By Rebecca Morgan
Halloween is one of the most joyous times for children in the US and some other countries. They dress up as a favorite character or fantasy and run from house to house to be given candy! What a delight!
Unfortunately, the sugary treats can have immediate and lasting negative impact for not only the children but their parents. Some kids eat so much Halloween night and succeeding days they get tummy aches and become hyperactive. They have trouble sleeping or concentrating. They may gain weight and have difficulty getting back to their normal weight. There may be fights at home between their parents trying to limit the goodie intake and the kids wanting to consume more.
Parents can find it hard to resist indulging in their kids’ loot. Some take the excess to work, where it becomes a burden on their co-workers who have trouble resisting the abundant sugary temptations.
While Halloween candy is not the cause, it can contribute to childhood diabetes and obesity, now at epidemic levels in the US.
What if we were to keep the fun parts of Halloween—dressing in fun costumes, visiting neighbors for a treat, having an evening out with your friends—but shifted the troublesome part—candy? What if we provided an equally delectable treat, but this one is for kids’ minds, not their tummies?
Why not give kids brain candy?
Books For Treats was begun in 2001 with just this premise. Give children books as Halloween treats.
Why give children books instead of candy at Halloween?
Books feed children’s minds, while candy only feeds their cavities. Books encourage children to read, and parents to read with them and/or ask them about their books. Many children rarely receive books as gifts, so even gently read books are special treats.
The National Endowment for the Arts recently released a report revealing that the average 15- to 24-year-old spends seven minutes daily on “voluntary” reading. If we kindle children’s excitement about reading before they are teenagers, they will continue the habit into adulthood.
Why would I want to go to the trouble of giving books? Candy is much easier to buy.
Do you recycle? If so, do you think it is a lot of work? No. You believe in supporting the planet by recycling materials so they don’t go into the landfill. Books For Treats takes a little more time than buying a giant bag of candy, but if you believe that you can help turn Halloween from a cavity-, obesity-, diabetes-contributing holiday into one that shows that society cares about our children, then it’s worth the extra effort.
Giving books instead of candy shows kids you care about them and are encouraging them to read. This not only helps raise their interest in reading, but raises their feeling that the community cares about their future. Literacy is key to success in today’s society. Book reading encourages curiosity, imagination and life-long learning.
“This is such an amazingly generous idea.” — Lynsey Georgiades
Why is candy a problem?
According to Nielsen Research, approximately $9.1 billion of candy was sold during the 2017 Halloween season—a new record. The average person spends nearly $16.45 on the Halloween candy—much of it being consumed before Halloween by the adults or their kids.
The average Jack-O-Lantern bucket holds about 250 pieces of candy amounting to about 9,000 calories and about three pounds of sugar, according to the California Milk Processors Board.
Childhood diabetes is increasing alarmingly. Couple that with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which show that today at least one in four children are 20% or more heavier than their ideal weight. It is clear that we do not need to be giving children more candy. We need a healthy alternative—one that “feeds kids’ minds, not their cavities!”
Parents complain that their kids are hyper before and after Halloween as they eat so many more sweets than usual. Parents have to limit the amount of candy their kids eat, which creates fights, crying and problems. Many parents either throw away unwanted candy or bring it to work for their coworkers to eat! Not a good solution.
Many adults find Halloween candy is a problem for them, as some eat it before Halloween, eat candy from their kids’ bags, or eat leftover candy brought to work by coworkers. Just think of the favor you’ll be doing for your waistline by not having Halloween candy to contend with!
How would I get inexpensive books? Kids’ books are expensive!
“I have done Books for Treats at our home for the last 2 years. This will be my third year. Each year I obtain a wider selection of books. I collect them year round from garage sales, thrift stores, and library book sales. Kids LOVE it.” — Christine Tyler, San Jose resident
Many libraries hold regular book sales. Call your nearest branch to see when the next sale is. A common library-sale price is $1/inch (stack up the books and measure along the spines). You can get 2 to 5 books for $1, depending on their thickness, so for the price of a candy bar you can give “brain candy” instead.
If you need to supplement your own book stash, take inventory of how many you already have in each grade category, so you’ll know how many more you’ll need for your trick-or-treaters. For guidance on how to tell the grade levels of the books you have, download our kit, as guidelines are in it.
“I culled our personal books last year and gave them out at the door with some candy. The books were a HUGE hit!” — Cathy W., Schenectady, NY
Why give gently read books instead of new books? Won’t kids think that is cheesy?
Kids appreciate books, even gently read books, as long as they are in good shape. You’ll need to screen the books to make sure the books aren’t ripped or marked up, although they may have the previous owner’s name in the front and/or a library stamp.
“I escorted five fourth grade boys trick-or-treating and they were thrilled the most about receiving a Books For Treats book. When the boys saw their friends they exclaimed ‘Look at the cool book from the lady across the street!’ When we arrived home, I quickly hid the bag of candy. My son Jeremy didn’t even ask for the candy; he begged for the book that he received from Books For Treats!” — Catherine Edwards
“They were leaving here, waving their books and running to their mothers, saying, ‘I got a book. I got a book!’ It’s not a trick. It’s a treat….We enjoy seeing the kids get excited about getting a book.” — Ann Reeves, Kennewick, Oregon
What will the kids think about getting books instead of candy?
Our experience is that kids, as well as their parents, are thrilled by receiving books for treats. They are much more enthusiastic than we have ever seen them when we gave candy. We have witnessed many children running to the sidewalk waiving a new treasure yelling, “Mom, look! I got a book!” We also see a group of kids standing on the sidewalk showing each other their books. We heard one girl greet a friend coming from the other direction “Hey, this house gives books! Cool!”
When asked what she thought of Books For Treats, seven-year-old Alana said, “I like books better than candy. A book lasts a long time and candy is gone in a bite! And I can sit on my daddy’s lap and read the book over and over with him.”
“I offered books this Halloween. Two children were so excited they left their sacks of candy at the door and took off with the books—they had to come back later and retrieve their candy (and they thanked me again for the books). Some of the older kids wanted to know if they could have more than one book.
“Next year I am going to do again. The kids were excited to get something other than candy and books were the treat. I just loved their looks of surprise when the ‘book basket’ came out and they could pick the one they wanted.” — Joan Nettesheim
“Kids were squealing with joy and delight….I think I got more joy than they did. They didn’t want the candy. They kept yelling to each other, ‘Hey, this is the house with all the books.'” — County Commissioner Lisa Weik, in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune
How do I get involved?
“Thanks for getting me involved in Books for Treats. This has turned into one of the premier events in downtown Campbell. The community has really embraced Books for Treats.” — Bob Carlson, Campbell Rotary Books For Treats Chair
“I’m so glad I did this! Your downloadable kit made it so easy! This was so fun!!! We are off the main trick or treating route in a well-to-do suburb of Birmingham, AL called Mountain Brook. Kids here can absolutely afford books and are well educated, so I was afraid they’d think it was goofy but they loved it!! A pack of 6th grade boys said it was “awesome and cool” with genuine excitement. A few little girls ran back to their parents screaming happily, “Look mama, I got a book!” I’ve been telling everyone I know about it yesterday and today! Thanks for your organization! “ — Laura McLester
How do I give gently read children’s books at Halloween?
Collect books. Then download our kit to help you sort your books by grade level. It has a full set of instructions on how to sort the books, how to make it easy to give books to your trick-or-treaters, and even signs for your door so kids—and parents—know you’re a book-giving house.
“I distributed 697 books to trick-or-treaters at my house in Southbridge, MA last night. Your kit was a huge help in terms of getting things organized and sorting the books by reading level.
“It was very easy to collect donations of books for younger kids from parent friends whose kids had outgrown them. I ended up calling Friends of Library organizations and negotiating bulk sales for about $10 per box.” — Amelia
About Rebecca Morgan:
Rebecca Morgan founded Books For Treats in 2001. Communities and residents all over No. America have joined the Books For Treats movement. For more info, go to www.BooksForTreats.org.
John Porter will never forget the call ten years ago. With some of the key members of his team on a service mission with CHOICE Humanitarian to Guatemala, a survivor called to say the plane had crashed killing ten people, most John’s employees.
Chris Johnson and his wife Liz had devoted themselves to helping those living in extreme poverty to successfully build a path to a brighter future through CHOICE. Liz had taken time off to focus on their small children before getting back into the field on that fateful trip. She survived the crash but succumbed to her injuries while being treated in Guatemala city.
Faced with excruciating decisions about how to move forward, Chris remained at CHOICE. John rebuilt his team and grew his company while continuing to support service. CHOICE continued its work in Guatemala. Ten years on, the community has been dramatically reshaped, with improved literacy and job training, including IT training in the Central American jungle.
Everyone involved committed to making the work and its impact on the people Liz and the others served the living memorial to those who died.
Interview with Christopher Johnson, the Director of Economic Development of CHOICE Humanitarian.
The following is the pre-interview with Christopher Johnson. Be sure to watch the recorded interview above.
What is the problem you solve and how do you solve it?
We work with rural communities around the globe ending extreme poverty. We do this through an applied approach to local leadership skill building in problem-solving, consensus building, gender equality, results-based management, networking and sustainability. The end result is a community capable of eliminating it’s own extreme poverty and creating a quality of life for its citizens that celebrates its unique culture, values and dreams while offering improved access to health, education, sanitation and economic growth.
More about CHOICE Humanitarian:
CHOICE Humanitarian is a non-government organization working with rural communities of developing countries to develop sustainable strategies for eliminating extreme poverty in their own communities and in the surrounding area.
For-profit/Nonprofit: 501(c)3 Nonprofit
CHOICE generates resources in the following ways:
Scale: $4M/annual operating budget, 75 employees worldwide, approx 185,000 people directly impacted on an annual basis from leadership development, economic programs and access to basic services
Christopher Johnson’s bio:
For the past twenty-five years Christopher has been involved in sustainable development work. He has been employed full-time with CHOICE Humanitarian for the past 20 years and has held positions at CHOICE Humanitarian as director of field operations for 12 years where he worked extensively to build and strengthen the Self-Developing Village Model together with Dr. James B. Mayfield and nine Country directors as it was piloted, tested and perfected in seven countries around the world. This model trains local leaders and their communities in developing and implementing sustainable strategies for accessing adequate education, healthcare, economic development and healthy environment in order to achieve a self-defined high quality of life.
Christopher worked as executive director for two years as Program Director for 5 years developing additional organization-wide initiatives. Christopher now focus his time on economic development connecting products from small-scale farmers and artisans to US markets establishing best-practices, protocols and profitable international trade ventures using a responsible sourcing and sustainable methodology.
In other non-profit work, Christopher worked as assistant executive director of the Humanitarian Resource Center of North America. He has led over 30 humanitarian expeditions for CHOICE as a volunteer as well as served an internship with them for one year working with the Huichol Indigenous tribe in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico. He also spent two years on a service mission in Paraguay.
Christopher has a Bachelors of Science degree in Recreational Management from Brigham Young University and has completed the coarse work of a masters degree in Recreation Administration at California State University Chico.
Christopher is the author of Revitalizing Glendale: People, Resources and Strategies for Community Building. Sits on two other non-profit boards of directors, has been instrumental in starting three non-profit organizations and acts as an advisor to many more. He is father to three beautiful children, enjoys camping, traveling, cycling, mountain biking, snow boarding and just about anything that releases adrenaline into the bloodstream.
Interview with John Porter, the CEO of Focus Services, LLC.
The following is the pre-interview with John Porter. Be sure to watch the recorded interview above.
What is the problem you solve and how do you solve it?
With the profits and personal of our organizations, we provide resources; financial, professional and labor to elevate abject poverty and fight human trafficking.
More about Focus Services, LLC:
Focus is a multinational BPO (business processing outsourcer).
Revenue model: Our entities are all for profit. We utilize these funds to support worthy groups.
Scale: We have thousands of employees working in several countries in the world.
John Porter’s bio:
John is the founder and CEO of Focus Services, LLC and Clearview Technology, LLC and has been a founding member of other businesses. John loves to build businesses by driving technology, process and developing people. “The fun is in the growth.”
John and the businesses that he operates are very engaged in improving the lives of people in many regions in the world. He currently sits as a board member for Choice Humanitarian and is also involved in other charities and NGOs.
John has been married to Connie W. Porter for over 30 years. They have four children and will soon have six grandchildren.
This post was originally produced for Forbes.
Still weak from her cancer treatment, 29-year-old Jenna Benn Shersher, now 36, asked her family, friends and followers to help her fight cancer. Wanting to dance but unable to do much on the dance floor, she made a quick video of herself doing the twist and challenged others to do the same. Thousands did.
That launched a movement that became a nonprofit organization she calls Twist Out Cancer.
The 501(c)(3) now has programs in Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, Ann Arbor, Philadelphia and Tel Aviv.
While cancer-free for nearly seven years, Shersher describes her experience with cancer as “horrible.” Despite having the best medical care and a strong network of family and friends, she felt “this sort of overwhelming sense of isolation and loneliness even though I had everything in my favor.”
She found blogging to be therapeutic. That’s where she posted her Twist Out Cancer challenge and found a ready audience of eager supporters.
She built the nonprofit with a goal of helping cancer survivors—including those who have just learned of their diagnosis—to feel the same connection that Shersher found with her supporters.
One survivor, Anna Swarthout (now Moschner) had the same, rare cancer that Shersher had—grey zone lymphoma. Just a few years younger than Shersher, the two shared some of the same feelings of loss and frustration having cancer while still in their prime.
With the help of Twist Out Cancer, Moschner grew a global support group with people painting works of art and baking cookies to support her.
A new program emerged from the experience: “Brushes With Cancer.” Twist Out Cancer now pairs a cancer survivor with an artist, someone they wouldn’t otherwise know. They provide space and time for them to get to know one another well. In that time, the artist creates a unique work that reflects the survivor’s journey.
“Essentially it allows for the person touched by cancer to articulate their story, come to terms with what they want to share. And then it also gives them an opportunity to see their story through someone else’s eyes. And for the artist it gives them an opportunity to use their talent and their skills to be able to help support someone that needed it,” Shersher says.
Grace Lombardo, a cancer survivor who blogs at Grancer, describes her primary role on her blog as “STAY-AT-HOME-PARENT– Zero consistency, no days off (including sick days), lots of human excrement, emotional garbage disposal, complete loss of sense of self. Managed by tiny dictators. Payment in leftover Goldfish crackers.”
Lombardo participated in Brushes with Cancer. “I was an ‘Inspiration’ at 2017’s Brushes with Cancer event which means that I was paired with an artist who made a beautiful painting of his depiction of my cancer odyssey. Now that painting hangs on the wall in my dining room which reminds me of the struggle and subsequent joy of what I went through during diagnosis, treatment and beyond.”
“TOC finds people at many different stages of their cancer odyssey. For me, I was just out of treatment when it all began so I was raw and in need of some initial healing. Telling my story to my artist and seeing what evolved out of his creative mind was a way to look back through the looking glass at my own story. Every piece of art has meaning, but this particular piece is an actual piece of me and the tapestry of my life,” she concludes.
The artwork is displayed and sold at a fundraising gala that helps keep the program running for the next beneficiary. Shersher says the organization is funded by a combination of crowdfunding, private donations, foundation grants and these galas.
As Shersher reflects on her experience, and the twisting videos people—even strangers—made to support her, she says, “There was something really powerful about video about being brought into other people’s homes and workplaces and celebrations. These are all things that I felt disconnected from and couldn’t be a part of. And so, I saw the power of video; I saw the power of connection, and I saw the power of using creativity in order to educate and advocate for what I needed.” The legacy of her cancer is her work to support other survivors in their journeys.
Ellis Lucas is literally on a mission to save souls, sharing his personal faith in Jesus Christ with incarcerated addicts. A recovering addict himself, Ellis now uses the book he wrote to help struggling addicts develop a sense of personal worth and dignity.
The book started as a letter to his estranged son. The words just poured out of him as he sought to share his faith and hope with his adult son. They are still working to heal their relationship, but the book, The Potter and the Clay, has helped many others.
Interview with Ellis Lucas, the President of His Heart United.
The following is the pre-interview with Ellis Lucas. Be sure to watch the recorded interview above.
What is the problem you solve and how do you solve it?
We deal with the human suffering, loneliness, depression, anger, addiction and abuse that so many of us may endure, and the healing and overcoming we can experience when we put our trust in a God and learn how to use suffering to our advantage to serve as a life preserver for the countless wounded souls sinking in the troubled waters of hopelessness; and empowering us to take back control of our individual destinies. Our deepest internal despair can become the gateway to transformation into a far greater life with purpose and meaning – as God’s gift not only to us but to us to INSPIRE OTHERS to inspire the whole World!
More about His Heart United:
The Work of His Heart United – His Heart United is a parent ministry of His Song Evangelism, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit evangelical outreach organization based in Colorado Springs, CO and Smithville, MO.
Concert Outreach Events
We believe music is the universal language that builds a common bridge between every life and culture. Before all else, we were made to glorify Him. It is with that understanding, that we bring tremendous concert/outreach events to your communities with notables such as, John Schlitt, Bread of Stone, Ninth Hour, Ellis Lucas The WANTED Band, Lori Harris and more. Led by Ellis and Peggi Lucas, His Heart United can bring live Concert Outreach events to your community. Our mission is to bring His heart together…one Body, one Spirit, one Hope…to do so as a movement of ministries and/or organizations made up of wounded healers, bringing the healing of our God, to a world of broken lives.
“I was in prison and you came to visit me … I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:36, 40). George Arnold of Broken Chains brings his work with prisoners to His Heart United taking the word and worship beyond the walls…beyond the bars… “...how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” With decades if experience, His Heart United’s team of ministers and authors can be booked for your next ministry event, sharing from scripture, story and song…
It is our desire, to provide resources that aid the individual from all walks and level of society in moving toward one body, one spirit and one hope – toward His heart being united through the church and moving to the world.
The Potter and the Clay National Book Donation Fund
“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body!” (Hebrews 13:1-3)
How many people do you know who can say they’ve enjoyed having their face on a WANTED poster in post offices up and down the Eastern Slope of Colorado while doing time inside numerous county jails, correctional facilities, rehab programs, and prisons in numerous states all at the same time? Well, we only know one: Ellis Lucas. Ellis’ autobiography The Potter and the Clay began to fall on fertile soil when the El Paso County Jail in Colorado Springs requested just under fifty copies (two per every cell block).
Then in early 2017, several cases were sent to Minnesota, where they were set to be delivered to various rehab centers as well as county jails. Next was Pueblo County, which stocked both the new and old jail with numerous copies, and Douglas County in Castle Rock, Colorado, after that. On May 4, 2018, hundreds of copies were delivered to prisons in Tucson, Arizona, to Chaplain Martinez, who couldn’t wait to get them distributed.
The following message is from brother Kyle Frewin, who delivered the books: “I met with Chaplain Martinez yesterday morning. What a great man of God. I bet we spent thirty to forty-five minutes just chatting about the prison and his ministry. He thanks you so much for the books and will email me a tax receipt to forward to you. He said it is amazing, when they distribute a new book, how fast they go. As was previously mentioned, they have approx. 2,000 inmates at any given time, but see approx. 40,000 per year. Roughly 26,000 of those he gets to minister to. He is part of the Pima County Prison; however, he has connections to the state and federal prison in Tucson and the Marana (just north of Tucson) Prison. He plans to provide each of those facilities with a box of books. He also said that there is some “event” (sorry, I cannot specifically remember any other details) going on in September and is thinking that, if possible, that would be a good time to have you be a guest speaker. He has another author friend from the Phoenix area who has a similar story to yours that he is going to send one of your books to. He thought maybe the two of you could speak at different prisons together. That person wrote Rescued Not Arrested. Chaplain Martinez will give me/you details later. I have provided his contact info below. He wished I lived closer to the facility as he thought, as a former math teacher, I could teach math basics to the inmates. Wow, that sure would be a “different” experience for me. I spent the rest of the day with Chelsea and told her “Hi” from you and Peggi as well as filled her in on what that meeting at the KC airport has led to. Who knows what’s next? Have a great rest of your week and holiday weekend.” – Kyle Frewin
On June 23, 2018, Bearing Armor, a Kansas-based motorcycle ministry, called to say they, too, were out of books, that every prison they visited in Missouri and Kansas requested a minimum of a case of The Potter and the Clay, so eighty more copies were shipped directly to Bearing Armor in Shawnee, Kansas, just to complete their prison tour before they headed to Sturgis, South Dakota, with more to be handed out there, and more will be needed for prisons once they are back in Kansas and prepare for the next prison tour.
The Potter and the Clay is not just impacting individual lives; it is transforming entire families. And it is in big demand all across America. Ellis and Peggi Lucas have decided to donate all the books needed for rehab programs, county jails, prisons, etc., and have set up a tax-deductible donate page created specifically for this purpose, and are asking for your help to get these books distributed. For every donation of $30 or more, Ellis will send a free signed copy of the newly designed The Potter and the Clay to whomever you’d like to have it signed to. Thank you for helping us fulfill a calling and bring hope and healing to thousands of people who read this book every day. And remember: “No One Is Ever Without Hope!”
How do you place God in your heart when you never believed he was there from the start?
Ellis Lucas saw no hope of salvation or meaning in life or the world around him. Isolation, uncontrollable anger and violence, abandonment, and feeling unwanted describes a lost and broken young Ellis, inebriated by drinking from deceptive cisterns and poisoned waters of this passing age! His life had spiraled into years of addiction, a violent car wreck, almost losing his life in a house fire, mounting debts, jail, a broken marriage, and finally a choice: life or death? As he was ready to surrender, only then did he begin to see the signs around him—even in the cat he swore he’d kill—that there was purpose and promise.
Like clay, we are crafted by the hands that hold us, cherish us, and mold us, but we also make our decisions in a world full of vices we find hard to escape from.
The Potter and the Clay is an extraordinary and poignant testimony of a father to his son, but it is also the remarkable story of one man’s crafted deliverance into the hands of God and how providence can turn ashes and the wreckage of a life into a work of heavenly art. “I came to understand there is no human life beyond God’s infinite desire and passion to love and to know, and no situation, pain, sin, or failure beyond His desire to forgive, heal, and restore.” — Ellis Lucas
“The life of someone like Ellis Lucas normally doesn’t get written in books; instead, it’s often ‘written’ on the garbage heaps and junk piles of blighted urban areas—the saddest parts of our cities which record the tales of those who’ve totally given up to alcoholism, defeat, drug addiction, and a lot more. But not Ellis. Today, his life has become a gift to Life itself.” — Mike Schwager, WorldLink Media
For-profit/Nonprofit: 501(c)3 Nonprofit
Revenue model: Donations/fundraisers
Scale: We are all volunteers, 7 member board while up to 50 volunteers for live events
Ellis Lucas’s bio:
The New Potter and the Clay
How do you place God in your heart when you never believed he was there from the start?
“Nobody is ever without hope.” — Ellis Lucas
While he never envisioned becoming an author, Ellis Lucas is a natural born storyteller nonetheless. And in an age where it feels like everyone, even the most inconsequential of public figures and celebrities, feels compelled to chronicle their life’s journey in memoir form, Ellis Lucas’s The Potter and the Clay isn’t yet another ho-hum account of a few of humanity’s shared experiences. The Life of someone like Ellis Lucas normally doesn’t get written in books—instead, it’s “written” on the garbage heaps and junk piles of blighted urban areas—the saddest parts of our cities which record the tales of those who’ve totally given up to alcoholism, defeat, drug addiction, and a lot more, but not Ellis Lucas.
Ellis’ story is raw, yet compelling; it reaches down to the gutter of human despair and rises to the height of divine providence. It’s a gritty, real-life story of pain, abuse, and utter transformation. A riveting and transparent nail-biting page-turner biography chronicled in the pages of this impactful book that captures remarkable story of genuine faith and the will to survive, a life filled with love, a veritable mountain of loss, and eventually, sweet redemption. The Potter and the Clay also offers a powerful takeaway, namely that no matter how far someone feels from salvation, hope, change and, yes, even total renewal is never out of reach.
“Through everything, broken relationships, addiction, spending weekends in jail, I began to understand how there is no human life beyond God’s infinite desire and real passion to love and to know,” Ellis shares. “There’s also no situation, pain, sin or failure beyond His desire to forgive, heal and restore if we are willing to humble ourselves in true Biblical repentance and meet God on His own terms.”
While growing up in a small, seemingly idyllic Midwest farming community, Ellis says he encountered authentic Christianity at a young age. His mother, the late Mary Jeanette Lucas, was in his words “an amazing woman” who was “radically” in love with Jesus Christ and made that perfectly clear in everything she did.”
Living in a household guided by the words of Joshua 24:15, Ellis, the youngest of four children and his parents’ only son while growing up, saw a true example of someone who put others before herself and was truly transformed and renewed through her relationship with Jesus.
However, and Notwithstanding, in what’s a key moment in every believer’s life, the faith of his family eventually needed to become Ellis’ own. And it wasn’t until after his beloved mother passed away that Ellis became “a true transformed believer in, and follower of, Jesus Christ.”
“Without a doubt, my mother’s consistent devotion left an eternal impression upon my heart that ultimately prevailed, leading me straight into the safe and loving arms of Jesus at age thirty-five,” Ellis says. “I’m forever grateful to her for it! It was the memory of that persistent Christ-centered faith and genuine love lived out in her daily life that remained deeply embedded in my subconscious long after she was gone that somehow managed to transcend life and death, seasons of joy and pain, countless trials and difficult circumstances, including years of drug and alcohol abuse, depression, divorce, isolation and emptiness followed by, complete hopelessness. It all culminated in what would have been lengthy imprisonment from two very serious felony drug charges that were both dismissed four months later for lack of evidence when not as much as a single fingerprint of mine turned up in the house”
“My life had been so completely destroyed and convinced that Jesus Christ simply didn’t love me, I’d come to believe there was absolutely no hope of ever changing, and no hope of Heaven, all I had to look forward to for a future was whatever awaited me beyond the grave—most likely judgment,” Ellis shares. “But while locked up in the Clay County Missouri Jail, at the end of life as I knew it, Jesus Christ stretched out His mighty hand of grace and revealed Himself along with an astonishing revelation, He did along and still does love me and had an amazing plan for my life if I would open my heart and receive Him that day. I did, and what has happened since is a message I want the whole world to hear.”
This post was originally produced for Forbes.
Perhaps I’m showing my age, but with the years I’ve spent working as an entrepreneur and working with and for entrepreneurs—especially social entrepreneurs in recent years—I’ve noticed a disturbing trend: focus has shifted to disruption away from solving problems and building businesses.
First, let me say, that I understand the meaning, and buried within an entrepreneur’s desire to disrupt an industry is a goal to solve a problem and build a business. Here’s the thing, increasingly entrepreneurs aren’t talking about the problems they solve and the businesses they’ll build but instead are focused on the industry they’ll disrupt.
Did Thomas Edison set out to disrupt the gas lamp industry when he decided to invent the electric light bulb? I suspect not. He wanted to create a better, safer, more reliable source of light.
Let’s be clear, disruption is a problem. When entrepreneurs say they hope to disrupt an industry, they are really saying, we hope to bankrupt some businesses, put lots of people out of work, perhaps inspire a suicide or two and with any luck leave some children without reliable sources of food or health insurance.
Personally, I can’t help but wonder if that entrepreneurial elitism hasn’t contributed in some way to the rise of President Donald Trump by in fact ignoring the impact of disruption.
It is certainly true that the invention of the light bulb did disrupt the gas lamp industry. Perhaps some businesses failed; certainly, some people lost their jobs and all the downstream effects of unemployment were realized.
At the same time, tremendous social benefits were also realized as the world moved away from gas lamps. The shift, almost 140 years after the invention of the lightbulb continues. In the developing world, kerosene lamps are still used. Increasingly, they are being replaced by solar lamps that require only free fuel to use. (Of course, solar lamps don’t use Edison-style incandescent bulbs, they use LEDs, but it is hard to imagine LEDs without first having had incandescent bulbs.)
As this happens, kerosene is no longer needed in many of those homes and so is not there to risk an accidental burn of a child or to be used as a convenient and horrific weapon in a domestic dispute—almost always with a woman as the victim.
Neglecting disruption may not be much better than seeking for it as a primary objective, but we can at least observe a difference in intent. A bank robber may ignore the risk that carrying a gun into a bank may put the robber in the uncomfortable position of murdering someone, but it seems preferable to the serial killer who takes lives for sport.
Your success does not depend on another’s failure. There are problems to be solved in this world that should require no disruption—or only disruption of bad actors. Let’s consider a few examples.
When organizations like Days for Girls and enterprises like Bana, create free or affordable ways for girls to access feminine hygiene products they’ve never had, the only things they disrupt are missed days of school and the piles of leaves girls were forced to sit on before.
Operation Underground Railroad actively works to rescue child victims of sex slavery around the world. Every time they are successful in that objective, they disrupt a group of traffickers and pedophiles. Well done, I say!
Forward progress will, I acknowledge, often require disruption. Sometimes, as with sex traffickers, that disruption should be considered an unqualified social benefit. Generally, however, I want to challenge entrepreneurs to refocus on problem-solving and business building. Disruption as a goal is like a football team focusing on hurting the other team’s quarterback rather than scoring points and defending the end zone.
Press Release – SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH – SEPTEMBER 24, 2018 – Devin Thorpe, a journalist and podcaster who covers the nonprofit arena, will again live stream #GivingTuesday. The global giving day was created by the United Nations Foundation and 92nd Street Y in 2012 and has been growing ever since.
Thorpe dubbed his video live stream hosted on YouTube the #GTstreamathon. It will include over 100 interviews with nonprofit leaders, celebrities and crowdfunding platform operators participating in the global fundraising event. Beginning at midnight Pacific Time on November 27, 2018 and ending 24 hours later, the show will be produced and hosted entirely alone by one person.
“I’ve never had so much fun at work,” Thorpe said of the first annual #GTstreamathon. “It was as exhausting as you can imagine, but also exhilarating. I was thrilled to connect that day with so many people doing so much good for the world while at the same time see the global fundraising tally top both all prior records and $100 million dollars.”
“Participating in the #GTstreamathon last year was fun and easy,” says Carrie Romano, CEO of the Ronald McDonald House Charities Intermountain Area. “This simple step added to our overall fundraising strategy that day, helping us to maximize the funds we raised. Devin is a great host who shares our passion for doing good.”
“Joining Devin for the #GTstreamathon in 2017 was so impactful, we jumped at the chance not only to participate again this year but to sponsor,” says Daryl Hatton, CEO of FundRazr. “At FundRazr, we want to help nonprofits raise more money by easily connecting donors with the impact of their contributions. #GivingTuesday aligns perfectly with our goals and the livestream is an exciting way to engage with it.”
Thorpe is accepting applications from nonprofit leaders who would like to participate at apply.gtstreamathon.org. There is no cost for nonprofits to participate. For-profit businesses interested in sponsoring the event are invited to apply at the same website. All media outlets are invited to broadcast or host the YouTube livestream on their websites without charge and are encouraged to express interest at media.gtstreamathon.org.
More about the #GTstreamathon:
The #GTstreamathon is a 24-hour video livestream hosted by Devin Thorpe, a journalist and podcaster, whose guests include nonprofit leaders, celebrities and crowdfunding professionals. Watch the live stream on November 27, 2018 at gtstreamathon.org.
Shelby Hintze, a television producer for NBC-affiliate KSL’s “The Browser” and “Sunday Edition,” called on nonprofits to engage those they serve in leadership, including paid positions.
Hintze is a powerful, successful leader at KSL, but she acknowledges her vulnerabilities as a person with a form of muscular dystrophy. She notes that organizations sometimes miss the obvious because they fail to adequately engage those they serve.
If members of the community were serving on boards or in executive leadership, she says, the organizations would make better decisions for the people they hope to serve.
Shelby Hintze’s bio:
Shelby Hintze is a TV news producer in Salt Lake City. She is an advocate with the goal of elevating the voices of marginalized communities through intersectionality.
Abby Levin and Lexi Thomas have devoted themselves to their nonprofit, Flowers for Powers, delivering flowers to people who need a lift. Inspired by the loss of both her grandmothers ten years ago, Abby and Lexi decided to spread joy.
Jumping on a trampoline in the backyard, they spotted flowers, crystalizing an idea. With donated flowers and low-cost vases, they deliver sunshine, most often to seniors, people in hospice care and others with grave diseases.
Their flowers bring joy but not because the flowers are so beautiful, it’s because they remind the recipient of the beautiful smiles of two remarkable girls who delivered them.
Interview with Abigayle Levin, Lexi Thomas, the Founders and Partners of Flowers For Powers.
The following is the pre-interview with Abigayle Levin, Lexi Thomas. Be sure to watch the recorded interview above.
What is the problem you solve and how do you solve it?
The problem is we usually see people at their worst. Our goal is to put a smile or their face at help them get through this difficult moment.
More about Flowers For Powers:
Flowers for Powers is a nonprofit organization that delivers healing powers through the gifting of flowers to those in need.
For-profit/Nonprofit: 501(c)3 Nonprofit
Revenue model: Florists donate flowers. Currently Weis markets is donating. We get donations from the community to purchase vases and do walks. Tammy Schneider helped with legal filings, Vince Breuning with our website and Andrew Small with our logo and marketing materials.
Scale: Our moms help us with the deliveries. We cannot drive. Weis markets currently donate flowers. We rely on donations from the community to purchase vases. We have also been fortunate to have donated help with our website, logo and legal filings.
Abigayle Levin, Lexi Thomas’s bio:
I started Flowers for Powers with my friend Lexi when we were in 4th grade. My grandmother, Gail Davis passed away from ALS in 2009 and my grandmother Judy Levin from breast cancer in 2008. Lexi and I discussed what we could do to help people who were suffering like them. At the time we were jumping on her trampoline and noticed the beautiful flowers outside. That’s when Lexi and I started Flowers for Powers. – Abby
This post was originally produced for Forbes.
Two years ago, Ryan Smith, founder and CEO of Qualtrics, launched a movement called “5 For The Fight” to end cancer. The effort has led to an unusual partnership with Dr. Joshua Schiffman at the Huntsman Cancer Institute and his research with elephants.
Elephants have about 100 times as many cells as humans. Every cell has some risk of becoming cancerous. Schiffman suggests that we should expect to see elephants die of cancer more often than humans, but we observe that elephants get cancer much less often. Schiffman’s research focuses on why that is.
Mike Maughan leads brand growth and global insights at Qualtrics and serves as the CFO of the 501(c)(3) charity 5 For The Fight that was created by Smith and his team. He says the movement has raised $2.5 million globally since the initiative was launched. Those funds are kept in the countries where they are raised.
For instance, the funds raised in Ireland were donated to the Cork Cancer Institute to establish the Dermot Costello Immunology Fellowship, named for the former head of European operations for Qualtrics, who passed away from cancer last year.
At the end of 2017, 5 For The Fight in the U.S. donated $250,000 to the Huntsman Cancer Institute specifically to fund Dr. Schiffman’s work with elephants. It turns out that they have 40 copies of the p53 gene; humans typically have only two.
“My view is that nature is always going to be smarter than people. Right. We can work as hard as we want in the laboratory. But the elephants have already figured it out,” Schiffman says.
His research focuses on trying to figure out how to either modify human genes to create more copies of this cancer-fighting DNA or to trigger the same body function another way. He was circumspect about putting a timeline on the research but hinted he’s making progress toward a drug.
The research is particularly salient to people with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, who have only one copy of the p53 gene and have a 90% or higher lifetime risk of developing cancer.
Jaron Allred is a preconstruction manager at Sure Steel, Inc. He and his three children—and several of his other relatives—all have Li Fraumeni. It was discovered when seven years after losing his sister to cancer, his mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor just a week before he was. Today, Allred’s cancer has responded well to treatment.
Allred’s colleagues at Sure Steel have rallied around him, joining the 5 For The Fight movement. Employees are now given the option to give $5 or more every pay period to the nonprofit. For some, it is about supporting a friend. For others, it is about family members who are fighting cancer themselves.
Qualtrics, for its part, has 1900 employees in 11 countries and have the option to participate, too.
Schiffman, who had cancer as a child and still sees patients, sees himself as a triple threat to cancer: cancer survivor, cancer researcher and cancer doctor. He’s grateful to his elephant partners.
The research on elephants requires occasional blood samples, but Schiffman can use blood drawn during routine exams and so imposes no pain or testing on the animals.
For the event, Qualtrics brought in two trained elephants—Cindy and Janice—to represent their kin who have participated in the research. The handler, Joey Frisco, expressed excitement about the role elephants play in the research and assured me that the elephants, soon to be retired from the circus, are healthy and well treated.
Update: Joey Frisco has, in the past, been reported to have mistreated elephants under his care.
Maughan says the 5 for the Fight board is considering a “substantial new grant” for Dr. Schiffman’s elephant research at the next board meeting. Schiffman, who says nearly 50% of people will get cancer in their lifetimes, hopes everyone will pitch in.
Smith echoes his thoughts, noting that the 5 for the Fight movement is about getting $5 each from 10 million people, not just big donations from Qualtrics.
This post was originally produced for Forbes.
For social entrepreneurs looking to upend the status quo and solve the world’s big problems, holding a fundraising gala may seem archaic or even offensive. Still, nonprofit organizations have been holding galas for generations—because they work.
Of course, a gala won’t work for every cause or organization. To begin with, your social enterprise must be a nonprofit. While necessary, 501(c)(3) status is not sufficient for a successful fundraising event.
To learn what makes for a successful gala, I gathered insights from five people who together have successfully organized events that have raised millions of dollars.
The experts are Carla Javits, the CEO of REDF; Fred Reggie, CEO of Fred Reggie Associates; Jordan Levy, chief external relations officer for Ubuntu Pathways; Brett Durbin, CEO of Trash Mountain Project, and Derek Rapp, CEO of JDRF.
Which Organizations Are Good Candidates?
If every organization is not a good candidate for a gala, which are and which are not?
Organizations must have a “base of supporters who are likely to be energized themselves,” says Carla Javits, whose REDF organization fund nonprofit social enterprises that help people to overcome homelessness and incarceration to return to productive, fulfilling work. The organization’s galas raised millions of dollars over an eight-year span.
She notes that an organization is a good fit when it has a project manager capable of planning and organizing such a big event.
Jordan Levy, whose most recent gala raised “almost $1 million” for the Ubuntu Pathways work in South Africa, explains why it is so important for an organization to have an existing base of support before attempting a gala. “There is overhead involved, and it takes a ton of staff time to plan and execute. A portion of the revenue needs to be predictable. If you don’t have an established network, a gala could be a risky proposition.”
Fred Reggie, whose firm helps to organize galas and other fundraising events for nonprofit organizations, notes that the cause is key. “Organizations that serve children (especially those stricken with devastating illnesses), the arts, hospice and healthcare are those that would tap into an affluent demographic that would feel comfortable in a gala setting.” He adds that galas in support of animals are also successful. Not surprisingly, having a celebrity-driven relief event works well, he says.
Brett Durbin, whose low budget galas have raised up to $300,000 with an average of just $25,000 in expenses, says almost any nonprofit can make it work “if there is a demand for such an event.”
Derek Rapp, whose national organization fighting Type 1 diabetes has chapters around the country that host galas. The key, he says, is to have volunteers who support the staff in planning the events.
Organizing the Organizing
Our experts suggest that planning begin well in advance, perhaps as much as 18 months for a big, first-time event. Levy notes that planning the next event starts with a thorough analysis of the last one.
One key, Javits points out, is to designate one person who is ultimately responsible for the event—someone “with good project management skills.”
At the outset, it is important to organize a planning committee that includes the staff and volunteers—including board members–who will be involved in planning and decision making. Never have a committee meeting without the decision maker; someone needs to be able to approve or reject every spending item, point of messaging or entertainment decision. If the committee meets monthly and a question arises for which no answer can be given, a month of work can be lost.
Before much work can begin, the committee should settle on a theme, financial objectives and contractors. Members of the committee should be chosen mutually—that is the staff should be comfortable with the choice of person and the person should be comfortable with the assignment—to run subcommittees for the key functions:
If you choose not to do a drawing, silent auction or live auction, you obviously won’t need those committees formed but you’ll give up the potential revenue that comes from them.
Note that with nine sub-committees, the number of people involved in the planning for the event should quickly rise into the dozens. A few people may be willing to serve on two committees, but you’ll usually want volunteers to be focused on narrow but strategic items so as to keep them engaged but not overwhelmed.
At the first meeting, schedule all of the meetings the full committee will hold until the event. You may want to have less frequent meetings at first and more frequent, perhaps weekly, in the final month of preparation.
The theme chosen by the committee should be aligned closely with the mission and purpose of the organization—you’re planning a fundraiser, not a prom. Once chosen, everything else from the venue, food and beverages to the décor and entertainment should be in harmony with the theme. As Javits says, “Theme is critical. Apply maximum creativity to tying that to your programs: the meals, entertainment, décor, even location should be aligned with that theme which in turn illuminates your program.”
Reggie says, whatever else your theme does, “It has to scream FUN!”
“Don’t overthink it.” Ubuntu’s Levy offers this caution: “Your guests are people with busy lives and this is their evening. Don’t try to put in too much content. Keep the night short. Think about the type of evening you would enjoy. People want to be engaged, entertained and to have a good time. Keep the food simple, make it easy to get a drink and put your best messaging forward.”
Finance and Budget
The cost to do a gala—and the revenue it generates—will be different in Dayton or Little Rock than in Manhattan or San Francisco. Still, some financial metrics will be consistent across most events.
Javits and Reggie both suggest that a gala should generate about a 60% profit margin. Put another way, if the total revenue from all sources, including donations made at the gala, reach $100,000, you would expect to have spent $40,000 or less on all expenses from food and beverage to nametags and decorations.
This highlights one of the arguments against doing galas at all. Does too much of the money go to the venue and caterer? Javits suggests only having a gala if you don’t have another, “less costly” way to activate donors.
Presuming you go ahead, budget your revenue sources carefully. Reggie suggests the following revenue breakdown:
Using this breakdown, all the costs of the entire event are covered by ticket sales. Others have suggested covering costs between sponsorships and ticket sales. In any case, you want the drawing and the auctions to generate cash for your mission not your chicken.
We’ll discuss the drawing in more detail below, but it is important to note that the revenue you can generate from a raffle or drawing will vary considerably according to what’s legal in your state. If charitable gaming is allowed and is culturally accepted, you could raise much more than 10% of your revenue this way. On the other hand, in states that virtually ban all gaming—even for charity—it may be tough to generate 5% of the night’s revenue while complying with rules that require you to give free entry tickets to anyone who asks. Some states ban raffles altogether.
Early in the preparation phase, the finance and budget committee should prepare a detailed budget for the event, ensuring that no expense is overlooked.
Venue, Food and Drink
The biggest expense and one of the most strategic aspects of a gala is the venue. Typically, the venue will require you to use their kitchen—and perhaps bar. Do not make this decision lightly.
Reggie suggests, “Someone from the organization who is experienced and possesses strong negotiation skills should be involved in finalizing arrangements with the venue. There is always room for negotiation – nothing is ever set in stone. Also, have two or three options whenever possible.”
Durbin notes that the hotel that hosts his event has agreed to do it at cost!
Levy argues for choosing a place that is elegant already. “The less you have to “transform” the space, the lower your overhead will be.”
Javits says the choice of venue should be guided by proximity and convenience to the “highest value attendees.” This includes adequate parking. She adds that it should also be accessible to disabled individuals.
It is also important for the venue to be the right size for the event, including staging for the program and tables for all the participants, along with displays related to the mission, the auction and raffle items. Having the event in too large a space can make a successful event feel like a failure because you didn’t fill the room.
Rapp suggests using traditional venues. “While we do at times use non-traditional venues, the majority of our events are held in either a hotel or a convention center space.”
Reggie explains why that may be. You need a “seasoned, competent staff, including an on-site manager, to ensure everything the venue promises is delivered without hitches.” He also notes that you’ll want access to the venue in advance for set up.
Finally, it is important to have the right audio-visual equipment. This may require contracting with a venue-approved supplier. Plan—and budget—for a/v up front.
Trash Mountain Project is a Christian ministry. Durbin says they’ve never had adult beverages at one of their events. Most galas, however, include a cocktail reception and wine with dinner. Hotels will typically handle that for you.
Reggie notes that liquor may represent an opportunity to find discounts or sponsorships.
With respect to appetizers and dinner, Javits reminds you to have vegetarian/vegan/gluten free meal options available for those who want them.
Javits also says, “We started serving ‘family style’ dishes that people need to pass around the table instead of plating the meal upfront. People liked that. It added a sense of fun and interactivity.” She also suggests passing appetizers early when people arrive but to not make them too heavy.
Reggie emphasizes creativity.” Of course, food can range from a Texas barbecue to an array of delicacies provided by a cadre of local well-known chefs served buffet style to a multi-course plated dinner.”
“If the tickets are over $100, don’t expect everyone to be thrilled with a warm salad, cold soup, rubber chicken with green beans and potatoes, and a piece of carrot cake already on the table,” Reggie adds.
Levy, who you’ll remember raised almost $1 million at his last gala, cautions, “Keep it simple!” He notes that the food needs to be served quickly, while still hot, to hundreds of people. “Don’t get too fancy.”
Remember, Levy says, “They are not there for the food, but they should enjoy it.”
The JDRF gala includes a unique touch: “the listing of carb counts because carbohydrates are so important in the management of T1D.”
Be sure the food, beverages or venue don’t conflict with your mission. Look for opportunities to tie your food to your theme.
Finding sponsors is an important step. The more costs that can be funded by sponsors, the fewer costs to be funded by your donors—you want their money to go straight to impact.
Your board should be a great source of contacts for sponsorships, according to Javits.
Reggie breaks his sponsorship planning into four categories. Look for sponsors in all these places:
He also suggests functional sponsorships, i.e., “title, presenting, decorations, tables, meal, bar service, food, printing and parking.”
Anyone willing to make the pitch can, but it is best to be prepared with “a structured presentation” that makes the benefits to the sponsor clear, Reggie says. Adding, that it is best if the pitch is made by those who are “adept at sales and negotiations.”
Ubuntu’s Levy warns, “It often takes years to build the right relationships and the necessary network. It’s about constantly searching for new relationships, maintaining relationships with your supporters and promoting your brand.”
Brett Durbin, who has successfully leveraged a modest budget approach to gala success, boasts great success with sponsors. “We have always had one or two underwriters that cover the entire cost of the event, which is a very big deal because then anything else that is raised goes to the work of our organization.”
Sponsorships vary dramatically in size, from a company donating a gift basket for a drawing up to organizations that can write six-figure checks to sponsor an event with 1,000 of New York’s power elite. Start where you are and work up from there.
Speakers and Entertainment
Putting on a program that is as fun and memorable as it is inspirational is a key to getting the right people at the event and for getting them to open their wallets once there.
JDRF’s Rapp says, “Our Galas are a great party for an extremely worthy cause. From the start of the evening, we consider the guest experience for all donors. We respect their time, have auctions filled with items that appeal to their tastes, provide a well-timed program and post-event entertainment.”
Speakers should have a connection to your cause, both Rapp and Javits note. In fact, your program beneficiaries make great speakers. You’ll want to choose those who are willing to accept coaching.
Celebrities make great emcees, Javits notes. She suggests getting speakers and entertainment donated.
“Keynote speakers should be knowledgeable about the organization, its mission and its contribution to the community,” Reggie says.
He also cautions that if humor is considered, it should be delivered only by a “seasoned humorist” who will be sensitive to the audience. “There is nothing worse than having a board member or supporter who thinks he or she is a comedian and wants to give it a try at the event. I cannot count the times I have seen this blowup and ruin an otherwise wonderful evening.”
Levy says the key to a good speaker or entertainer is engagement. “Can they get the audience involved? That is the absolute number one. Galas can be stiff and formal. The crowd needs to be drawn in and pumped up. Stage presence and connection are key.” Of course, the message must still be aligned with the organization’s mission.
Durbin eschews professional speakers and entertainers, instead flying in people from the communities Trash Mountain serves in the developing world to talk about how the organization has impacted their lives.
He also says, “We try to make it engaging, and not too long because the fun is lost if it goes on forever.”
Javits explains the strategy for not only filling the room but filling it with the right people. It starts by “carefully targeting invitees.” Use your board and other supporters to help you identify and invite people who are capable of and likely to give. Then tie the gala theme, venue and program to the interests of the participants you most want there.
Reggie agrees. Everything from the food and drink to the décor and the venue must contribute to the branding of the event.
He suggests asking the following questions to help identify the right people:
“Big hitters in any community are well known; zero in and learn what makes them tick. Invite those who socialize together or who have strong professional ties,” Reggie says.
Levy notes that while some organizations can pull off events with an A list entertainer, most cannot.
“In our case and in the case of most organizations, it takes years to build a network capable of filling the room,” Levy says. “A gala is not only thrown in a night. It is built over years; you must engage supporters, prove your impact and convince them that their investment in your gala will provide returns for the beneficiaries—and that you consistently throw a great party.”
Durbin says that Trash Mountain Project starts by inviting people who are already supporting the organization, knowing that many will invite friends and fill tables. He also promotes the event through local churches.
Rapp says it is the responsibility of the JDRF volunteers to fill the room. “Whether they are corporate or social table focused, the volunteers spend time partnering with our staff in the recruitment of sponsors and tables to fill our ballrooms. Once the tables are secured, the conversation shifts to determine who exactly should be filling the seats at these tables.”
Many organizations use table captains to fill the tables. Javits says, it is their job to invite and encourage the right people. Their role also includes making sure the evening is enjoyable for those who attend, to diplomatically educate guests about the organization and encourage giving.
She says, “A good Captain is eager and excited about the job at hand, takes in coaching well, and is not overly apprehensive about playing the role.”
“Table Captains are the ambassadors for the gala. They are the movers and shakers within the community and within their social and business circles,” Reggie says. “Their responsibility should not be limited to filling their table but to promoting ticket sales at every reasonable opportunity.”
“Table hosts play a very important role at our galas,” Rapp says of the JDRF events. “These people are champions of the cause and of the event itself, passing along information to their guests and setting up an expectation for the night. They lead by example with their giving and bring along guests who can make a similar impact.”
Pricing tickets right is also important. As discussed earlier, you want the event costs fully covered by ticket sales and sponsorships, so all the money raised at the event goes directly into funding the mission of the organization.
Reggie says tickets should be priced appropriately for the audience but never below $100. Still, Durbin has had success with his events and charges just $30 per ticket—after having all the costs underwritten.
Rapp notes that JDRF chapters typically look at the prices charged for similar events in their community to provide a reference point.
Javits points out that pricing should consider the sponsors and others who would like to buy a whole table.
However you choose to price your event, be sure to build and stick to your budget so costs don’t exceed your revenues.
Drawing or Raffle:
The drawing or raffle may be one of the most exciting parts of the evening if done well but can ruin the entire event if rules are not followed and someone is upset, or authorities catch wind.
A few states, including Alabama, Hawaii and Utah ban raffles in any form. It may still be legal to hold an incidental opportunity drawing but be careful. There are three elements to gaming: a prize, a chance and price. By eliminating one of the three, you may avoid gaming. For a charity drawing, it may be easiest to eliminate the price for some participants. Just provide easy to follow instructions for acquiring a free ticket—send in a postcard asking for one. Few if any would ask for a free ticket to a fundraising drawing. (Don’t rely on this guidance as legal advice.)
Still, in these states that ban gaming, it is best not to rely on a raffle or drawing for a significant portion of your fundraising.
In states where charitable gaming is allowed or even encouraged, you’ll likely need to start with obtaining a license. Put that high on the list of things to do early as it may take months to obtain. In that process, you’ll learn the rules about promoting the raffle and the disclosures required. In these states, the raffle could be the biggest fundraiser of the evening.
Reggie offers the following strategic advice:
The prize for the drawing should be significant – a car, a piece of custom-made jewelry, a luxury vacation, fine artwork – with a few substantial secondary prizes. Organizations would be well-advised to avoid items like fur coats or any exotic animal skins or pelts, big game hunts (especially in Africa), guns of any kind, and live pets. These items can draw unwanted attention and possible protests from advocacy groups. Always play it safe.
If tickets are made available to the public, regardless of attendance, begin selling them about eight weeks prior to the giveaway. Offer an “Early-Bird” prize for those purchasing tickets by a specific date. Experience has shown that raffle ticket sales are high at the beginning of the selling period and gradually taper off and pick up during the final two weeks with a surge in the final week.
Make it easy to buy tickets. If online ticket sales are allowed, have a link to a secure purchase on the organization website. You cannot mandate that ticket purchasers need to be present to win. There will always be a few members of the organization who will be willing and very capable of selling a good number of tickets to friends and associates.
A silent auction, unlike the live auction with an auctioneer calling out prices and pointing at bidders who may bid silently, is traditionally managed with a clipboard and a pen. Items available in the auction are displayed or described and a nearby sheet allows bidders to write in their bids throughout the evening.
In the past ten years as smartphones have become ubiquitous, a number of apps and websites have popped up to bring the process into the modern age. This allows the bidding to continue more easily throughout the program. Guests can be reminded to bid without sending folks out of the room.
Some apps are expensive, however. Some tech-savvy guests don’t like to download new apps without vetting them first or may not be willing to use the app over privacy concerns. Less tech-savvy members may still be intimidated by technology—including some of your biggest donors. Consider all these factors when choosing how to run your silent auction.
As noted above, you’ll want to get your auction items donated. You can recognize the donors as sponsors, being careful to recognize the donor of a luxury vacation you can sell for $5,000 more than someone who donates a $100 gift basket.
Reggie cautions you not to let your silent auction become a garage sale for items that have been collecting dust on a retail shelf or in someone’s home. Auction items should match the demographics and lifestyles of the guests.
In addition to creatively displaying the items to be auctioned, be sure to have fully adequate written descriptions so guests know exactly what they are bidding on.
Durbin says his organization doesn’t raise a lot of money with the silent auction, but they use it to advance the mission and message by selling art and photography that represents their work, helping families escape lives based around picking garbage out of trash piles.
Rapp says the JDRF silent auctions are filled with “high-end, quality items. We truly focus on quality over quantity.” One key to success, he highlights, is a thorough evaluation of what sold and what did not, and which items had the most bidding. Unpopular items can be avoided in future years. “We want our guests to have the opportunity to bid and buy items that appeal to them.”
The success of a live auction depends on the auctioneer. “Hire a professional,” says Reggie. Levy agrees, noting that “if you can create an atmosphere with a good auctioneer, it works.”
The auctioneer will organize spotters in the audience to help identify bidders. You’ll want to alert the auctioneer in advance to the faces and names of some of those you hope may be writing big checks.
Reggie notes, too, that the live auction items should also be displayed, and guests should be encouraged to check them out before the auction begins.
Levy and Rapp both emphasize finding truly unique experiences for auction, things people can’t buy anywhere else. Optimally, you’ll tie this into your mission in some way.
Reggie also suggests encouraging you to get peers to compete in the auction; this begins by making sure that friendly rivals are both in attendance. “Many people enjoy showcasing their generosity around friends and business associates.”
“During live auctions, it is not unusual to have friends engaged in a heated bidding war against one another,” Reggie says.
After all the fun and games that are used to raise money, there is one final opportunity to raise money simply by asking for donations.
“On the night, the key is to make your pitch relatable,” says Ubuntu’s Levy. “People need to connect to your cause on a personal level. You need to create a story about your work that shows them that this relates to their life. For example, if you are helping children, it needs to be clear that children all over the world need the same things. This gets everyone thinking about what they would want for their children if they were in the same situation.”
Javits from REDF says it is important to profile your beneficiaries. Have them prepared to share their stories both one-on-one at tables and when mingling and then from the stage as well.
Durbin agrees. “Story is number one. Using story to share your vision is key.”
Treat the beneficiaries as guests of honor, Reggie says. They represent your mission.
Javits also notes that donors love to know where their money will go. If you can give them a clear message that a $1,000 contribution will be used to accomplish a specific sort of thing, that’s great. Even better if you can give a donor the opportunity to choose one person, one school, one village, one solar panel, one whatever that his or her money can fund. Charity: Water is great at giving donors reports on the individual wells they funded.
Reggie notes that “Everyone needs to feel like their participation is serving the community in a spectacular way. Attendees need to feel that they are the stars in a great movie – your movie.”
Rapp reminds readers that the speeches, videos and other media need to keep reinforcing the mission of the organization so it is never lost.
Another way to use large donations, Javits says, is to leverage them as matches. Announce that the next $5,000 in donations will be matched by this particularly generous donor.
After planning for your big event for a year or more, it is tempting to think of the day after the event as the first day of vacation, but our experts caution that following up after the gala is a critical part of the event.
Start “as soon as possible,” Levy says. “If you’ve thrown a successful event, your guests will be engaged and excited to speak with you. Call and email the next morning.”
After the gala, Rapp says the JDRF ensures that all guests are acknowledged for their support. “We also ensure that they are aware of updates in T1D research and future gala dates using email and social media correspondence.”
Trash Mountain’s Durbin concurs, noting that everyone who buys a ticket or attends their galas provides some contact information; his team follows up with everyone.
Reggie suggests sending letters to everyone who attended, expressing appreciation, reporting on the total raised and crediting them with the evening’s success. He also suggests using this opportunity to get next year’s gala on their calendar.
The follow through really needs to continue throughout the year, updating guests on the use of funds, progress made and plans for the next event.
Reggie also suggests sharing photos of the evening on your website and social media. Tagging guests in their photos can help them feel appreciated in the days following the event. The faster such photos are posted, the better.
The senior leaders of the organization need to have a full roster of all those who contributed to planning the gala and the roles played. Some of them will be working entirely out of sight of those senior leaders; they too will want to be recognized.
Make time during the gala to thank the volunteers and staff who organized the gala. You may even want to consider a relaxed social—a pizza and root beer sort of affair—following the gala to recognize the volunteers and their families who supported them.
Durbin, whose budget galas raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for his small organization, offers a word of caution. “Galas are either great for your organization or can be a major drain to your team and volunteers, you must find a balance that is beneficial to the work you do.”
Still, JDRF’s Rapp offers this assurance, “I’ve been to many Galas, and when the night is well thought through and details considered, and nothing left to chance, magical things can happen.”
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