What most people don't realize about the National Poetry SLAM! is that it is both a program event (to reward our best kids) and a fundraising event (to raise a pretty hefty chunk of our operating budget). That means, that we're not only spending 6 months designing marketing materials, selling sponsorships and tickets, writing press releases, and getting silent auction items - we are also buying plane tickets, ground transportation, reserving hotel rooms, training chaperones, getting parent RSVPs and planning meals. And by we, I mean our team of 3 with the help from a task force and committee. It also means that the weekend before the event, I could be (and was) sending last minute RSVPs to the venue or handling program printing disaster - or going door-to-door to kids rooms to participate in evening rehearsals, making sure there is enough orange juice or bagels in each room, and staying up til midnight making a slideshow of the weekend for the kids to watch before the show.
For the first five years, the youth experience was primarily managed by program staff in Chicago - experts in putting together a pretty seamless program with limited rehearsal time. The sixth year, I lent my services and by the seventh, we were on our own. It was Christmas week when I had a huge breakdown - I could not fathom doing everything. I needed to focus on fundraising because we were projecting a $30,000 deficit with the unfortunate loss of a pretty important board member. Being the only person present for all parts of the participant weekend experiences, I took an advisory role in supporting a task force of staff from around the country and directing an intern to manage logistics. This step back allowed me to continue working on other arms of development such as submitting grants, sending corporate proposals, and producing our annual report and national magazine.
- I made a huge effort to make the sponsors feel like VIPs. The cocktail hour was just for them. They had reserved seating with special gift bags. There was a minor hiccup of nonVIP guests sneaking in before their admission time - resulting in a shortage of cocktails and some discomfort with low-income parents feeling like charity amid a primarily white corporate mixer. As guests of corporate sponsors, they didn't pay to be there so I wanted to make sure they walked away feeling so great that they'd make a gift.
- The Silent Auction is, for whatever reason, a hot topic. Previously, it hadn't make that much money for how much time spent planning it. This year, I decided not to spend any time planning it. Our committee did an amazing job bringing in the items - and they raised more than we thought. I did make a very intentional decision to provide a Silent Auction brochure such that, if a guest was bored at any point during that one hour (between 6pm-7pm) it was the only thing they would have in their hand. They would receive program books at 7pm.
- The feedback from last year was that the fact that this was a fundraiser was not clear enough. After attending CFY's charity benefit as a guest of Southwest Airlines, I saw how they really hit the emotions in the ask. (They honored a parent - but the award was given by the child of the parent, who was introduced by the child's teacher, who was introduced by the principal. Each expressing gratitude and sharing the impact of CFY from a every level.) The program wreaked of desperate pleas for donations - I'm not sure how I feel about it. The numbers were strong, but I don't know. I would have liked to weave in more tear-jerking and less asking - letting the emotional appeal speak for itself more.
A huge part of the post-event must-do was the follow up. I remember, April 16, 2012, when the doors opened at 6pm sharp - a mass influx of people bum-rushed the door - sweeping past the registration table and photo booth. For the 6-7pm cocktail hour, I was all over the place dealing with late volunteers and technical difficulties with the photo booth. This was the first time I would meet our affiliate leadership from the 14 cities so among meeting them and sponsors, I didn't catch anyone's names or learn anything about anyone. At the end of the night, we walked away with no way to know who attended and no way to contact these new fans of our program. Months later, I volunteered at World Cares Center benefit - I was assigned a special guest and my only jobs were to make sure their attendance was announced to the Executive Director and take care of them the rest of the night. Of course, 1 hour is not enough time for one Executive Director to meet and get to know everyone - so I adapted this process and assigned our volunteers to do the announcing to affiliate Executive Directors. They, in turn, would do that care-taking and introductions to our National Executive Director. This allowed for extremely personalized follow ups and introductions - as well as accountability. For example, I could ask "Who is this in this picture" and someone would know.
If I learned anything about development over the past year and a half - it really is about relationships. Someone I met on twitter, The World Cup Project, who was interested in our September event volunteered to help us with video needs - saving us $3,000 in videographer expenses! My past interns were my key volunteers for the evening. Our current intern, applied for an internship in August of last year, got a job elsewhere, was a key volunteer for our September event, came back to volunteer - in addition to his incredible leadership and support throughout the weekend, he also got us $12,500 in PR Newswire press release distribution services that helped our releases reach almost 300 million views!
I also do a ton of learning at charity events - so you can imagine my excitement for Make A Wish's upcoming benefit at their NJ Castle. I don't go to NJ (ever) but this is soooo going to be worth it!