In 2011, after the second woman in Lori Sugarman’s family had been diagnosed with breast cancer, the 40-year-old mother of two decided to throw a party at her home to raise money and awareness for the cause.
She was already a volunteer member of Rethink Breast Cancer, an innovative national charity focused on young women and breast cancer, and knew that one of its programs, Support Saturdays, created to help young families dealing with breast cancer, was poised to be discontinued if funds weren’t found.
“It struck me that these women with breast cancer should not be the ones concerned with raising the funds for the programs they rely on,” Sugarman says, “so I spoke to my husband about making a donation. Our conversation progressed to hosting an event to raise awareness for Rethink, in hopes that our friends would feel compelled to give, too.”
Sugarman took the money she had originally intended to donate and spent it on a garden party to which she invited 75 women from her immediate community for an afternoon of food, drinks and music.
“There were no tickets to buy and no expectation of donations,” Sugarman says. “The invitation was just to come, enjoy and learn a little about breast cancer.”
The latter Sugarman accomplished by screening just before the dessert course a short film called About Her that tells the story of nine women with breast cancer.
“It clearly made an impression,” says Sugarman, who wrapped up the screening by thanking her friends for coming and asking them to make a donation to Rethink if they felt compelled. She had forms at the ready and had made arrangements with the organization ahead of time so that donations could be made in cash or by credit card on the spot.
Those who did fill out a donation form had their names entered into a draw for high-value prizes such as hotel stays, four-star dinners and shopping sprees, all of which had been donated to the event and were awarded at the end of the party.
Regardless of whether they gave or not, all guests left with a gift bag filled with more than $100 worth of luxury items and gift cards, also provided by Sugarman’s retail contacts.
In the end, more than 98 per cent of attendees donated money to the cause, Sugarman says, “and we raised enough money to fund Support Saturdays for an entire year. It was a lot of work, but it was incredibly rewarding.”
According to Toronto etiquette expert Karen Cleveland, “throwing a fundraising party has the potential to be fraught with awkwardness.” Sugarman did the right thing by placing the focus on having fun and learning as opposed to giving, she says.
Cleveland, who lives in Toronto and is the founder of the contemporary etiquette website mannersaresexy.com, suggests the following tips for would-be hosts of a fundraising party to ensure that everyone involved gets back as much as they give.
Be knowledgeable about what it is you’re supporting
If, as the host, you can speak with conviction about the cause, your friends will see how fired up you are about it and be motivated to support you. What’s more, being able to answer their questions with ease instills trust.
Don’t make assumptions about budget
A $100-a-plate dinner might be a completely reasonable ask for one friend but could make another’s jaw hit the floor. A “donate what you like” approach is the safest route to take.
Get comfortable asking (and being told no)
Maintain a “no hard feelings” policy when you invite people to such an event and never put anyone on the spot by asking them in person if they’re coming or not.
Avoid inviting through mass e-mails or Facebook blasts
When we see we’re one of 150 people on a message thread, it begets apathy, as it’s easier to assume that the other 149 will give generously. Make invitations as personal as possible.
Understand the fine print
Is there a tax receipt available for donations? Are you asking your friends to give cash or to make a donation directly to the cause through the organization’s website? Work out the logistics of giving well before the first guest arrives to avoid making the financial transaction awkward.
Thank people as though it’s your job to do so
By supporting your charitable interests, someone has gone above and beyond for you and that deserves a heartfelt thank you, in writing. And when the time comes to return the generosity to those who supported you, be prepared to open up your wallet.