June 24, 2012

Taking Cues From TV for Fundraising Events

Reality television, meet the Salvation Army.

One of the nation’s oldest charities is trying to reach young donors through fundraising events styled after two popular television shows.

Next month, the St. Louis Salvation Army is holding a new fundraising event that gives a twist to Project Runway, the show that enlists young designers who compete to create fashionable attire.

But instead of using silk, lace, and other luxe fabrics, the Salvation Army is asking its young designers to create outfits with nothing but garbage bags and duct tape. (The event is an adaptation of a similar gala held by the Pittsburgh Salvation Army.)

The St. Louis Garbage Bag Gala is expected to raise at least $12,500 by selling $45 tickets to 300 young people in their 20s and 30s.

Because all the costs have been underwritten by corporate sponsors who want to reach young consumers, the Salvation Army hopes that additional sponsorship fees will bring in another $25,000 beyond what the Garbage Bag Gala raises.

In Minneapolis, the Salvation Army’s television model is CBS’s “The Amazing Race.”

The charity’s event is designed to attract up to 100 teams of young people who compete in a scavenger hunt to see which team can complete a series of activities first. After each task, the teams receive a clue that guides them to the next required activity.

Teams must raise at least $200 to enter the race, and the winners get a cash prize of $5,000, provided by corporate sponsors. The team that raises the most money to enter the competition also gets a prize, such as a set of airline tickets.

Over the past six years, the Minneapolis charity’s race has raised more than $243,000 from teams and corporate sponsors and recruited more than 630 participants, whose average age is 35.

To tie the scavenger hunt to the nonprofit’s mission, Debra Wilken, its executive development director, says a typical activity might require people to dive into a dumpster of peanut shells to retrieve a ball. “When we explain it, we say 'This is how some people get their dinner every night.’”

Ideas That Work to Raise Money in Hard Times

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Adding Written Appeals to Online Fundraising

Send an e-mail to Holly Hall.