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The Planet
Putting the Fun in Fundraising

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Twelve Ways to Raise $1,000

by Tom Valtin

Anyone who's worked in the non-profit world will tell you that raising money is a never-ending challenge. But it doesn't have to be an ordeal. Fundraising takes work, but it can be approached creatively. A good idea and a small cadre of enthusiastic volunteers can make the process downright fun and build the organization. The Planet asked Sierra Club chapter and group fundraising chairs some of the ways they'd raised money recently. Some of these ideas took quite a bit of time and organizing; others were done relatively easily. One thing they all had in common: they worked.

Rotating Musicians

Birthday BashIn February, the Delaware Chapter held its second annual "The Music Never Stopped" benefit concert in Wilmington. Chapter Fundraising Chair Matt Urban describes the event as "a rotating musical improvisation with zero song breaks or pauses." Several local bands, comprising about 30 musicians, rotated on and off the stage at five-minute intervals, with each musician playing for half an hour before cycling offstage. Members of each band were gradually cycled onstage until the whole unit was onstage at once, at which point they played a 20-minute "mini-set" before the first of its members began cycling off. The process continued until the final band completed its mini-set. "The musical flow was great," says Urban. "We had three and a half hours of non-stop, seamless music with some very cool transitions from one band to another."

The concert was promoted through press releases, flyers, posters, and local magazines. Tickets were $10, sold in advance and at the door, and the concert was recorded. (Those interested in purchasing CDs, please send a check for $20 to: Sierra Club Delaware Chapter, 1304 N. Rodney St., Wilmington, DE 19806, with a note that it's for "The Music Never Stopped.") A huge snowstorm kept a quarter of the expected attendees away, but the chapter still raised nearly $1,000. "All the musicians had to pre-sell at least five tickets," says Urban, "so that guaranteed that we'd make money and have an audience. It's a big project to put on, but I'll continue doing it because it's a lot of fun to participate in and watch as it unfolds."

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For the Birds

In Illinois, the Piasa Palisades Group has been using the same tried-and-true fundraising method since 1976. As Fundraising Chair Bob Freeman tells it: "To offset legal fees for a lawsuit to stop the Illinois Department of Conservation from logging state parks 26 years ago, we began a program of selling wild bird seed. We're still making the wild birds, our customers, and our treasurer very happy.

"In September we obtain firm price quotes from our wholesaler. We sell black-oiled sunflower seeds in 25- and 50-pound bags, sunflower hearts, thistle seed in 10-pound bags for small birds, plus a special mix. In October we send out flyers and pre-order forms to members, repeat buyers, and to other lists. We get press in local newspapers and on radio stations. Wild-bird lovers send in their orders and their checks by a week before the order deadline.

"The first Saturday in November we have the seed delivered to a local merchant with a large parking lot where we off-load the skids of seed (usually 10 to 12 thousand pounds!). At 9 a.m. the fun begins when our customers come to pick up their orders. Volunteers help keep inventories in order, load seed in customers' trunks, fill drive-in orders, and consume lots of doughnuts and coffee. We're done by noon, except for free home delivery to elderly and handicapped folks who are unable to handle the heavy bags. Many customers feed the wild birds throughout the year, so we maintain a modest inventory throughout the spring and summer months. By fall, our treasury has been enhanced by $1,500 to $2,000."

As for the lawsuit that originally led to the idea, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled against the state's logging proposal. Score one for the wild birds.

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Screening Ansel

Stacy Lange, Georgia Chapter membership chair, reports that the chapter raised nearly $3,000 in February with a sold-out screening of "Ansel Adams," Sierra Club Productions' award-winning documentary film. "There was amazing enthusiasm for this event from people in the chapter who'd never taken a leadership role before," Lange says. "I had a core group of volunteers who really made it happen." Emory University donated the use of its cinema, and at the last minute-actually the night of the screening-the caterer donated all the food for sale at the concession. The three Atlanta-area Sierra Club groups each took partial responsibility for organizing the event.

"Admission was $10," Lange says, "but we wanted to reach out to younger folks so we only charged $2 for Emory students." The screening was publicized in local newspapers, chapter and group newsletters, on the Web, and via flyers handed out at chapter and group meetings. A local graphic designer created the flyers gratis. Lange set up a "24/7 Ansel Adams hotline" with information on the event, and organized a ticket-selling contest, with prizes going to both the individual and the group who sold the most tickets.

At the screening, Ansel Adams books, prints, and postcards were for sale in the lobby. Ushers wore Sierra Club hats and t-shirts, and attendees were handed a "playbill" with information about the Club and the Georgia Chapter. "I'd guess the majority of people who attended didn't know all that much about the Sierra Club beforehand," Lange says, "but many have since become first-time members!"

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Recycled Art

Great Waters Group members Time Maher and Julie Thompson recycle some old tunes for patrons at the recycled art show in Milwaukee.In April, the Great Waters Group in Wisconsin held a Recycled Art auction, timed to coincide with Earth Week and Milwaukee Spring Gallery Night. Group fundraising leaders Kathy Luttkus and Sarah Drilias organized the event with a team of volunteers that included an emcee for the Friday night program. Local bands and poets volunteered their talent and shared the stage. More than 30 artists from around the Midwest donated work to the silent auction, which raised nearly $1,300.

"There was no admission fee because this was as much a publicity event as a fundraiser," Luttkus explains. "We wanted the public to come see what their local Sierra Club group and chapter were up to. Nearly 500 people attended. We had a booth where people could sign petitions and learn about recycling and other environmental issues. The Club's 'We can do better!' banner was prominently displayed, 'clean air' postcards to Governor Doyle were collected, and yard signs were distributed. The event provided great visibility for our group, and it was entirely planned and carried out by volunteers.

"Silent auction beginning bids should start at one-fourth of the value price," she advises, "and the show should be juried; you don't want junk or artwork that doesn't fit the recycled theme. It helps to find in-kind donations of beverages and food. Also, if it seems like too much to ask one band to perform for free all evening, ask more than one band to play shorter sets. Printing up a program with artist bios and contact information is a nice idea."

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Green Gourmets

In upstate New York, Iroquois Group Fundraising Chair Rhea Jezer says that her group raises money by putting on a candlelight dinner, prepared by herself and her husband Danny and served in their home. They've developed a regular clientele over the years, so people expect and look forward to the dinner. "Some of the guests aren't even Sierra Club members," she says. "They come for the cooking. I always introduce each guest and say a little bit about them, and on occasion we'll have a speaker."

Jezer says one reason the dinners are successful fundraisers is that there are no labor costs. "We recruit and teach local teenagers to serve elegantly," she explains. "The charge per guest is $35, and we serve about 50 people at each dinner. Since we do all the cooking, the actual cost-for really good food-is only about $12 a head. We also receive many donations from people who aren't able to attend. By putting on one dinner per year, we've raised about $2,000 annually for our group."

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Hiking-and Painting Outhouses

John Lajeuness of Southern California's Crescenta Valley Group raises money with hikes. "I started with small overnight backpacks," he says. "At first we only required a $5 deposit, which was returned when you showed up. But I found that participants would pay more for a group commissary with good food. Soon we were charging $20 for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and with free labor and no overhead, your surplus multiplies. Sometimes with large groups, the national forest will provide jeep transport of our commissary in exchange for us painting outhouses or other tasks (they provide all the tools/supplies). Some of these trips outgrew their original location, but became 'must do' annual events.

"When you have a successful fundraiser," Lajeuness suggests, "reward your hardworking volunteers with a Sierra Club calendar, a free ticket to your annual chapter or group banquet, or a free trip. "Consider inviting other local entities to join your trips and share the surplus," he says. "Our Catalina Island backpack started out 10 years ago with 12 people, and grew to where we rented a Boy Scout camp, hired a caterer, a DJ, and invited some non-Sierra Club entities to join us. Last year nearly 250 people participated, about 40 of them became new Sierra Club members, and the trip netted $12,000. Everyone loves a bargain, especially one that delivers a great product at a seductive price. Do it and they will come!"

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Sipping Sierrans

North Carolina's Capital Group held a wine tasting last year that grossed $1,300. "After expenses, quite a bit was shaved off that amount," says Fundraising Chair Jana Antos, "but we were still very pleased, and with a little 'tweaking' we can significantly reduce expenses next time around. Some of our members are talented cooks, and we plan to have volunteers make appetizers rather than have the event catered. We'd like to turn this into a twice-yearly event in which we feature white wines in the warmer months and reds in the cooler months."

About 50 people attended the most recent tasting, at $35 a head. "A professional wine expert led us through the tasting," Antos says, "and we had live acoustic music performed by a group member, which helped create a nice mood. There was very little effort involved for the organizers. We arranged the venue, paid the caterer and the wine guy, and then just showed up!"

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Going Once, Going Twice

The Suncoast Group of the Florida Chapter hosts an annual auction/gala. "We get local businesses and artists to donate their products and services," explains Fundraising Chair Rudy Scheffer. "We usually have a local celebrity act as emcee, and we cater the event and present awards to members. Last year we made over $4,000 in one evening. Actually, we combined efforts with the Tampa Bay Group, which is right next door. The total take was $8,000, which was divided between the two groups.

"We've tried different venues and locations," Scheffer says. "Attendance is usually 200-plus-two years ago we had to turn people away once we topped 350. Last year we charged $40 per person, which covered the overhead and a catered buffet dinner. The money was made from the auction. We had a DJ (a group member), a silent auction, and a live auction. We presented an environmental community award to a county commissioner and group awards to our members. Several artists donated their work, most of which had environmental themes, and other items were donated by travel agents, tour operators, outfitters, restaurants, and owners of vacation rentals."

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Briefcase O' Cash

Ohio Chapter Conservation Chair Brian Pasko recalls an event sponsored by a coalition of regional environmental groups to save elk habitat near Missoula, Montana. In the middle of a scheduled fundraising auction, the master of ceremonies suddenly walked onstage, opened up a briefcase, and showed the audience that it was filled with 1,000 one-dollar bills. He proceeded to sell 200 raffle tickets at $10 each. The tickets were then put into a bin and a raffle winner was chosen. "In ten minutes," Pasko says, "someone at the banquet walked away with $1,000, and the organization was $1,000 richer."

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Calendar Sales

Drusha Mayhue, chair of Montana's Headwaters Group, says the group plans to sell Sierra Club calendars and hold a garage sale around Labor Day in Bozeman to take advantage of kids coming to Montana State University and needing things for their dorm. "We'll also contact doctors' offices and businesses to see if we can get some commitments for calendars," she says.

Mayhue says fundraising events often pay dividends beyond the money they raise. "When people invest time and effort in something, whether it's an outing or a fundraiser, it forms a bond between them and the Club that's difficult to break. Sierra Club members like doing things with each other."

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Green Thumb

Upper Cumberland Group members Peggy Evans and John Harwood, who worked on the group's annual native plant sale.Josie McQuail, vice chair of Tennessee's Upper Cumberland Group, raises money with an annual native plant sale. "It's a one-day sale put on by four of us," she explains, "and it usually brings in several hundred dollars. It requires collecting seed, germinating the plants, printing out instructions for plant care, and you need a greenhouse.

"The sale has benefits for the Club besides the money raised," she says. "There's great enthusiasm among members and nonmembers alike, and quite a few people who attend the sale end up helping out the following year. As a result of the sale, many people have expressed interest in 'plant rescue' efforts at sites scheduled for construction or clearcutting, transplanting any rare plants that occupy the site."

McQuail laments that last year the group was unable to hold the sale because no one was available to sprout and tend the plants until they were salable. (Anyone in the Upper Cumberland Group reading this?) But she plans to revive the sale because "it's a proven and ideologically sound way to make money. And I still have some of the native plants in my garden!"

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Birthday Bash

The Moku Loa Group of the Hawaii Chapter held a gala 25th birthday bash in Hilo last year. "We invited back our first two group chairs," says group Fundraising Chair Roberta Brashear, "served a great dinner, kept a percentage of the bar, and held a silent auction. We charged $25 per ticket, about 125 people attended.

"We had wonderful donations to the auction from many Big Island artists," Brashear says. "Several of our outings leaders have vacation cottages or B&Bs, so they were able to donate vacation rentals. My committee and I spent a lot of time beating the pavement and getting donations from local restaurants, clothing and craft stores, etc. At the event, we honored past and present board members, and we had three different types of musical entertainment: native Hawaiian music, country music, and rock'n'roll. Once the bar profits and the auction were taken into account, we netted $4,800 for the evening. Not bad for a hamburger town!"

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