If you follow my columns, you know that I firmly believe in the dictum “Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.” And yet, we know that even with meticulous planning, things sometimes go awry because we are not always in charge of our destinies. In my May column in The Jewish Link, I referred to one such instance and how I improvised to remedy what would have been a seriously embarrassing problem with a fundraising journal.
A setback with an impending fundraiser usually can be predicted because of past experiences. At other times things can go wrong during the event itself and you need to be primed. Let me give you an example of each instance and how these were handled.
The first case occurred when I planned a bike-a-thon for a nonprofit. More and more nonprofits have added bike rides to their arsenal of fundraising options for various reasons: They are upbeat events, they promote healthy living and, among other things, they are a trendy social happening. What brings in large sums of money are lucrative sponsorships.
Seemed like a “no brainer.” So, we formed a committee of bike enthusiasts who we felt would help us plan and recruit many other cyclists. Instead, they preoccupied themselves with the minutiae of the event. Their main concerns revolved around the bike route, rest stations, refreshments, support wagons, EMT support, swag bags, biker bibs, insurance, permits, police involvement and a myriad of other resources needed. All of these, and more, are critical logistical details that must be addressed. However, what they did not spend time doing—and what we needed the most—was fundraising.
We went this route for several years and raised some money. But, the time and resources expended were disproportionately greater than the funds brought in. It wasn’t worth it. So, what was the solution?
The answer was simple. There are existing bike tours you can “buy into” and still raise big funds. For example, in New York, there is the annual TD Five Boro Bike Tour in which more than 32,000 cyclists participate. TD plans all of the logistics. If you get in early enough, the nonprofit can have a healthy contingent of bike riders and raise a substantial sum. We joined the TD Tour and raised a significant amount of money. And we did not, unnecessarily, consume time and resources.
Then there is the example of a problem with a fundraiser that occurred on the spot, and needed immediate attention.
I was the executive producer of a major annual concert series that held most of its events at Lincoln Center in New York. One year, we initiated a new and unique concert idea. Instead of just musical performances, we created a script with a storyline and melded filmed scenes with live performances onstage. It was a unique concept that also incorporated into each scene merchant advertising that brought in a brand new revenue stream.
The show required our performers to act and memorize lines, in addition to their musical performance. It was an exciting show and the nonprofit sold out well in advance of the concert. All went well, except with one high-level performer. He couldn’t memorize his lines. He assured us that when we got to the concert he would be fine. The day of the concert arrived and, despite plentiful rehearsals, he stumbled over his lines. What to do?
It required an ingenious solution. We quickly secured high-tech communications equipment like the kind you see used by the Secret Service or as seen on TV action-drama shows. The performer was supplied with a micro-sized earbud invisible on the stage. During his performance our scriptwriter literally read him his lines from the projection booth and he simply repeated them with the right emphasis. No one was the wiser. The event was a huge success.
The two examples I described were predicated on different situations. The first was based on painful experience. We learned from our mistakes. The second was founded on a more urgent situation that needed an instantaneous resolution. Improvisation lent itself to our success.
Now, what would you do in each case?
By Norman B. Gildin
Norman B. Gildin has fundraised for nonprofits for more than three decades and has raised upwards of $93 million in the process. He lived in Teaneck for 34 years and now resides in Boynton Beach, Florida, and currently is the president of his own company, Strategic Fundraising Group. He can be reached at [email protected]