Kentucky Japan Relief Benefit: Practical Reflections

Last week, Kentucky JET alums organized a successful fundraising event for the Red Cross. By the end of the night, and despite the rain, we tallied more than $3100 for the Red Cross. Donations are still trickling in, and we expect to have the total impact of the event exceed $4000 (through corporate matching, etc.).

We held the event at a local LGBT lounge/dance bar, Soundbar, whose owners have shown support to other charities in the past (including cancer research, Haiti earthquake relief, and the Trevor Project). I approached them Sunday evening for a benefit for the Red Cross in Japan, and a lot of the planning over the subsequent five days fell into a nice template formed from their previous events.

We got support from the wider local media environment. News and radio stations all covered our event a few days before. We aggressively used Facebook to make this a personal appeal. As the organizer I sent a personal comment to all invitees, and sent translations of touching/optimistic personal statements from tsunami victims. We worked our professional and religious networks, too, by talking to and emailing contacts about the event.

In addition to cash/check/credit card donations at the door, we held a champag­ne toast to Japan at 9:30, with 100% of the proceeds going to the Red Cross. A Japanese national and representatives from JETAA-KY and the Japan America Society of Kentucky spoke. Later the venue shifted into a dance club, and along with continued donations at the door, revelers drank tube shots specials, again with 100% of the proceeds going to the Red Cross. Personable, aggressive people at the door and on the dance floor up sold people on donations and pushed the drink specials, and the DJ reminded party-goers of the specials every 30 minutes.

This truly was an event – people at the lounge were given and took the opportunity to buy-in to Japan’s recovery. Donors all received “Thank You” stickers printed specifically for the event. People were talking about it all week before and the weekend after. We even set up a contribution webpage to add to the buzz: through this tool we were able to gain access to donors who couldn’t attend the event due to geographic or schedule constraints, and it gave donors a greater sense of inter-connectedness.

A lot was learnt over the past week, but to crystallize some points that I think are key:

  1. Maximize audience demographics – make it as easy as possible for people to want to go
  2. Create buzz – people like events
  3. Work with vendors – explain why it’s in their financial interest to be generous

I want other chapters’ events to be successful — if a small city in Kentucky can raise $4000 in 4 hours, surely larger metropolitan areas can at least double that — please feel free to email (rharrison at csi-ky dot com) with questions or to schedule a phone call. I’d love to help in whatever way possible.

Roy Harrison

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