On Wednesday, March 23, 2011 JETAANC hosted the Japan Relief Fundraiser at the Kabuki Hotel’s O Izakaya Lounge in San Francisco’s Japantown. The planning for this event began on the Saturday after the tragic events that happened in Japan on March 11, which gave us less than two weeks to organize and promote the event.
With a lot of hard work we were able to get the word out rapidly through our over 20 co-sponsoring organizations, emails, social media, word-of-mouth and a press release that a few of our members drafted. To raise funds, we decided to collect cash donations and sell raffle tickets. We were able to successfully secure nearly 100 raffle prizes that were donated by JET alumni, friends of JET, and local businesses. Proceeds from the event would go to the newly established National JETAA USA Relief Fund.
The moment of truth came on the evening of the event. Although we had worked very hard to promote the event, none of us really knew what to expect. As an organization, we had never put on any type of major fundraising event, especially on this scale.
The event was a success, with well over 150 people in attendance and a strong JET alumni contingency. Many had been inactive in recent years, but came to show their support. We were able to collect over $7,000 in funds for the National JETAA USA Relief Fund.
Before the event officially started, people lined up to give donations and buy raffle tickets. The space filled up quickly and spilled out into the downstairs restaurant area. We even were covered live by a local news station.
Now that this event is over, and we’re beginning to plan future fundraisers, it’s an appropriate time to reflect on how to make future events better and run more smoothly. Here are some insights that we were able to gain through the planning and execution of our fundraiser on March 23:
- Give yourself plenty of time – When we first started planning, we were overly ambitious and thought about scheduling the event for the Wednesday directly after the earthquake , which would have only given us four days to plan. We fortunately came to our senses and scheduled it for the following week. This not only gave us more time to plan for the event, but it gave us time to advertise.
- Ask for help – We had overwhelming support from our alumni and community contacts, and a core group of alumni volunteers. This event would not have been possible without them. They performed duties ranging from contacting local businesses and Japan-related organizations prior to the event to helping with set-up, collecting donations, and running the raffle.
- Take the lead – When we started planning the event, there was a small group of us with a lot of great ideas, but we needed someone to implement those ideas. I ended up taking the lead on the event so we could quickly move forward.
- Delegate and follow up – When you do an event like this be sure you have reliable people who you can count on to complete tasks. You can only do so much before you burn out. I had a great team of people who took individual responsibilities and followed through. Make sure there is an open line of communication so everyone is on the same page. We mainly communicated through group emails.
- A good idea is worthless without execution – There were a lot of great ideas for the event thrown around, but no one was stepping up to do them. When you’re planning an event try to avoid starting a sentence with “Maybe someone could…” unless you’re ready to say “I am willing to…”
- Get there early – Although we arrived 30 minutes early to set-up, there were people arriving early ready to donate funds. It took us awhile to set up and explain everything. We should have been ready to go much earlier.
- Understand tax deductions – We accepted donations in two ways: people could either make a tax deductible donation or buy raffle tickets, which are not tax deductible. We had four alumni working in pairs collecting donations and selling raffle tickets. Processing them in the same place was confusing and it took a lot of time to explain. We had a computer set up so people with credit cards could donate online, but the Wi-fi was spotty and slow, which made it hard, if not impossible to process. If possible, try to make credit card donations easier and quicker. There are services that will do this for you, sometimes your venue can handle this for you. I believe there are even some smartphone apps that allow you to charge cards through your phone. Also, try to record the donations as they come in, so you can report the total at the end of the event.
- Have an agenda – It’s always good to know ahead of time who’s doing what, and when.
- Alert the media – Prepare a press release with details about your event and send it out anywhere you can. The more exposure you get, the better.
- #WINNING – The raffle was probably the most hectic part of the event. We had about 100 prizes to give out and there were so many people crowded around it was hard to hear and distribute prizes, even with a microphone. Also, make sure that people write their name and contact information on the raffle ticket. Although it takes more time to do this, it’s much easier to read off a name than to call off numbers. You also can contact winners who leave the event early to make arrangement to give them their prize.
- Explain where the money will go – Many people asked about where the funds were going, although the fund had been established, JETAA USA was still in the process of finding a beneficiary. To address this we had JETAA USA Country Representative Rod McLeod explain details regarding how the fund would be chosen. This will be much easier to address once the fund is finally voted on and figured out.
- Expect the unexpected – We really didn’t know how many people would show up, or if people would show up at all. We also realized at the last minute that we had to separate ticket sales for tax deductible donations. Luckily, we were able to deal with this quickly.
- Don’t forget to say “Thank You” – When the event is over, make sure you thank everyone who was involved, preferably in writing. These are the people that made the event possible. We made sure to send out hand-written acknowledgement letters after the event to those who donated to the raffle. We also provided on the spot acknowledgement letters to those who made tax deductible donations.
- Reflect and report – This is important to help make future events even more successful. I really enjoyed reading Roy Harrison’s recap of the event JETAAMC put on in Lexington, Kentucky, and I hope to read more event updates!
- Remember what’s important – Although everyone has the best of intentions, sometimes people’s egos, stubbornness, and personal gain come into play and can cloud their judgment. At the very least, set the tone for respectful communications and enforce it. Reminding everyone why you’re doing the event in the first place may be necessary to keep things on track.
If your group is planning any events in the future, I would be happy to talk with you and make suggestions. Feel free to contact me at [email protected].
–Peter Weber (ALT, Saitama Prefecture, Gyoda City, 2003-07)
JET Program Coordinator, Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco