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Set up a Fundraiser in less than 3 months

Updated on March 26, 2016

What do you do when your 42-year old friend is diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer? How do you support him, his wife, and his two grade school aged children in what will be the most difficult event in their young lives?

First and foremost, you respect their wishes. No matter how well-meaning your intentions, if the family going through this life-changing experience doesn't want public focus on them during this time, you must respect that. In our case, we asked our friend how he felt about us throwing a spaghetti dinner as a fundraiser for his family. He agreed and gave us his blessing.

The first thing we did was set up a Facebook group to see what type of engagement we would receive - including both his co-workers and the college athletic team he was a member of. The most important part of all of this is that you have to be able to tell the story of the family (this is why you need to get their approval in advance)! People generally want to help! The response was amazing and our "spaghetti dinner" was turning into something more than we could have imagined.

The next step was to find a venue and a date. Fighting cancer is not predictable...we wanted to give him a change to attend (meaning the sooner we could throw the event the better) if he was feeling up to it! We started calling around to local schools - specifically religious-affiliated private schools - to see if we could get the use of a gymnasium donated. Our goal date was July, so it wouldn't affect school activities. We found a high school within a week and booked a date. It was important for us to have a weekend date so that both college friends and co-workers could attend. This was done within 2 weeks of getting the "go ahead" to have the event!

After you have a location and a date for the event - you need to figure out your food plan. We were able to find a local restaurant that was willing to "sponsor" the food at the event. This was good publicity for them and a HUGE cost savings for us! The restaurant not only donated the food for the event, but sent workers down to man the serving line. We charged $20 per person to attend the event (the public was welcome to attend) - with ALL proceeds going to the family! A local alcohol distributor even donated beer and wine which was available for $2 per can/glass - again, ALL proceeds going to the family!

As we were updating the FB group page on the event people starting asking if they could donate items to be auctioned at the event (we hadn't considered an auction at this time). Our spaghetti dinner was turning into something incredible! One of the old college teammates offered to be the emcee, and a local auctioneer offered his services. We started contacting local businesses (spas, hotels, golf courses, restaurants) and asking for donations - all they could say was "no", we had nothing to lose by asking! We had so many items donated that we had both a silent and live auction going on during dinner. We had signed sports memorabilia, gift baskets, trips, sporting event tickets.

A couple of weeks before the event we contacted a local country radio station. They frequently would broadcast upcoming community events for the weekend. Not only did they agree to announce that our event was taking place on their website and mention it on the air, they also offered to broadcast from the school parking lot for 2 hours prior to the event to attract walk-ins! We invited media, we invited the mayor, we invited anyone and everyone we could think of. They all came!

Not only did our event raise more than $50,000 for this family going through the unimaginable...the media coverage allowed for people to continue donating more than another $20,000 in the weeks after the event. Our friend passed away 3 months later knowing that he was much loved by his friends and co-workers and that his family would be taken care of!

The most important pieces of advice I can give you regarding these types of events, with the permission of the family, are: (1) Tell the story; (2) involve friends/coworkers (most of them want to help and just don't know how); (3) ask for help from local vendors, schools, churches; and MOST IMPORTANTLY, don't let the "no's" stop you! If your heart is in it, you will be amazed at what you can do.


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