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Fundraiser stands the test of time

In his various associations with faith-based nonprofits, AAI Principal Rich Gerig gets to hear firsthand about the ups and downs of all things development, including special events. While such events represent the initial foray into fundraising for many nonprofit organizations, a number of factors call into question their long term viability:

• Fundraising events require a substantial amount of staff time and energy, and rely upon the active involvement of volunteers.

• Attracting adequate numbers of pancake eaters and quilt buyers is a growing annual challenge.

• Depending upon how they are measured, events often offer a poor return for investment when compared to other fundraising approaches.

It is not surprising, then, that some statistics place the average lifespan of a fundraising event at just seven years.

Despite these figures and trends, one Arizona retirement community has had a different experience. Next month, campus will be abuzz as Glencroft (Glendale) holds its 40th Quilt Festival & Auction.

Event Chairman Barb Lenards and Kandy Wagenbach, who serves as vice president of development and officer of Glencroft’s Friendship Foundation, took some time to share with AAI why they feel the auction continues to be worth the effort. In learning about Glencroft’s long standing festival and auction, readers should take careful note of the goals and strategies at play, including key opportunities for both fundraising and “friend raising.”

AAI: Give us some of the history of the Quilt Festival & Auction. How did it get started?

Glencroft: The auction was started by Merle Graber, who owned and operated a trailer factory in Phoenix. Over the past 40 years, it has grown in scope and attendance. In 1989 Glencroft began holding the sale in a huge tent as well as surrounding buildings. The event has always benefited the Glencroft community and residing seniors through the organization’s Friendship Foundation.

AAI: What are the goals of the event?

Glencroft: This year our monetary goal is to net $130,000. A second goal is to maintain the sense of homecoming for those who attend, many of whom visit Glencroft each year only for this event. For us it is a time of community coming together as well as a fundraiser.

AAI: How is the event organized? What stakeholder groups are involved? When does the planning start?

Glencroft: The event operates at the discretion of Friendship Foundation. An Auction Team provides leadership for the various booths, attractions and areas needed to operate the event. This year’s team has 22 members.

Larger donors are invited to donate according to designated giving levels to help underwrite the costs. In addition, more than 100 businesses give smaller gifts that we use for a silent auction. We also depend heavily on our board members to supply financial support and gifts for the auction. We have quilt sponsors who underwrite the cost of the quilts. In total, close to 500 stakeholders are directly involved.

Planning for the next year begins within a month after the event with a trip to Indiana to purchase quilt tops. Furniture and items for the many booths at the event are collected all year long, washed, priced and stored for the big day.

AAI: Share some highlights for those involved.

Glencroft: The highlight for those planning the event this year is a quilt collection with patterns that were introduced 100 years ago in celebration of Arizona’s 100th birthday.

The highlight of the event for our guests is certainly the live auction on Saturday, but festival-goers also enjoy the many chances throughout the weekend to gather for meals, entertainment, our silent auction and the different booths.

AAI: How are the proceeds used?

Glencroft: Recent past projects have included a chapel in Providence Place (our care center) and the development of Sarah’s Place, a memory care facility currently under construction. The board of trustees decides each year how the funds will be used.

AAI: What are your thoughts about the return for investment of this event? Do you attempt to measure those? How do you calculate?

Glencroft: If you took all of the volunteer hours donated and the upfront costs on any fundraiser you will always lose money – even the high profile ones that raise millions of dollars.

But how does one measure the benefits that don’t show in your bottom line?

• How do you know when you get a $100,000 planned gift, that the seed was not planted during a special event?

• Does a new resident move to your facility or become involved with your agency because of the involvement and connection they made through an activity you offered?

• Our campus and our residents take on a new life as the auction approaches and residents know that family and grandchildren will soon arrive. What is that worth?

• What price can you put on our winter visitors who arrive three months before the auction to help and to be part of a bigger cause than just raising money?

• How do you evaluate something as priceless as the closeness of a group of 30 women who quilt together day after day?

Having been in fundraising for 35 years, I’ve had people ask, “Why do we do these fundraisers that cost so much money and take so much energy and time?” We tell ourselves we could just go out and ask for planned gifts and make much more money with much less expense and effort. But I think that is a false conclusion; to me large donations come because of the courtship we do with our donors through special events, which prepares them to say yes to the marriage of a planned gift. So, it is necessary to do special events, but also to then offer our donors that next level of commitment.

AAI: What are the opportunities and obstacles faced when considering events as part of a fundraising program? What would you say to another CCRC development director who is trying to evaluate the value of current fundraising events or thinking of starting some for the first time?

Glencroft: The obstacles of an event are always the same: the time and expense of preparing for the event. The opportunities are to bring like-minded people together to champion a common cause and to build a sense of loyalty and commitment to the organization.

My advice to another development director would be to find that event that embraces your organization’s mission, speaks to the heart of its stakeholders and brings community together. Follow up on this event with more personal relationship building with donors, which will help them move up the ladder from just a participant in a special event to making a more permanent commitment that will support your organization.

AAI: What other comments would you like to make about fundraising events?

Glencroft: When planning and holding fundraising events, involve those stakeholders who will give you honest input as well as financial and volunteer support, and who have a clear vision of your organization’s mission.

Fundraising events—even those that seem like a perfect fit for your organization—need to be redefined over time. With all of our events we evaluate what we can do better to produce the best results. If you have an event that has run its course, let it go and create something that will give new life to all of your fundraising efforts.