In the past few months, you may have noticed a newsworthy addition to some of the events you’ve attended—a fundraiser for the residents of Maui in response to the headline-grabbing wildfires that ravaged this beautiful destination. As one of the tragedies to most recently grip the nation’s attention, it only makes sense that event organizers, like so many of us, would want to help. But it’s easy for this well-intentioned desire to help in the face of a tragedy to seem like an afterthought if not approached in a transparent, authentic, and engaging way and that could, in turn, lead to not a lot of money being raised by these efforts or a lack of authenticity in the face of life changing challenges.
There have been many surveys over the last few years that show cause marketing really matters to today’s event attendees. But there is a difference between an event created to speak to a cause and a catastrophic event happening and an event producer deciding to be responsive to it in the moment. Both are incredibly important but the latter can be rife with problems if not approached carefully.
At HUNTERS POINT we have a lot of experience with cause-driven events. Our most recent work in this capacity includes Mighty Dream Forum, a gathering started by Pharrell Williams comprised of global business leaders advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion and propelling entrepreneurship, career growth, and education; and Joy to the Polls, a music entertainment pop-up to get out the vote in multiple states across dozens of cities. We have also helped many of our commercial clients integrate causes into their consumer events in a natural and organic way that blends well with their brand ethos.
Here are some of my top tips for integrating causes and fundraisers into your event in a meaningful—and most importantly—effective way.
1. Think locally to act globally.
Several years ago, when I was working at Refinery29 on their innovative 29Rooms immersive experience, we had a stop in Los Angeles just when the Southern California wildfires broke out. 29Rooms was already built with a fundraising element integrated into its DNA—the event included a portion of ticket funds to national non-profit partners. But I knew that, in response to the fires, an immediate fundraising element had to be added and it had to benefit the local community. We identified two local non-profits—one that directly helped local firefighters and one that helped those in the area affected or displaced by the fires.
2. Message the fundraising element as early as possible and on as many platforms as possible.
The issue with adding a fundraising element at the proverbial last minute is making sure that people who have already RSVP’d or purchased their tickets know that this new element has been added and why. When we integrated the Southern California non-profits into the LA stop of 29Rooms we started messaging it right away—on our social media, on our website, in confirmation emails, in our press materials, and then also on site at the event. We didn’t want to wait until the event to just put up signage around the event then—there is always a chance those messages will be missed, even if announcements are made. So over-communication is best.
3. Always be transparent about where the money is going.
At some events, in response to recent tragedies, I have seen fundraising notifications that vaguely allude to money being raised to benefit an incident but with little to no details about exactly which 501C non-profit is benefitting. It is imperative that you make it super clear to attendees how their donations will help to an accredited charity. Take the time to fully vet the nonprofits and 501(c)(3) organizations you’re planning to partner with—which includes doing your own research but also asking lots of questions of the non-profits themselves about where the money will go and how it will benefit the cause you are focusing on.
If you’re raising money through ticket sales, it is important to fully understand your event expenses so you can tell attendees exactly what percentage of the ticket price is going towards the charity.
4. Remember that you don’t necessarily need to raise money for a specific cause right away.
I co-organized a fundraiser back in 2012 for the earthquakes that affected the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. We created an event with a silent auction specifically for this cause. But it took about eight weeks to pull it together. From my perspective, I knew the people of that region would appreciate the money whether or not it came eight days or eight weeks after the tragedy. Also, this gave us the time to really make a bigger bang for the cause because we were able to maximize the resources available to us. The extra time allowed the publicist to secure an appearance by Anthony Bourdain, to get Chef Michael White to donate the catering, and to get really enticing auction items, and we wound up raising $50,000.
Before jumping on the fundraising bandwagon, follow these steps to ensure a successful and ethical cause-based event.