Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Love Wins

By: Samantha Swaim & Kristin Steele 

Monday in Oregon was an amazing event day. No one knew it when we woke up. But by noon, the marriage ban in Oregon had been lifted and the community was ready to come together and celebrate.


With very little lead time, a generous group of event professionals joined us as we set out to throw a huge celebration for a moment that people in Oregon have waited decades for.


So many amazing vendors and event partners joined us to make the celebration happen—over 50 of them in all. Let it be said that this event could not have happened without them and their automatic responses of, “YES!” to anything we needed were pure magic.


Events are comprised of moments that all put together, tell a story.

Hundreds came together to celebrate.

There was crying and laughing and hugging everywhere.

Over 70 couples were married by volunteer celebrants.

Kids and couples burned up the dance floor to the tunes of amazing DJs donating their time on donated AV equipment.

Fantastic donated food and drink was had.

Donated desserts served as wedding cakes.

The day was documented by volunteer photographers.


Beautiful donated flowers spilled down steps and were carried as bouquets as new brides and grooms and people who have been partners for decades walked out of their ceremonies, legally married in the state they call home.


And aren’t all of these things why we hold events? To create a time and space where people come together and are changed for the better by the act of being together to champion each other and a cause?

Swaim Strategies was started ten years ago with the idea of assembling people to add to the greater good of our communities. Working for marriage equality has been an issue we have been committed to working on since the beginning. We can think of no more perfect example of our proudest work than this event held at The Melody Ballroom on May 19, 2014. 


It even ended with a volunteer marching band, leading us into a brand new day.

Thank you to absolutely everyone who made it possible. Your generosity is what defines Oregon and we are so honored to know and work with all of you.


A few of our favorite photos of the day:







Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Simplifying an Event Program to Give it Heart

By: Samantha Swaim
It’s easy to get lost in the weeds of planning the program for your event. The ‘must have’ speakers on stage, the recognition, the business updates.  Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what elements to keep and what elements to cut. But, when planning your event it’s important to think about how to inspire the audience.  It’s a large part of what will make them enjoy attending your event, remember you later and be compelled to support you.

Photography by Adam Bacher
Oregon Community Foundation is celebrating its 40-year anniversary this year, and wanted its state of the foundation annual luncheon to feel celebratory. So they looked to their program elements—entertainment, speakers, AV—to make this happen.

Photography by Adam Bacher
They started in fine fashion with a great performance by the Oregon 234th Army Band to energize the room. The program then took shape around their theme of Legacy Leadership Impact. OCF has deep roots and a rich history in Oregon, serving as one of the largest funders of education, the arts and the environment in the state with an annual giving total of over $60 million. But with so much good news, how do you tell share it all?

OCF had a fantastic 2-minute animated video that quickly and in an engaging way told their history and their future, showcasing the tremendous impact they have on the state year after year.

After this great video they filled their program with passionate speakers and spirited performances that kept the momentum both engaging and heart-felt. Speakers used the word ‘we’ to bring the audience—who was filled with a large amount of OCF funders and grantees—into the work and honor their involvement in what makes the organization great. A poem written specifically about OCF by Oregon Poet Laureate, Paulann Petersen enabled everyone to both hear her amazing work and think about OCF in an artistic way.

Photography by Adam Bacher
OCF is all about making Oregon a great place to live. How do you get an audience to feel that? You have Oregon musical darling Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini and the Oregon 234th Army Band play a beautiful 15-minute rendition of “Rhapsody in Blue” to end the event backed by huge screens with amazing scrolling pictures of every geographic corner of Oregon. The effect captured the spirit of the state and inspired the audience to see the diversity of Oregon and connect all those dots into one room committed to the future of the state they all call home.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Tailoring Your Event to Suit Your Audience

By: Samantha Swaim
Having an event is one thing, but crafting your event to suit your audience is one of the big keys to a successful fundraising event. Having an event that engages your crowd, pulls them into the program and excites them to give doesn’t happen if you don’t take them into account during your planning. This can become especially true with long-standing events at organizations whose donor bases may have shifted some over time.

It’s a good idea to look at your crowd and ask, “What will engage them?”

Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp asked this question and this year’s Great Gatsby events were the result. Previously, they had one nighttime event that tried to accomplish everything for a widening support base. And in doing so, they were hitting a fundraising ceiling and felt unable to take their event to the next level. 

This year they took a good look at the history of guests at their event and found that it started to filter into a couple of different camps. One group really loves a big silent auction, blackout board, lower ticket prices and to be done at a decent hour. The other group was willing to spend more on a ticket and generally moved away from the silent auction toward a more robust live auction. 

Great Gatsby Brunch
So they split their event into two. The morning champagne brunch event offered a wine toss and blackout board as activities during the larger silent auction with a variety of price points and two closures. The crowd then moved into a buffet brunch. The live auction during this program featured all of the Kiwanis Club baskets that are put together every year as a friendly competition and fundraiser. It allowed the organization to celebrate the Clubs that have been a wealth of support and volunteer resource for the camp for decades, and for those baskets to raise more than they have in a silent auction setting. Different incentives were offered at different levels of the special appeal to galvanize giving. There was even an auction of the floral centerpieces so that by the end of the brunch they were all cleared to make room for the evening’s décor.

Brunch Decor
Then, with this successful event under their belt, MHKC flipped the venue and prepared for their nighttime program. The Gala featured a smaller silent auction with specific wine featured to appeal to the interests of this different crowd. Instead of a blackout board, they sold wild card raffle tickets at a higher price point allowing the winner to pick a live auction item off the auction block. 

Gala Decor
They then moved the guests into the dining room where a seated dinner after the sun had gone down lent to a more Gala-like air. The live auction was specifically procured to be all trips and travel to match the spending interest of the crowd. There was time at the end of the program where the band played and guests were able to continue socializing into the night.

Great Gatsby Gala
They were able to achieve this onsite with the use of as many elements as they could between the two events. The theme connected the two to allow for décor elements to be in place for both. They used the same videos for each appeal, but changed the speaker. They used two different bands to create different feels. They changed linen color and centerpieces. Registration stayed the same and reset for the second event.  

By taking a look at how their audience was splitting, they were able to meet them where they wanted to be met and as a result they were able to break through the fundraising ceiling they had not been able to previously. Creating an event and hoping it works for your audience will never raise as much as if you design your event for your audience. Your donor base changes over time and if your events aren’t changing to match, you’re missing a big opportunity.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Relationships Are the Key to Donor Cultivation

by: Samantha Swaim
It can be easy to get caught up in the weeds of your event. Themes. Centerpieces. Linen colors. Will your guests like the chicken?

But these are not the things that are going to secure fundraising success at your event, and losing valuable time here will distract you from the most important piece. The best thing you can do for your event is exhibit trusted leadership of your organization by cultivating your relationships well.

People give to people.

CommunityAction’s Celebration of Community Spirit was wildly successful again this year because of the relationships they cultivate. When their development director and executive director move through the room, it’s like a family reunion. Everyone in the room genuinely feels like these leaders are their friends—because they are. These leaders let relationships drive their work instead of the other way around. They clearly understand that to create a strong community for the people they serve, they actually have to build a strong community for the organization.

These two women are seen as largely impactful community leaders in Washington County, speaking out, building relationships and investing in their donors and organization partners. They understand that these relationships make their very important work to eliminate poverty and create opportunities, possible.

The work they do all year to cultivate donors and supporters pays off in spades the night of their event because they have created a room that is there to support the work and is ready to give. Their special appeal is by far their biggest level of engagement at the event. Their focus here maximizes their fundraising as the special appeal is the largest opportunity to raise money the night of your event.

There is no raffle or auction package that will do more for you than your appeal. And your special appeal cannot be successful if you haven’t done the work well in advance of your event. You should always be working on this, because these relationships will help your organization year-round if done well.

Be careful where you spend your time on an event. You need linen, but no one will remember what color it was. People will remember feeling like they were a part of something bigger than themselves that inspires them to give more and do more in their community.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Using Space Creatively to Better Your Event

Once you’ve found the right venue to suit your event, getting creative within the space can enhance the whole experience of your event. Most venues are big, open spaces—a blank slate—that welcome creative ideas.

Having all of your event activities in one location, and allowing guests access to all areas at all times, can adversely impact your fundraising. If your audience walks in and takes their seat because you’ve allowed them to, they won’t walk around and spend money on the silent auction or raffles. And if they can’t get to the silent auction items because of layout, they won’t bid either.

The trick is to take a look at your program and the flow you’d like to create with your crowd, and then build the elements of the space to match. Doing so can be as simple as shifting seating and adding some pipe and drape.

American Red Cross held its annual Surviving inStyle event at Castaway this year and transformed the big, open space into different, smaller spaces that they moved the crowd through to create different experiences within the event. 

When guests arrived they walked into a silent auction with cocktails and passed appetizers. The auction items were stationed around the perimeter to allow space for people to move through and bid. The space where the live auction and special appeal took place was a stage set with theater-style seating, but access to this space was cut off by beautiful pipe and drape ‘walls,’ essentially creating a space-within-a-space. When the program began, the drapes were pulled back and guests were invited to take a seat.

While guests were in the program ‘room’ raising money, the silent auction space was quietly flipped by catering to house the dinner buffet tables. After the program, guests were invited to mix and mingle in that space again. The program room was then reset with cocktail tables and a live band for an intimate dinner party, all of the walls were pulled back and guests moved freely within the larger space.

All of these decisions were based on how to focus the crowd on the fundraising. Allowing people to stand and talk when you want them bidding are at odds with one another. By seating them and removing all other obstacles, you allow your crowd to focus. But they won’t sit there forever without food and drink either, so a tight, focused program allows you to raise the money and then allow them to move into the party once the fundraising is done.

Thinking about the options of your big open space, and how you can create momentum for your crowd, allows your event to evolve over the evening and play into the human economics of time and attention to maximize fundraising.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Finding the Right Venue for Your Event is Critical

You’ve been to one of those events, right? The one where the layout and the venue just don’t work. Sight lines are impaired. Registration lines fold back in on themselves. There’s no room to move in the silent auction. It can make for a frustrating guest experience.

Getting a venue booked for your fundraising event can be a challenge. They are a limited resource both in terms of space and availability. But there’s a huge difference between any venue and the right venue. The wrong venue for the format and size of your event can actually impact the effectiveness of your fundraising. Your venue is critical.

This year at Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives’ Dancing with the Stars Portland Gala, they found the right venue for their unique program. In addition to traditional fundraising elements like a dinner, auction and special appeal, this event has a full Dancing with the Stars style dance competition. This element demands real estate for a large featured dance floor and additional AV components.

Previously PCRI had been a small ballroom that really limited their ability to have a stage for their program, a dance floor for the competition, a place for dance judges, dinner tables and clear sightlines for everyone in the audience. It was a long skinny ballroom and the dance competition split the room in half, isolating the crowd on one side or the other. Outside of the ballroom, they didn't have enough registration or cocktail space so the audience was jammed from a hallway into the ballroom.  
 This year, PCRI moved to a much larger venue that allowed their guests to flow easily from registration to cocktails to their dinner seat where they were able to enjoy the program and dance competition without having to move awkwardly around a space not suited for the specificity of the event. There was a big foyer that allowed photography, raffle sales, mixing and mingling. They had an octagon shaped ballroom that gave them room to accomplish everything have the audience in the round surrounding the dance floor instead of split in half on each side. They had a great green room area for their dancers with backstage access and a flow that allowed for easy check in, check out and good guest experience.
Every event and its needs are unique. Venues aren’t a one-size-fits-all commodity. Being clear about the shape of your event and the real estate it will need to feel like the venue is working with your audience instead of against it is imperative to maximize your success.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Connecting Volunteers and Success at Your Event

In the long list of “to do” items for your fundraising event, it can get overlooked that volunteers are an integral part of your success. Rarely are there enough staff members to do every job associated with your event and it becomes necessary to activate volunteers to fill some of those roles. Volunteers act as ambassadors for your organization onsite and, depending on their task, often have a chance to interact with more of your guests than you.

With that in mind, be strategic in their recruitment. Do you have a volunteer job that requires them to talk directly to guests? Make sure they are comfortable with that in advance. If they aren’t, consider them for more behind-the-scenes work like set up/clean up or auction running. If they are interested in a more public role but don’t know a lot about the organization, give them some information ahead of time so they can help spread the word about your great work. 

At this year’s Going Places Gala for Ride Connection, their Heads & Tails volunteers knocked it out of the park. Their task was to sell as many strands of beads as possible during the silent auction for a game that would kick off the live auction. They were raising money and bringing guests into the energy of the event all at the same time.

Ride Connection couldn’t have done a better job suiting volunteers to a task. They recruited key people to these positions that were not only personable and engaging, but knew the crowd well and were incredibly familiar with the organization. Guests knew them and wanted to talk to them already. As added incentive, the volunteers actually made a friendly wager among themselves ahead of time to see who could sell the most, and checked in with each other the whole time as incentive to keep at it. It created a fun atmosphere of competition that guests wanted to be a part of all in the name of fundraising for an organization they were passionate about.

And they sold a lot of beads! Not only were they effective, but they activated the crowd to become engaged in the activity of fundraising and anticipate the fun they were going to have later in the evening.

Strategic volunteer recruitment can add a lot to your nonprofit fundraising event. Having the correct people in specific volunteer positions can take your event to the next level. As you think about recruiting volunteers, be strategic about who you place where.  Know your crowd and place people in volunteer positions that best fit their personalities and strengths.