Each year the YWCA Columbus sponsors two well-conceived and well-executed fundraising events that raise a combined total of more than $750,000.
YWCA’s “Must Go” Events Are Annual Fundraising Wins
Smart nonprofit leaders will tell you that any effective fund development plan will be multi-faceted. “It takes a whole combination of efforts,” explains Patti O’Toole, Vice President of Communications at the YWCA Columbus.
The YWCA pursues grant funding, engages in major donor campaigns, works with volunteers to hold fundraising teas in their homes, pursues earned income ventures such as renting out its ballroom for wedding receptions, and sponsors Women’s Giving Circles, among other efforts. But it is the YWCA’s signature events—one each fall and spring—that the organization may be best known for. “Events give you a big leap forward in terms of marketing and visibility,” O’Toole says.
In early spring the YWCA sponsors the annual Women of Achievement Event at the Convention Center. It typically draws close to 2,000 people and generates a half a million dollars. Patti Eshman, who oversees corporate giving at Grange Insurance, reports that “sponsors line up” to participate in the must-be-seen event. It honors a select group of amazing woman, chosen from a slate of nominated candidates, who have made extraordinary contributions to their families, workplaces, and communities. The event has been held yearly since 1986 and attendance continues to grow. That remarkable level of success is rooted in several factors, says Elfi DiBella, President & CEO:
- Keeping it fresh each year
- Picking truly amazing women with high-interest stories
- Granting strong, visible recognition to the Event’s three, long-time “presenting sponsors”
- Keeping the event strictly to one hour by following a demanding program script
- Holding the event at the same time and place each year
The Women of Achievement Event is seen as a major networking event since “everyone” is there, DiBella adds. “The top CEOs, the mayor, the President of Ohio State University, all the community leaders.” While the event affords great visibility to the YWCA and an opportunity to mention volunteer opportunities, staff do not view it as simultaneously a fundraiser and a volunteer recruitment initiative. People may end up volunteering as a result of what they hear at the event but voluntarism isn’t the focus.
In the fall, the YWCA hosts the Woman to Woman Luncheon. It is also held at the Convention Center. Last year it attracted 1,110 women and generated over $280,000. “This is a time to tell the YWCA story,” says DiBella. “The difference we’re making; how we’re moving the needle.” They plan this event to contrast with the Women of Achievement event so that people will want to attend both. “The luncheon is our ‘girlfriend’ event,” explains O’Toole. “We’re presenting them with opportunities to invest their own dollars into programs that benefit them and the community.” Women from different generation and backgrounds attend, learning about the YWCA’s mission of eliminating racism and empowering women—and how they can be part of it. O’Toole gathers a focus group of staff, Board members, volunteers, and donors months before the event to ask them “what’s relevant in the community, what’s going on now” to create the event’s theme. “We mix it up each year,” she says. Volunteer Table Captains are critical to the success of this event. These individuals or corporations sponsor a 10-person table (for $1250) and invite friends and colleagues to attend. That covers the event costs for those individuals so that any donations they make at the luncheon can go directly to programs.
Additional success factors include: Utilizing a strong volunteer committee to recruit the 100+ Table Captains. “You get more success when a peer is inviting people to the event,” says DiBella. Recognize that a “formula event” can grow stale, so ensure that each year the program is different. Recent years have featured a video documentary on homeless families served by the YWCA; a local comedian; and a lively panel discussion in the style of ABC TV’s “The View” Draw on local talent rather than paying for an expensive “big-name” outside speaker. “Given all the Women of Achievement selected over the years, we have an Academy of remarkable women to turn to for advice, insight, or active involvement in the program.”