Running a donation-driven event

I’m writing this post to start a conversation within Mozilla Reps on what running a donation-driven event means, and why it matters as a goal. However, because Mozilla Reps are located all over the world, circumstances around philanthropy differ wildly, and many are unlikely to find this post relevant to their economic systems at all. I want to acknowledge this in advance and would love to hear what running events looks like in your country.  I am a Mozilla Reps Mentor based in North America.

So anyway…

I consider myself an event-organizer-by-fire, and over seven years I’ve developed some techniques that help me run donation-driven events quite successfully.  And by donation-driven, I mean that I rely entirely on donations of product, space, and resources. ‘ll share what I can with hope it helps others.
This list takes from experiences organizing garage sales, (a lot of) fundraising dinners,(big)lemonade stands, silent auctions, a festival of trees, head shaves, an outdoor summer movie series and most recently of course, a bunch of hackjams.

*focusing on donation-driven, but also some best practices I use to stay sane

  1. An Event is a Project Even if your event is very small – open a gmail account for that event to track conversation, contacts and documents.
    • Create two email lists: [event_name]_volunteers & [event_name]sponsors, and file your contacts (as you make them into each of these categories).  This will help you stay organized,  you won’t miss someone accidentally -and if you have another event, you can use these as dist lists to solicit participation /sponsorship again .
    • Create new email lists for each new event (so you still focus on the current lists)
    • It’s important this be a separate account from yours, so that eventually you can transfer everything (pass the keys) to someone else should you decide to step back.
  2. Describe It in a Paragraph.  You’ll need this.  In Google Docs – create a single paragraph(who/what/when/where) describing your event and focus in on *why* it’s important and why people should care  Caring means attendance, donation, media coverage.  I know..seriously?  ONE paragraph? Trust me.  In the same document describe it in a Tweet  (which can of course, eventually link somewhere)
  3. Media Coverage

    • Write a Press Release (there are lots of good templates out there) using your paragraph.
    • Go back to your Google account, and create a ‘Sponsor‘ spreadsheet with  four columns:  Outlet, Type, Contact Information, Notes, Response (Y/N).  Not to be confused with your contact list, this is where you keep track of who you’ve sent emails to, who you phoned, talked to looking for coverage of your event.   Here’s one we used for our Popcorn Maker event.
    • News Papers Don’t just email the main editor, look into the newspaper for focus writers.  IT columns, family, education articles – and email (or call) those individuals as well.  Send them Press Release, but add-in relevant context to the person/department/editorial focus; why they  might see it relevant – you’re basically extending ‘caring‘ portion of that paragraph.
    • TV  Coverage Grabbing the general email from a TV station homepage won’t help as much as tracking down reporters, and if they don’t have available contacts on a website, find their Twitter accounts and tweet your Event Tweet.  Phone them.  There are a hundred other people, the same day trying to promote their event, their cause, be polite and clear , and be heard :)
    • Radio Look for radio shows with focus on family, technology and share your paragraph & work with Mozilla.  I spoke on a Real Parenting and saw two young hackers attend our event because of it.
    • Print Media  There are a lot of alternative print media outlets, free street magazines, community newspapers, chances are you will get a response from these folks, and the practices I mentioned using Newspaper sleuthing for specific editors will definitely work.  The work we are doing with Reps is cool, meaningful and relevant to the grassroots energy.  I’ve always found friends in these places.
    • Keep track of EVERYONE you have contacted in that spreadsheet, make notes on who followed up – this will also help next time, but also might signal areas you need to ‘try again’.  It also avoid duplicate requests which are just annoying to people (and why they all hide their emails)
  4. Social Media

    • Share your paragraph or Tweet on all social networks relevant to your cause.  Investigate hashtags that might get you a better response locally  For example here in Victoria #yyjkids is followed by at least one radio station I am aware of, and I’ve had good retweets from using it.
    • Create a Facebook and or Google Group invite for your event.
    • Although recently I have only been creating an Eventbrite invitation because Facebook (etc) are linked in there.
    • Social media is where you might also find help with ALL of the categories I’m listing.  You  might find volunteers, venue TONS of help by spreading the word.
  5. Venue  The venue can be the most difficult thing to accomplish on a donation-driven budget, but also one of the most important ones in making contacts, finding like-minded supports and (hopefully) future collaborators.
    • Keep track of who you solicit venue space from in your sponsorship spreadsheet (type = venue).
    • Identify your key needs (do you require technology donation as part of the space?)
    • Based on your needs write two lists – ideal spaces, and could-still-work spaces. The focus of course being to avoid the  all eggs/ one basket problem.  Be creative with your second list – I even once considered having a flash-hackjam around our University’s wireless when I couldn’t find donated space.  ( I didn’t but I could have ;). Actually could someone please run a flash-hackjam?  I want to see that.
    • Use your paragraph, but appeal to the likeness of your mission with the venue host.  Is it a university?  Appeal to learning, digital literacy,  is it government agency?  align what you’re doing to something in their community action plans (kids, families),  is an IT company   – it shouldn’t be hard to use Mozilla’s name and find a like mission :)  , even if it’s just ‘making things on the web is fun’
    • Don’t pay for a space.  Just don’t.  Offer to include their name on signage and advertising, paying for space means missed opportunity.
    • Obviously as a mom I want to write something here about taking care of donated space so they’ll share again, but probably that would be overkill.
    • Send thank you notes, and links to the event afterwards so they can share their involvement  (and your event/mission gets even more coverage.
  6. Printing I’ll admit that printing is one of the hardest things to find donation for   a) because printers get hit up ALL THE TIME , and by everyone for free printing.  You and your hackjam aren’t going to win over a fundraising event for a family in need so, unless you are friends with the printer don’t even bother (or prove me wrong).  In the past I have done two things a) pay from my own pocket (obviously not ideal)  b) had someone who wanted to help, contribute the $$, or print it myself on my own useless printer.  (you an see I have negative feelings around this topic.   I think for those that can’t be there on the day, or want to help  – this is the perfect ‘ask’ . “Oh hey – maybe you could help with printing” .  :)
  7. Food  Like printing, restaurants (actually all brick & mortar street level businesses) get hit up a LOT for donations, of food, gift certificates.  Disclaimer that my family owns a restaurant so this hasn’t been entirely difficult for me.  In asking for food donation (or gift certificates  – maybe you have a door prize in mind), be clear on what you are going to give THEM in return.  Just like venue, consider offering advertising space, prime location on a event .  In fact there is a whole fundraising-*thing* around renting out space in advertising (at the outdoor movie theatre sponsors paid to have slides in a powerpoint show while people got seated).  But that’s a huge topic.  Just know it exists.  You can also offer web services if you are a techie  – restaurant life is hard and often the website is crappy. Trade services.
  8. Send Thankyous.  You know that list of sponsors, an volunteers?  That’s now your ‘Thank you list’, your next event will be even better because you send these.
  9. Collaborate in the Open  Our last two events found a venue because a colleague ‘overheard’ us talking about needing space on Twitter.

Be kind to donors, you can never say ‘Thank you’ enough.

I suppose I challenge you – as a non-profit event organizer (be it a Rep or otherwise) to consider not only the benefit to your cause by making your event donation-driven though broadened conversation, but through money saved and directed at the cause we are working for.   By  reducing budget requests we are supporting Mozilla’s  work two-fold, MORE money can go towards efforts with MORE Rep activities, and all the many things we passionately support.

I also challenge you to be creative about this – don’t hit up the usual suspects, really think about who can help, who can benefit and who might not even recognize their ablity to participate unless you point it out. Be inclusive, don’t just ask for donation, but for participation and ideas.  Our local communities grow better this way.

You and I run events because we’re supporting something we consider to be important to the WORLD. These are causes we take personally, and our events raise not only awareness but with any luck – ignite the same response in others.  Donation-driven events(+ collaborating in the open) are a great way to make that happen.

I hope his helps – would love questions, or your stories.  (and will add to this as we go)