Show Me the Money: Fundraising is Easier Than You Think

Rodney Warner
Rodney Warner

Cancer kills about 1,500 Americans each day and about 1.6 million Americans are diagnosed with the disease each year. Whatever your connection to cancer, you have an obligation to help others. One way to do that is donating to an effective, responsible, trustworthy cancer-related organization.

One writer has compared getting cancer to being on a cruise ship when suddenly you’re thrown overboard. The cruise liner continues on its way and you can hear the music and happy voices fade as the ship heads towards the horizon. There are life boats in the water, but you’re not sure if one will reach you before you drown.

If you’re reading this, you’re in a life boat. Maybe you’re cured, in treatment or maybe your remission will come to an end at some point in the future, but you’re in the boat now. There are many others in the water, just like you were. What do you do? Ignore them or try to get more onboard? The Golden Rule is to treat others as you want to be treated. Did you want others to help you in your time of need? If so, you need to help others and one way to do it is to raise money.

If takes no special skill to be a fundraiser.

  • You need to have a passion for the cause, some time and energy.
  • You don’t need to have lots of connections or be the life of the party.
  • You also don’t need to be the one raising the most money for your organization (though it that’s your goal, go for it).

When you ask for money, speak from the heart and tell your story.

  • Facts, figures and statistics won’t get people to donate. They need to feel a personal connection to the cause and your story can create that connection.
  • Tell them why this cause is important to you and why the donor should trust the organization. If there is no trust there is no donation. If someone knows you, they might just trust your judgment and give you a donation without questions asked.

I did fundraisers for four different cancer organizations for many years (my first was in 2001), but I’ve cut back to two. If there’s more than one organization you want to support you need to separate all those you know into more than one group. People don’t mind being asked for money, but not multiple times. You ask family members for one fundraiser (for instance) and your neighbors and friends for another.

You can turn just about anything you like to do into a fundraiser if you use a little imagination. Whether you fish, bake, read or jog you can turn it into a fundraiser. Feeding people is a natural fundraiser.

  • If you’re sociable, host a cocktail hour, pizza party or BBQ. Your friends will throw in a couple bucks to attend.
  • A local restaurant may be willing to give you a percentage of the sales for a specific night or event.
  • Don’t want to do a wine and cheese event? How about a beer and sausage event or a make your own ice cream sundae event? Know a lot of football fans? Host an at home tailgate event.

One way to raise more money at your event is to have an auction.

  • Anyone you know have a summer home they rent? Would they be willing to give up some rent to donate to your cause?
  • Though it can be frustrating at times, you can ask local stores and restaurants for gift certificates or discounts you can auction off at your party. Is a friend a landscaper, a plumber or electrician? Maybe they’d agree to give you some of their time that you can auction off.

Restaurants and stores are constantly asked to help with fundraisers, but you can increase your odds of success.

  • When you go door to door asking for donations, you’re going to eat a lot of humble pie. You will be rejected at times, but you have to put that behind you and focus on the good you’ll be doing when you succeed.
  • Try the businesses you go to most frequently or where you know the owner or management.
  • Don’t be demanding, just ask for help (people like to help others but they don’t like to give things away): I’m hosting a fundraiser and I’d like to know if your business could help. Is there someone here I can talk to about donating a gift card? We’re going to auction it off and give the cash to the organization.
  • Some may see you asking for something for nothing, but this is a form of advertising. They’re getting their name out in the community and getting customers. There’s no guarantee media ads will bring in customers, but someone who buys a gift card is pretty certain to actually use it. If they have a good experience, they will talk to others who may become customers too.
  • If it’s a chain store or restaurant, you may need to go through “corporate” or fill out an online form.
  • Try to plan ahead and start two months before the event. There may be a process or paperwork that can take time. There may be monthly or quarterly budgets for donations and it may be first come first served.

If you’re going to be feeding people, ask your grocery store if they can donate food or a gift card for you to use to defray the cost. If there is a Whole Foods store in your area, ask to talk to their store marketing person because they make these types of donations. I’ve gotten $200 to $350 worth of food each year for my BBQ fundraisers for the local Cancer Support Community.

If you’re going to be serving alcohol (it may loosen up those spending inhibitions),

  • Talk to your insurance agent ahead of time. Tell him/her about what you’re planning and discuss your home owner’s or renter’s insurance coverage for people who may accidently get hurt at your place or cause an accident after leaving. You may want to buy event liability coverage. You may be able to get a substantial amount of coverage for a very reasonable price and give yourself some peace of mind.
  • You want your guests to have a good time and donate lots of money, but unleashing a house full of drunk drivers onto local roads is a recipe for disaster. If something really bad happens after you knowingly served alcohol to drunk guests you may be leaving your home in the back seat of a police cruiser.

You don’t need to come up with the next “ice bucket challenge” but you do need to do something. There may be about three million cancer survivors in the United States. If only half of us did something (anything) to raise money to develop new treatments or help survivors with their daily lives, we could be talking about astronomical amounts of money.

Your fundraiser doesn’t need to break records because if enough of us get off our butts and care as much about others as we do about ourselves, there will be plenty of resources to help all kinds of current and future cancer survivors and their families.

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