A Just Cause: How to Choose and Host a Charity Event

Use these 10 tips to create a tiptop fundraiser.

As a facility manager, you may feel inundated by all the opportunities that arise to support charitable causes. You may even feel guilty that you have to pass on so many of them. Every month presents another awareness campaign, from diabetes to breast cancer, childhood obesity to osteoporosis, and so on. Your heart says “yes” to every cause that exists, yet your calendar and budget say “not so fast.” How can you wade through the mass of good causes and choose one or two, without becoming overwhelmed and simply rejecting them all? Here are 10 tips to help you determine which causes are right for your facility.

1. Timing Is Everything

Many schools, businesses and church groups host particular types of charity work at the same time. You can count on food drives in the fall and garage sales in the spring and summer. Most schools host fundraisers at the beginning of the school year. This means that patrons are feeling the burden of emptying their pantries and their pockets more heavily at certain times of the year. If your facility wants to host a canned food drive, why not choose March and avoid the seasonal “clumping”? Also, keep the weather in mind. A 5K will generally be more successful when the outdoor temperatures are moderate--not too hot or too cold. On the other hand, an “Inside Ride for Diabetes” (an indoor cycle-a-thon) may attract more riders when the weather is unsafe or too frigid for outdoor cyclists. Additionally, check the local events calendar to be sure your fundraiser doesn’t conflict with a major community event, and be aware of when popular activities, such as football games and kids’ soccer mornings, are scheduled.

2. Follow Your Heart

Among the many good causes worthy of your support, there may be a few that matter to you most, often for personal reasons. Maybe an employee’s husband died of heart disease, or your sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. When you can truly understand the importance of a cause, you will be more passionate about it, and so will your employees and patrons. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease) is an illness that runs in my family, and we lost my aunt to this disease several years ago. Her sister organized an annual dance-a-thon in her community to raise awareness and funds for ALS research. The community rallies to support this event because they feel her passion, and they have a name and a face to connect them to the cause. If you follow your heart, no matter how much money you raise, you will feel that all the work was worth your time!

3. Pick and Choose

Once you have followed your heart, stick with your choice and commit to only two or three charitable events a year, spacing them out on the calendar. If you host different events every month, patrons will begin to tire of them, and you and your facility may get burned out and even resentful of your charities. Remember, you can always opt for an awareness campaign rather than a fundraising campaign if you feel drawn to too many issues. For example, by providing informational handouts and heart-healthy recipes, you can bring awareness to the prevention of heart disease during February, National American Heart Association Month, or by hosting a blood drive, you can help out the American Red Cross during March, with no fundraising required. (See the sidebar for a list of campaigns by month.)

4. Go Local

People always care more about issues that are close to home. Perhaps there is a local family in need or a hometown hero struggling with a physical ailment. Rally your patrons around this special cause. In Utah, an annual event gaining in popularity is the Kida Relay. Teams of four continuously bike for 12 hours and then run for 12 hours, all in the name of a little girl named Kida, a 5-year-old who has cerebral palsy. Portions of the proceeds go to Kids on the Move, a local nonprofit agency that facilitates learning for developmentally delayed children. This event is successful because it supports a local agency and a local child. As you hear of stories in your own community, find out how your facility can take action. You might host an annual event for the same cause or choose a different local cause each year.

5. Go National

On the other hand, joining a national crusade can make your facility feel more united with people across the country. It can also make promotion and advertising easier, as big events have a lot more funding and materials available. Like many facilities across the nation, our club has hosted Shape magazine’s “Pilates for Pink” event since its inception 2 years ago. Anyone in the country can research this cause online, find a nearby participating facility and join in the fun on behalf of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. As a family fitness center, we’ve also involved ourselves with the Nickelodeon “Worldwide Day of Play,” when Nickelodeon stops broadcasting and encourages kids to get active. This is an awareness event rather than a fundraising event, but it draws attention to childhood obesity. At our facility we set up a variety of fitness stations for the entire family, from jump rope contests to a chance to take family yoga pose photos, and kids received a stamp on their ticket for each event in which they participated. Once they had enough stamps, the children could cash them in for a free trip through a bouncy obstacle course and a medal. Kids even got a visit from SpongeBob! Going with a national organization connects you to others across the country and provides great advertising benefits.

6. Opt for the Unusual

Sometimes you can get more involvement by hosting an event that no other facility hosts. While a 5K fun run may be popular, “Pilates in the Park” or an all-night Zumba® -thon may attract different patrons. Decide what activities are most popular at your facility, and then get creative! You could try “Pump for Parkinson’s,” “Step Up for Multiple Sclerosis” or “Yoga for Mental Health.” Or take a common event and add a twist. Instead of “Walk for MS,” maybe organize “Walk the Dog for MS.” A local cycle race in my area includes a doughnut-eating contest at the halfway point. Possibly gross, yes, but very attention-grabbing! By being unique, your event will stand out and may even become a new tradition in your community. Be sure to check whether the event name you’re considering has already been copyrighted.

7. Keep It Simple

Often we make our charitable events complicated in an effort to make them exciting. In planning a function, we “supersize” the activities or the incentives, and the cause itself gets lost among the bounce castles, balloons or incredible door prizes. Keep the cause at the forefront of your event and you’ll discover that you don’t need many of those expensive extras. Most likely, the agency you are fundraising for will provide handouts or promotional materials for participants. This will keep the charity center stage and cut down on your own costs. Remember, if the goal is to raise funds, it doesn’t make sense to spend money on “fluff” when you could give that money directly to the organization.

8. Form a Team

Just because you are capable of heading up this event all by your competent self does not mean you should. Get your staff involved, divide up assignments, and share the joy of working for a cause. You can also get more creative energy from group input and brainstorming. With more ideas you can design an event that appeals to more patrons. Teamwork also adds a marketing boost, as more people are spreading the word and answering patrons’ questions.

9. Involve the Community

Once you have a team, assign someone to be your business liaison. This person should visit local businesses to ask how they would like to be involved. A restaurant could donate gift certificates to winning participants, a grocery store might give water bottles, and so on. Be sure to credit the businesses publicly and give them plenty of free advertising.

10. Take Joy in the Cause

Your charity event has been planned and executed. You drop in exhaustion. You’ve worked hard for weeks to make sure it was a great success. And then you count the money you raised. Perhaps you are pleasantly surprised, but other times you might be sorely disappointed. You may feel angry that participants did not give or care enough. In the end, though, keep in mind how much awareness you brought to the cause. Assess the strengths and weaknesses of your event, and then decide if this is a cause that your facility will want to support again the following year. In the end, your recipients will be grateful for whatever amount of money you were able to raise, and you should feel good about your efforts.

Keep these tips in mind and you can serve the charitable causes that are right for your facility, while using fitness as a way to change the world, one cause at a time.

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