artist helping with the fundraiser just happened to have in her purse.
- Begged past interns I had never met to volunteer at the fundraiser.
- Watched as my boss and our two co-chairs made a seating chart in half an hour and have serious discussions about whom was allowed to sit with whom.
- Considered burning the board with the seating chart when after the meeting, ten more people called to register and wanted to be seated at tables that were already full.
- An intern converted the seating chart into a Google Doc for easy editing. So helpful. No burning necessary.
- The day before the fundraiser, waited for two hours at Office Depot with my boss for our program to be printed. Discovered that in order for it to fold correctly we would have to cut a half inch off of the ends of every page.
- Silently and out loud thanked Dana, who did my job last year, a billion times for helping me.
- The day of the fundraiser, typed up 300 name tags with table numbers. Twenty people called to register, tables were rearranged, one entire table was moved. Threw out the name tags and had to start again.
- Messed up the printing of the name tags. Spent over $100.00 on more name tag paper and had to print one page at a time and hour before guests began to show up.
- Lost three pages of name tags.
- Ignored how beautiful the venue was because guests were starting to arrive and I hadn’t changed into my dress yet.
- Tried to explain to ten volunteers and interns how to do a job I had never done before.
- Introduced two important people to each other and felt awesome because I knew them both.
- Was asked a question by an intern and knew the answer and felt great.
- Was asked another question by an intern and did not know the answer and undid my great feeling.
- Met two people who did not RSVP. Asked my boss if they could sit at the nearly empty table in the back and she said they were too important and they would have to squeeze into one of the full tables in the front. Panicked.
- Crossed my fingers as everyone sat down. Magically, everyone had a seat.
- Helped the Mayor of New Orleans escape out the back.
- Tried not to cry as a resident shared her story with 300 fundraiser guests.
- Handed a table host more pledge forms.
- Packed everything up and stuffed it into two cars. Almost lost a $500.00 check.
- Went to an after-party at Eden House’s presidents very fancy house and realized I hadn’t breathed in two months.
- Ate a lot of chocolate and drank some champagne.
- Went to sleep without taking my makeup off.
- Helped hand write thank you notes to everyone who donated and we put them in the mail last week!
On top of all of my fundraising tasks, I still had to do all of my normal daily tasks, including getting checks signed by board members, handing out weekly stipends to residents, recruiting inters for next semester, and taking phone messages. I definitely wanted to rip my hair out a few times during this whole process, but it all got done and the fundraiser was beautiful! It was also apparently the most financially successful fundraiser we’ve had so far. I learned a lot about how to put on a fundraiser, how to ask for money in an effective way, and about an entirely new social class.
When I signed up to be a YAV, I was expecting to work with people who are in a different socio-economic class from me. Last year many of the families at Encore were low-income and I learned how that affected the kids’ education. The women of Eden House are also in a lower class than my family. I give them a small stipend each week and it’s an interesting feeling to be someone who is partly in charge of their income. But the fundraiser was a completely different story. The guests at the fundraiser make way more money than I could ever hope to make. They are doctors and lawyers who can freely give thousands of dollars to a cause they feel good about. I learned about the proper way to address an envelope to make it more likely that they will open it. I learned that for certain people, it’s better for the president of Eden House to speak to them rather than the executive director or– heaven forbid– an intern. I felt a little out of place at the fundraiser itself, next to hundreds of people who were ready to give away thousands of dollars to these women most of them had never personally met. It was interesting for me, someone who is still learning how to interact in an in-between state with my middle class privileged life and the lower class world that I have been mingling with for a year, to be suddenly thrust into this world of people who might choose to give less money if the wine at an event is cheaper, or not even attend an event they were invited to at all if the address on the envelope is not hand written.
I suppose there will always be something new for me to learn in this life I’ve chosen to lead. A life where I am often in situations where I am interacting with people I never would have the opportunity to meet if I had stayed in Tucson and lived the same sheltered life I was used to. I have given myself the privilege of learning about my privilege and because of that I will forever be learning and growing. I could not be more thankful for this life.
P.S. Our fundraiser was extremely successful, but if you feel called to give to Eden House this holiday season, the residents and I would sincerely appreciate it. I wrote an article for our website about all the different ways you can give to Eden House complete with graphics I created. I’m quite proud of it. Click here to read it.