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Anne Dunsmore on Fundraising in Tough Times

Anne Dunsmore on Fundraising in Tough Times

She was born into the catering business. Anne Dunsmore's father — Joe Hyde — was a prominent caterer in New York, and she and her two brothers came home from school to “pick little baby crabs off mussels and shuck oysters,” she recalls. Dunsmore has spent the bulk of her career, however, raising funds for charitable and political campaigns. Her company Capital Campaigns, with offices in Los Angeles and New York, counts among its clients the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, UCLA's Millennium Ball, and presidential and senatorial campaigns. Here, she offers ways fundraisers can win in today's rough economy.

SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: The current economic climate is slow; how can event planners make their fundraising galas a success?

ANNE DUNSMORE: There is always something tough going on in any economic climate. But wealth does not go away; it transfers. When I started working in Los Angeles 30 years ago, we had many corporate headquarters here. Now it's venture capitalists, investors, fund managers — it's much more diversified. You have to figure out where the wealth is going. They say luck is preparation meeting opportunity, but I say success is preparation meeting opportunity. You need to do your homework. You need to meet different people and know different markets.

SPECIAL EVENTS: Are certain charities more vulnerable in a poor economy?

DUNSMORE: Absolutely. The ones that are not as worthy or not as organized tend to get hit the hardest — regardless of the cause.

SPECIAL EVENTS: So what is the answer?

DUNSMORE: You need to hunker down, economize and prepare for the time to reemerge stronger with clearer vision and strategic planning. Often fundraising is something that is reactive; you are in a whirl the majority of the time, thereby being unable to step back and reevaluate, tweak, revitalize or revamp your fundraising plan. These are times that can really work to your advantage, especially over the long-term.

SPECIAL EVENTS: What mistakes do you see event planners make in tough times? Do they panic and change their events when they should stick with what they are known for?

DUNSMORE: Stay where you are but adjust your expectations. This is a time to go for a broader base instead of the easy group at the core that you are used to. Design price points that encourage outreach to others. Develop outreach into other demographics of supporters.

Also, beware the fundraiser who is looking for their own income who says you should move ahead with a bloated budget — especially with fixed costs that are not adjustable to the amount raised.

If you are raising money, you should be raising money — not having a party. You need to make sure you are allocating your committee resources toward what you want to accomplish. If the goal of your host committee is to raise $100,000 or whatever, now is not the time to hit them with a silent auction and a live auction and ticket sales. I'd rather they spent their time selling two tables for $10,000 each than getting 15 gift certificates from restaurants. You need to empower your committee members with your own professional skills, to help them with their letters and phone calls and thank-yous, so that next time, they can do it even more efficiently.

SPECIAL EVENTS: You've mentioned “efficient” fundraisers several times, as those that yield the most revenue and then go on to make more money year after year.

DUNSMORE: Anyone can be creative with an unlimited budget. But if the content and cause and committee for the event are significant, then you don't need anything surrounding that, certainly not a $300 centerpiece. Anyone in New York or Los Angeles can spend $300 and get something far better than you can provide them. So you don't need four courses — three is just fine. Afterward, people will talk about who was there, and if you made them laugh and cry — and if you got them out on time — it was a worthwhile evening.

Contact Capital Campaigns in Los Angeles at 310/914-9100 or in New York at 212/836-4802; the company's Web site is

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