Charity dinners and how we organize them
Another very important person, who tremendously helped the foundation, is Milutin Gatsby. He is the one who developed the strategy for collecting the funds we now use to finance various projects for early child development.
Milutin has extensive experience in raising money for charity foundations and he knows a lot of influential people who will honor his call to support certain charitable cause/event. He contacted us through a mutual friend and expressed his desire to help. He was hoping to help us launch the foundation and make it known world wide, and in the same time to help raise money for the children in Serbia. His idea proved to be a great success – he is one of the people who I owe a big THANK YOU for all the help, advice and many hours of work he put into this foundation. He explained to me that the fastest and best way to raise big amounts of money for our projects is to organize a charity dinner. Good fun, mysterious live auction, music and entertainment, food and a lot of affluent people has proved to be a great strategy to raise funds for a good cause – children.
Following this strategy we achieved unbelievable results. On September 12, 2012, NDF held its first ever fundraising event in New York City. New York is known to be one of the toughest and most demanding stages in the world for charities (over 350 charity events take place every year there). The Americans have a very strong culture of giving that they nurture through generations. Families commit to support one or several foundations, and that is later on continued by their children, and grand children, and so on. They are very loyal to the causes they believe in, so it is very hard to win their attention and trust. That’s why you have to do your best if you want to be noticed by these people and to motivate them to donate to your foundation the portion of the money they put aside for annual giving.
Thanks to Milutin and Novak, many celebrities have joined us in our mission, among others Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, who is also our ambassador, and Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation. It is quite important to have the support of well known people for our events. We list them on invitations as “chairs”, and they help us raise the awareness of the events (because media is always interested to write stories about them) and help us sell extra tickets/tables (because people want to be where they are).
I was told that many foundations hardly managed to cover expenses of hosting fundraising events in the first few years. At the beginning they are competing in already saturated market to gain some visible position that will allow them later on to earn continuous inflow of funds for their projects. To achieve this in the first few years you need to spend a lot of money in marketing and branding, and in raising awareness among people by telling them about the mission and vision of the foundation. You need to come up with tangible solutions to the existing problems in the society. When the foundation becomes known, only then it starts to attract sponsors, since they can also become visible and part of noble mission. From that moment, they start bearing the costs of fundraisers (by paying for their advertisements on the stage, billboards, and commercial space in the media), while the foundation uses the money from guests’ donations and invests it in projects. With time, all the marketing and branding costs pay off tremendously. However, it is something that many foundations are not allowed to talk about in public.
People expect the foundations to incur through work the least possible expenses (not to mention that having high marketing costs is absolutely not acceptable by many, especially in charity work; it is believed that “those who help others should not promote their work”), so all the available funds should only be used for running projects. Unfortunately, people are not aware that the same rules apply for both profit and non-profit organizations. In order to get more money for our foundation, we need to invest in marketing. People have to hear about us, they need to start trusting us, but also, they want to learn who else supports us (hence the importance of celebrity support). By promoting its activities and the results, foundation creates awareness of the problem in the society, reaches more people who will recognise the importance of solving that problem and at the end, gets the funds from those people. For example, would you become familiar with our foundation if it were not for Novak who proudly talked about it all the time? Would you rather put your hardly earned money to an unknown foundation, or a foundation that many talk about and know its work? The key is: awareness. You can only raise awareness if investing in the marketing and branding. I suggest you read this blog post. There is also one very interesting video that talks about the costs that the charity foundations are facing. I shared it through my twitter account couple of weeks ago, but for those of you who didn’t watch it, I highly recommend you do. This will help you understand the rest of my blog and the expenses required to host dinners.
In New York our foundation raised mind-blowing $1.400.000 in just one night. The expenses of hosting our inaugural benefit dinner were covered by our private donor, so all we raised that night was clear profit. As a “new” foundation on the “market”, we completely exceeded all the expectations and turned the watchful eye of the public on our work. This was exactly what we needed in order to reach as many people as possible with our message, and to invite them join us. We had to do it for all those children not included in the preschool programs!
Strategically, we decided to organize our first ever fundraising event just after the US Open (when Novak had no obligations and was under no pressure, and when tennis fans were still in the city), in the midst of New York Fashion week (an event attended by some of the most prominent names in sports, fashion, business, entertainment and others spheres of social life). Our strategy turned out to be not only good but fruitful as well. I know many were curious to understand why we organised our dinner just then, so here is the answer.
Not many people know that only after such events comes the toughest part of our job: collecting the money. In the following months we are bound to call all the donors, remind them of their pledges and collect all the money we raised on a charity event. Some of them change their minds after the event, some of them give illegible contact details so we have to find other ways of reaching them, some of them are too busy, some don’t answer calls.… It is a tough job, but it’s part of the deal. We have been collecting money from New York fundraising dinner until February 2013. It took us six months to complete it! Even though we “raised” the money that night, we still did not have that actual money in hand. Instead, we had to collect it slowly and patiently.
In the meantime, while we were collecting pledges, we were also gathering all the suggestions for the future projects. In March 2013 we started implementing some of them and planning the future ones, along with organizing our second and third charity dinner.
Our second inaugural gala dinner was held in London, day after the Wimbledon final. London is one of the most expensive cities in the world. I still feel dizzy when I remember my first reaction when i received the estimate of the budget for hosting such dinner. Milutin and I were on the brink of cancelling the whole event! However, we managed to reduce the costs quite significantly.
Another big problem was to find an adequate space for the reasonable price, suitable enough to host 300 guests. Everything was at least twice or even three times more expensive than in New York. But, after two months of searching we came across a very interesting space, the Roundhouse. Today this space is usually rented for concerts and festivals, but many years ago it was just a garage for trams. It is rentable for private dinners and celebrations only 20 days a year. We were lucky enough to find an opening in their overbooked schedule. What I liked most about Roundhouse is the fact that all the money they get from renting is not for profit but for building maintenance and investments in young and talented musicians. Therefore, part of our costs supported their charity cause – helping young artists in England. Since it is a concert hall, we had a lot of work regarding the decoration and filling in the empty space. Being aware that we took a great risk organizing such an event, Milutin spent over two months on the phone, inviting all of his influential friends to come and attend the gala. You need to explain to all these people who we are, what we do, why they should donate their money… With each of them he had to talk at least for 20 minutes! Not to mention that all of them already made plans to go on vacations in July, instead of attending charity events. Milutin was responsible for endless phone conversations, the production company worked on the other issues regarding the organization, while I communicated with many people too, inviting them to come. The good thing is that there is always a chain reaction when you call someone – he knows others who might be interested to attend. Thus we received help from all sides.
English culture is very different from American since their donations are in most cases anonymous. It was very difficult to motivate them during the gala and to raise incredible $1.6 million. Nevertheless, with great support of celebrities like Goldie Hawn, Kate Hudson, Jerry Butler, Jeremy Piven, Boris Becker, Richard Branson…and very interesting items and experiences offered at the auction, we melted their hearts. Everyone was pleasantly surprised by the success of this charity dinner. The media had the pleasure to report on all the details happening inside the big hall, since our celebrity guests were all very inspired to help raise the money for children in Serbia. Besides playing mini-tennis on the stage, they also had the chance to offer interesting performance for the presentation of auction items. Lior Suchard, our special guest of the evening, had a very difficult task – to create a good atmosphere and entertain everyone; a job he did incredibly well.
The cost of hosting this wonderful event in London was three times the one we had in New York! Renting a big concert hall, converting it into suitable space for the gala, decorating it, hiring the first class catering for 300 guests, providing adequate lightening and sound system, buying gifts, gathering auction items, auction costs, hiring staff necessary for such an event, security, performance, production company…all comes at the great cost. Since NDF was at the time a new foundation, unknown to many people and without sponsors, we had to bear the costs of the event organization by ourselves. However, it was worth every penny as we succeeded to raise awareness about our cause in that part of the world too, as well as make contacts with local organizations and partners so that we can start preparing new projects for the kids.
Believe it or not, on these events we welcome over 200 people! After the dinner is over, I receive over 100 emails from various people who offer donations and other types of assistance. The media also helps us to reach distant parts of the world and to spread awareness of the problems a small country, such as Serbia, faces with every day.
What I found very interesting during the organisation of these events is that it is always good to spend money on food, drinks and music/entertainment. Let’s put it this way – it is always a guarantee that your guests will have a good time, regardless of the nature of the event. We have a very rich and interesting program during our fundraisers, and it is very important for us to enjoy the full attention of our guests. Therefore, it is often very hard to make a 20 minute break to allow waiters to bring the dishes to the tables. Then another 20 minutes break to take those plates and to replace them with the next dish…and so on for 3 courses. Believe it or not, our guests stayed even after midnight to enjoy everything we prepared for them. Thanks to our amazing production team (AAB productions) the entire event was carefully and well planned.
Our return to New York this year proved to be even more successful. Even before the dinner started, we managed to cover all of our organisation expenses through the sale of tickets and tables. We have hosted more than 400 people, and started the night in a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere. The cost of the event organization was significantly higher than for the first dinner, which was expected. But we also raised much more this time. Therefore, bigger investment, more people, larger profit. We raised $2.4 million in total. Actually, we are still collecting donations. As you can remember from the comment in the text, that too takes time.
READ MORE WHAT JELENA HAS TO SAY ABOUT AUCTIONS NEXT FRIDAY…