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Raising Funds Through a Unique Wine Dinner with Very Special Volunteer Hosts

Need to raise significant dollars for a special program? A special leader? A special mission? Would you like to ensure that what you raise goes directly to the project that you are targeting? The following idea may be a solution for a special need that your organization has.

The idea came about from a relationship that our organization had with the Pittsburgh Wine Festival, which served as a backdrop to a dinner. The dinner was planned by the hosts, who were special donors, with staff. While this event can be organized for any amount of money, the focus for our team was $1,000,000.

What needs to be done:

  • The event was targeted for 45-50 people, which already stretches the limits for most homes, the donors, leadership and staff.

  • The hosts were prominent people who were key to the donors circles––perhaps a donor, a person in a leadership position or a special friend. It should be at a home with a host with whom people would like to share an evening.

  • This is a big job for the hosts who make their home available for the evening and fund all expenses, including set-up, caterer, food, wine, music, mementos, servers, etc. The hosts are also masters of ceremonies. Clearly, most people have a genuine commitment to the organization before they would agree to do this.

  • The staff develops invitations, seeking host approval, of course. Invitations feature the hosts, the wines, perhaps a special guest (a prominent leader or CEO), caterer, and details including location, times, etc.

  • If possible, the hosts could make an outright donation; however, it should be noted that the expenses are considered tax deductible and they should be honored for that.

  • During the evening the hosts welcome the guests, the vintner speaks about the wines, the caterer speaks about the food. An organizational leader thanks the hosts and the guests for the gifts they have made and talks about why the project is so important and the impact it will make.

  • Everyone is made to feel special that evening, with the hosts and staff devoting lots of time and attention to each guest.

What is necessary to reach the goal?

  • If the goal is set for $1,000,000, then 20 gifts of $50,000 each are necessary. In this case, the pledge can be $10,000 each year for five years. Clearly, if two gifts of $100,000 are each secured, then only 16 gifts of $50,000 are necessary. And so on.

  • If someone has given $500,000, the evening can be organized as a dinner to match that gift.

  • It is key to have a fund or a cause in which donors are interested and to have enough prospects at the $50,000 level in this pool so that the goal can be met.

  • Once it is decided that the dinner can be held because all of the elements are in place, the staff can develop the list of prospects and begin the solicitations, in conjunction with any volunteers who would like to be part of it or any leadership members who are key to the evening.

Other key details

  • A memento for the evening could be a bottle of fine wine in keeping with the theme of the evening––with a bottle tag that again thanks the donors for their contributions.

  • It is important to thank the hosts for their generosity. It could be a letter from the organization's leader and/or staff, a phone call or a personal visit, including a beautiful basket of wines or cheeses.

  • Continually thank the donors who attended with follow-up letters and meetings, as appropriate.

In summary

While every organization is not able to target an evening for $1,000,000, you can select another goal and adjust the pledges accordingly. The evening must work for the donor pool of the organization to be effective.

A dinner of this type is very time consuming for the staff and hosts, make no doubt about that. But it is wonderfully reinforcing for everyone. Beyond the funds raised, it draws donors together for a shared evening with organizational leadership, and it honors them and thanks them for their commitment to the organization. And because the hosts have kindly handled the expenses, all of the gifts and pledges go right to the bottom line.

Everyone enjoys a wonderful evening of food and wine in a beautiful setting. The hosts and organization's leadership provide the comfortable atmosphere and it becomes a night for all guests to remember. If you decide to do this, I wish you good luck and much success! It can surely make an enormous impact.


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