Last October, Resource Assistance for Youth (RaY) helped eight hundred local business leaders learn about its cause. In the same day, it raised two hundred and eighty-five thousand dollars. RaY is a street-level agency that works with homeless youth in Winnipeg, Canada. The funds were raised at a special event and an auction sponsored by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce while Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, was in town. RaY was aware of Branson’s interest in both helping homeless youth and visiting Winnipeg, but had only a few days to create the event.
Kelly Holmes, the agency’s executive director, shares, “It all came about because we were positioned correctly with the business community and we could quickly mobilize our supporters.” Branson was in Canada to launch a series of Virgin FM Radio stations. “Most of the other organizations that serve homeless youth across Canada invited Branson to visit their site and meet their youth.” Holmes and her staff recognized that an opportunity existed to engage the community and to raise funds. With the Chamber’s help, they developed a luncheon and auction for the business community. At lunch, four trips to Branson’s Necker Island were auctioned for thirty thousands dollars each, providing one hundred and twenty thousand dollars of the revenue.
How might your nonprofit learn from this fortuitous sequence of events? The story showcases a way to work with visiting celebrities by asking them for an in-kind gift of their time. The story points to the benefits of belonging to and partnering with civic groups.
1. A person of renown with specific philanthropic interests was scheduled to visit.
2. An event, in this case a business luncheon and auction, was organized to support the visitor’s philanthropic interests. At the event, the business community benefited from the chance to hear the celebrity and learned Branson’s perspective on social responsibility. The nonprofit benefited from increased awareness and event proceeds. The celebrity benefited by supporting a cause he cared about and enhancing his brand. “Sir Branson was offered an opportunity to meet a lot of business leaders in Winnipeg,” explains Holmes.
3. Instead of the nonprofit hosting the event, the nonprofit partnered with a chamber of commerce. This expanded the invitation list, increased media coverage, involved more of the community, and resulted in a sell-out audience.
Here are three ways to adapt this concept to help your nonprofit obtain more income and resources:
First, if you know a celebrity, invite them to do an event to benefit your cause. Instead of hosting it, seek out a partner. Then, work to ensure everyone has a wonderful time and also learns more about your nonprofit’s work. Find ways to capitalize on the opportunity before, during, and after the event with press releases, photo ops, and thank you letters that allow new contacts the opportunity for involvement.
Second, if you don’t know any celebrities, introduce the Brason-RaY’s example to community leaders who do host them. Encourage them to invite the visitors to make similar time gifts during visits. Many celebrities will say no, but some will say yes. Many who say yes will have favorite causes; some will not. Your nonprofit can be included as a suggested beneficiary.
Finally, to create top of mind presence, belong to and be active in at least one civic group. Your chamber is a logical place to start, but other groups might be advantageous. (See my blog entry How to Obtain Resources and Income by Partnering With Your Chamber.) Besides gaining a better understanding of your community, active participation offers additional benefits to your nonprofit. Do you want to improve your brand in the community? Gain more name recognition? Create more supporters and donors? Do you seek to enhance existing relationships? Find board members with better resumes? Long-term, the connections you make may far surpass the proceeds that RaY experienced. “New people continue to contact us,” shares Holmes. “The experience helped us to see our potential to reach new supporters and has taken us to the next level.”