Concept to Reality: Starting an Event from Scratch

This is the first in a series of posts about planning and executing your very first fundraising event, where we follow one nonprofit organization’s journey to the big night. We’ll share many of the tips, ideas, suggestions and lessons they learn along the way based on the “The Definitive Guide to Successfully Running Your First Fundraising Auction” Guide  from the Greater Giving Fundraising Excellence Series.

Tune in to each new post to see how the event is progressing, and get inspired for your own event.

The Casper Community Greenhouse Project is on a mission to produce fresh, healthy local food for the Casper community in a way that educates and fosters community involvement. CCGP has built two community greenhouses at local elementary and middle schools, focusing on schools with a high percentage of students on free or reduced lunch.

90% of people in the state of Wyoming don’t eat enough fresh vegetables or fruits. But changing a culture ingrained that deeply can take a long time, which makes the CCGP’s work to educate a healthy populace a nonstop, ongoing project.

The Revenue Problem

A few years ago, the CCPG won a multi-year grant from the city. Those funds kept the nonprofit afloat and helped fund the first two school greenhouse projects—plus the ongoing cost of paying a master gardener to work with the students and take care of the plants.

This year would be the last payment on the CCPG’s city grant, and Executive Director LeAnn Miller knew the organization had to do something to become sustainable and self-sufficient before the grant money ran out. They needed funding to build the next school greenhouse—so it was time for a fundraiser.

But what sort of fundraiser? What setting, motif, and style would make the most sense for an organization based around home-grown solutions?

Finding a Focal Point

LeAnn was mulling over this question with a friend, discussing the mission of the CCGP to connect people with fresh foods and veggies, when her friend recalled bringing chefs into the schools to teach students about healthy eating. The friend had recently visited the Facebook page for Food Network’s show, Farmhouse Rules hosted by Nancy Fuller, and it reminded her of the CCGP. “Wouldn’t Nancy Fuller be so appropriate for the Greenhouse Project’s mission?” she said.

Nancy was, indeed, a perfect match! She has a love of farming and using the freshest, most wholesome ingredients possible that spoke to Miller, so she went ahead and contacted the show to ask if Nancy  would be interested in coming to Casper to do an event with the CCGP.

To everyone’s surprise, Nancy responded: “Yes! I’m interested!”

Bringing on Nancy Fuller allowed the CCPG to set the tone for the entire fundraiser to Farmhouse Rules. Every other element of the event would be built around this feature, and used to tie it all together.

So what would Nancy want to do? And how would the group best utilize her star power and skills?

Miller realized that with Nancy Fuller as the force binding it all together, she could coordinate the new fundraising event around one that already existed—the September Fall Festival! As a combination of farmer’s market and harvest celebration, the Fall Festival was the perfect sort of event, and it would streamline the nonprofit’s workload to do it all at the same time.

Designing Around the Big Draw

After securing the dates, Miller asked Nancy some questions that would later shape the event:

  • When can you come? Do you have these dates open (for the Fall Festival)?
  • How much do you charge?
  • What sort of activity or entertainment do you like to provide?
  • What else can you bring to the event, such as a big-ticket item donation?

Once CCGP got all the details—including the price from Mrs. Fuller for her appearance—Miller immediately set out seeking sponsors to cover the cost. The organization wouldn’t pay for any of it out of pocket if they could help it. Nancy Fuller and Farmhouse Rules made a fantastic “draw” for the CCGP’s sponsorship solicitation packet, with a photo of Nancy riding on a John Deere tractor.

Now that Miller knew what specific opportunities Farmhouse Rules could bring, she started designing an event that would showcase it all. Nancy likes to conduct cooking competitions, so CCGP implemented one into the Fall Festival’s Saturday activities.

Then there was the question of the big auction and dinner. Miller and her team knew the auction needed to be separate from the Saturday farmer’s market, which is open to the public. Miller wanted to focus on creating a giving atmosphere for a smaller, select group of guests. So it was decided:the Fall Festival would be a two-day event!

CCGP planned the auction and dinner for Friday evening. The event will utilize TV Host Nancy Fuller’s talent for cooking demonstrations, making her creation of a unique, signature dessert the main feature of the night. And she did agree to donate a visit to her farm as one of the big live auction items!
The Casper Community Greenhouse Project’s Advice:

  1. Tap into what your celebrity has to offer and capitalize on it! If you’re going to pay for a celebrity appearance, ask for everything you can get.
  2. Be brave and courageous! The worst they can do is say “no.”

Is your organization looking at adding a feature event for fundraising? Download the Auction Planner for a complete step-by-step guide.

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