Sunday, April 15, 2012
Bark if you love fundraising!
I was fortunate to attend one of the hottest fundraising events in DC this weekend: the Washington Humane Society's Fashion for Paws. Yes, that's right, this event combines high fashion, major fundraising, and... dogs. It's pretty incredible. The event was held at the National Building Museum, where I worked as an educator when I was in grad school. The building is STUNNING even on its own, and when they gussie it up for a fundraising event - wowza.
As a professional fundraiser, I'm not always such a huge fan of fundraising events. Many of them seem to gross a lot of money, but when you net out what was spent to put on the event, they don't earn nearly as much for the cause. Then, when you subtract out the value of the staff time that was spent on the event, many of them actually lose money! Even with these negative numbers, many organizations still hold their annual fundraisers because the community has come to expect it, because it raises awareness for their cause, etc. What struck me about Fashion for Paws is that they do so many things RIGHT, including:
* As lavish as the event was, they didn't pay for any of it. According to organizers, EVERYTHING at the event - decor, food, cocktails, clothes for the fashion show, swag, etc. - was donated.
* Cache - this is hard to quantify, and you can't really come up with a formula for creating it, but Fashion for Paws has it in spades. There is enormous cache around this event, and people really want to be there and support it. I don't know how many of them are hard core animal advocates, and how many of them are really committed to animal activism, but it doesn't really matter at the end of the day... the cause ultimately benefits.
* An army of fundraisers - this event raised $700,000 in one night! And the "fundraisers" weren't just folks like me - each person who walks in the fashion show (most of whom walk with their dogs - yes, you read that right) has to raise a minimum of $5000 in order to walk, and many of them raise more.
I don't know what sort of follow-up the Washington Humane Society does with people who attend the event, but I'd be curious about it. I often tell clients that the most important aspect of a fundraising event doesn't happen at the event itself, but in the weeks and months that follow. One of the best uses of a fundraising event is raising long-term "friends" of the organization. If someone only hears from an organization once per year, with an invitation to an event, that's a lost opportunity.
All that said - I found that my other, personal bias was emerging during the event, and when reflecting on it afterwards. While this event raised money for a VERY worthy cause, I couldn't help but wonder what good could have been done if some of that $700K had gone towards helping DC's abused and neglected CHILDREN, instead of animals. Sure, one could make the argument that other people give to help abused children, and this event is for animals, so it all evens out in the end. However, we know from giving statistics that it does not even out. Human service, or social service, groups receive the least amount of charitable donations. These are the groups that are providing food, shelter, counseling, etc. to some of the neediest people in our communities. Housing the chronically homeless, feeding the indigent elderly, counseling repeat drug addicts... it's not "pretty" stuff, but it's stuff that has a tremendous impact on our society. In addition, the government funding for social service agencies is drying up, which is why private donations are even more important. Social service agencies do not represent cute causes or a "feel good" causes, and they suffer in terms of donations as a consequence. I am a foster parent, so again, its my own bias - I would prioritize helping a foster child who has been abused or neglected.
I certainly don't think that the answer is for people to not support the Washington Humane Society - quite the contrary! I think our work as activists and fundraisers is to learn from, and be inspired by, the extraordinary job that the Washington Humane Society is doing with Fashion for Paws, and elevate the level of fundraising that is happening for lots of other important causes.