The Gang’s All Here—Now What?

By Laurie Palagyi

House parties have become a popular alternative to traditional gala-style soirees and more formal fundraising affairs. An intimate home setting leaves guests relaxed and ready to give generously to a great cause. Create the right atmosphere, and you can quickly and simply generate lots of cash for your camp. 

How easy is it?

The truth is, if you have passion and relationships, you have the potential for success. The only question left is: Are you ready to raise some serious cash? From invitations to organization, here are the steps to home-fundraising success.

Let’s get this party started! But first, there’s plenty to do. Set a goal, assuming 70 percent of attendees will give to your camp. Remind staff members and volunteers of the goal so everyone is motivated and works hard to achieve it. 

Invitations
When planning for guests, consider the more-is-less rule. Invite up to four times more people than you hope will attend. If you want 20 guests, invite 60 to 80. The goal is to end with around 12 to 35 attendees of the same socioeconomic class. Invite family, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, colleagues, and anyone who has already donated to the camp, or would likely donate at the party. Make it clear that the evening will be a fundraising event, and that everyone involved is optimistic and excited. 

Guests will be more receptive to handwritten invitations. Make it as simple as possible for them to respond by providing self-addressed, stamped envelopes that are mailed directly to the host. Include a map to the house and the host’s email address and phone number. Email invitations are a secondary option.

Give guests a few days to respond before calling everyone on the list for RSVPs. Don’t skip this step, and be sure every caller is contacted by someone he or she knows. If the RSVP is a “yes,” say “thank you” and encourage each person to bring a friend. If someone cannot attend, ask for a contribution to the organization. After contacting all invitees, check your numbers and deduct around 25 percent to account for no-shows.

Enlisting A Host(ess)
he ideal host is friendly, articulate, enthusiastic, and respected by participants. He or she will address the party and ask for donations when the time is right. Therefore, the host should have a passion for the camp and be eager to reach the fundraising goal. It’s crucial that the party take place in his or her home, as guests will feel more inclined to give when the generous host makes a plea.

House Party Program
Creating a checklist will ensure no details get lost. Have plenty of pledge cards and pens to place on seats, and leave several baskets around for donations. Provide refreshments and a variety of finger foods for guests. Designate parking and place signage in key spots around the house. Plan to arrive at least an hour early to help prepare for the party and check to see that any equipment is working properly.

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The following sample program will help create a timeline of events:

1.       A period for “breaking the ice” (30 to 45 minutes)

  • Allow people to arrive, gather food and drink, and get comfortable.
  • Greet everyone at the door.
  • Hand out a donor envelope and/or pledge card just in case any guest has to leave early.
  • If people don’t know each other, supply name tags.
  • Have information about projects available in numerous places throughout the room.
  • Host and co-host should circulate around the room and help people feel comfortable.

2.       Gather guests for a formal sit-down presentation (5 minutes)

  • Host will ask everyone to assemble in a specific area.
  • Make sure there are comfortable seats for everyone.
  • Remember that people know they have come to a fundraising party—the invitation made that very clear—so they are expecting a presentation and a pitch for support.

3.       Allow the host to welcome guests (5 minutes)

  • Host explains why he or she is a supporter of the camp and gives a brief history about involvement with the project.

4.       Have the director make a presentation about the camp, and if possible, show a short video clip or provide a theatrical performance, etc. (10 minutes)

Cast a vision.

  • Explain how and why he or she got involved.
  • Describe the need and what is intended with the funds.
  • Make it emotionally engaging.
  • Offer a slide presentation.
  • Enlist a camper to share a few words.

5.       Q and A period (10 to 15 minutes)

  • If there is a naysayer, the host should be ready to step in and redirect the question/conversation.

6.       Host(ess) asks for donations

  • Make it clear how much money is needed.
  • Share the goal for the evening and explain what every gift—large or small—will accomplish for the project.
  • Tell people how they can give, by filling out the pledge cards or donation envelopes that have been placed on everyone’s seats, and by giving cash, credit cards, or checks.
  • Conclude by thanking everyone.

Take a deep breath and pat yourself and your staff on the back for throwing your first fundraising house party. But don’t get too comfortable. Prepare to do some post-party work. A week after the event send guests a small thank-you gift or note, and follow up with calls to those who promised to give later. You might be surprised to see funds continue to roll in well after the party.

Laurie Palagyi is the Executive Director of the West End House Girls Camp. She believes in the power of camp to change lives and is passionate about creating innovative outdoor experiences where all kids can flourish and be empowered. To this end, Laurie enjoys helping camp and recreation professionals learn how to grow and market in efficient and effective ways. Reach her at laurie.palagyi@wehgirlscamp.org.
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Sample Script

First, let me thank you for coming tonight. Everyone here knows me. I don’t get up in front of friends very often to make speeches, and you also know that I rarely ask for favors. But tonight we’ve just heard about the West End House Girls Camp, and the Girls Camp is something I care about deeply. It’s important to me to make sure that this camp has the funding it needs to be able to give girls the opportunity to attend camp. Your donations could make the following things happen: (list some accomplishments at different donation levels). I’ve already given my support through a donation and volunteering to talk to you tonight. But, Laurie’s presentation tonight has moved me once more, and I’m going to give generously to the West End House Girls Camp again. Now, I hope each of you will do the same. There’s a pledge card on your chair—please fill it out and give whatever you can afford. We’ll take check, cash, or credit card tonight, or accept your pledge for a donation you can send in later. If you still have questions about the West End House Girls Camp, please talk to me in person or request more information on your pledge card, and we promise to get back to you soon. Thank you again for coming here tonight.*

*For more resources, check out Morrie Warshawski’s book, The Fundraising Houseparty: How to Party with a Purpose and Raise Money for Your Cause.