Episode 12: How to Raise $10 Million in One Night

On today’s episode we talk to Brady Forseth from the Starkey Hearing Foundation and most recently the African Community & Conservation Foundation. He shares how he, with a team made the Starkey Hearing Foundation gala become an event that raises over $10 million in one night. Hear the importance of truly internalizing the mission of your organization. Contact Brady at brady@africanccf.org

Tell us about you and your history with the Starkey foundation.
Son of a preacher, that tells you something, watch out! I grew up in Long Island, New York. Out of college I was a history major.  Thought I was going to be a history teacher and coaching football and baseball because I was drafted out of high school to play professional sports with baseball. Wound up hurting my arm, thank God for that. I met my wife, and have my kids and have my beautiful family now.
Out of college I really got into the non-profit management world right off the bat.  1993, it’s coming on 25 years already, that I’ve been doing this work. For me it’s always been about passion, purpose, and what’s the impact you’re going to make. It’s about the heart, the dignity, the respect, and showing people value and self-worth.
Out of college I started off in education for a few years. From there I quickly moved to a non-profit that was providing about 1500 families in Long Island, New York with autism, developmental disabilities, and the whole spectrum. I became a lead advocate for children and adults who wouldn’t have that opportunity otherwise. Think about that. Not just raising money, cause that’s not what it’s about, yes raise the money that’s the end goal. How do you become and advocate for these people how do you define your purpose, passion to make impact. At the end of the day a lot of it has to do with the cultivation, the stewardship, and ultimately the friend-raising which we will talk about. Did that for about 8 1/2 years.
About that time, I decided it’s time to go back to my roots, I’m from Minnesota. We moved with my wife and three daughters to Minnesota. I was at a University over at the Northwestern Health Sciences University, formerly the College of Chiropractic, one of the leaders in a natural approach to health. When I came into the role as a chief development officer, they had nothing going on. It was grass-roots, no communication.
When you look at development and fundraising it’s never really about just the development attack at all, it’s more about how you communicate how do you develop the relationships and get people on board. I did that for 7 1/2 years. What had happened, I was doing an event at Hazeltine National Golf Club, it was called the president’s invitational.  It wound up becoming one of the larger events for golf. 5 years into that the board had said “Hey what’s another non-profit here locally that’s doing good work here, nationally, and globally.” And I said, “That’s a good question, you tell me, I’m new to Minnesota” There’s all these wonderful groups out there and there was one guy on the board that said, “You should share money with the Starkey Hearing Foundation.” I chuckled, not in a bad way,  in a way, “yeah right these guys raise about 2 million in a gala. I don’t know if they are going to want to get involved with us”. Next thing you know he explains to me, “Well did you realize the first chiropractic patient that was ever treated was a guy by the name of Harvey Lillard. He had his spine adjusted to help with hearing loss. Every chiropractor in the world knows that message.”
That began a strategic partnership with The Starkey Hearing Foundation and Northwestern Health Sciences University and the foundation. I never knew that five years later I’d go to work for the Starkey Foundation. Well 5 years fast forward I got to connect with Bill and Tani Austin who I consider a father and mother to this day. They’ll always be family to me. When I began with them Bill and Tani Austin were doing great work they were helping anywhere from 25,000-40,000 hearing aids a year. In one years time, what I was able to do because Bill was so laser focused really connecting to the patient, connecting that back to life through hearing.  I started turning over the rocks of opportunity. If you think about who Bill Austin is as a man, he is someone who is changing not just the community but the world. And there’s a lot of people that want to help. I was the guy who started to develop the opportunities. There was a meteor storm of opportunities that started coming to our plate. I was starting to get calls seemed like every other week whether it was Ethiopia, or the West Bank, and the heart of the Arab Springs called to say can we help. It became not just a hearing mission to help the people but a mission of peace and understanding.  It grew where President Clinton, part of the whole Clinton Global Initiative, Starkey Hearing made a commitment to do a 100,000 hearing aids annually through the decade. It was amazing to see to see how this last year that was already fulfilled.
The Starkey Hearing Foundation has gone to a whole different level. I appreciate what you said about me earlier about how I’ve created this and I’ve created that to be honest with you I believe in the philosophy Bill Austin believes.  Alone you can only do so much, really together you can make a difference. For me it’s about collective impact. That’s how the fundraising/friend-raising really works. Connecting the dots, dotting the I’s crossing the T’s, and figuring out how you take the landscape of where you need to be at a future point so you have true sustainability moving forward. We’ve done it in a variety of ways. When I started with the Starkey Gala they were raising millions of dollars and it seemed like each year it started to grow and grow and grow. As a lot of that connectivity, that friend-raising, doing the cultivation of the relationships, stewarding those relationships, and ultimately there’s a conversion point. For me it’s not just about this fancy proposal that you are going to give someone, when you really connect with a donor, at whatever level, they really believe in it. It will be sustainable and its going to be transformational for many years to come.
That foundation event has grown to a different level, it’s raised millions. The Starkey gala is a weekend of passion and purpose to make a difference. You see this global event that’s right here in Minnesota, they come from all over the world. That really is a testament to who Bill and Tani Austin really are.  They don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk. That’s been really easy to help promote it, it’s not selling, it’s promoting it to people who care who want to make a difference.  50% of that audience comes from around the world. They converge on Minnesota for a weekend. They’ve honored everyone. That weekend has become an inspiration it has really catapulted to a different level. The momentum has grown to a different level. We’ve been able to build and army, if you will, of ambassadors who are ambassadors of change and for good who really want to see a transformational impact on the world. Today that has grown to such a level under Bill and Tani Austin that they have sustainable programs in the world. When I started there were “x” amount of countries now there in 5 continents, in 103 countries.  What I’m most proud of in my 10 year career is that they now have sustainable community based hearing healthcare programs that also provide after care services in 62 of those countries. Starkey has shown that they can do the work its become a world hearing health plan that is being accepted by even governments around the world.
When I’m thinking of taking an event to a new level, how do you create an environment that attracts the right people to sit in your audience?
A lot of it has to do with introductions, a lot of research.  As you’re connecting with the networks involved you have to understand what people really believe in.  They have to understand what your purpose, mission, and vision are about. They have to know if they are going to get involved the money is going to be used for the right reasons. That’s been very clear, I’ve always been involved in all these organizations where I knew the money was going to go right back into it, there’s low overhead. 80 cents to the dollar non-profit standards is an A rating , I could tell you it was way above with Starkey.  A lot of it has to do with the connectivity of the donors as well. Not just the donors by the way because all people can help at different levels. Theres that 80/20 rule, I actually call it 90/10– 10% of the people giving 90% of the money. What about the masses of the people as well. They can help in a different way, shape, and form as well. You have to be able to connect with the people they have to understand. When you’re doing an event it takes a team to do what you’re doing, you’ve got 100’s of volunteers, in the case of Starkey.  You have to be able to work and manage with all of them. You have to be able to articulate the message, you have to be able to use the PR the Marketing expertise of the teams that are around.  The social media impact, I talked earlier about some of these celebrity ambassadors, they got platforms that will scare you. I don’t care if its 500 to a million, to 50 million. We’ve had them all step up to say, “How can I help?”  they might not write that 15-20 thousand dollar check that’s fine.  They can say “Today was one of the best days of my life, I got to see what it’s like for a child to hear.  And what it’s like for the future of that person’s life”. There’s a lot of social media with calls to action. On the marketing, PR, and social media sides of things the friend-raising permeates not just through donors but also through PR, the media, tv, and radio stations. There’s an opportunity like this for me to use a platform to get the information out.
When you know you are going to have world-class guests, how do you create the environment and experience that is world-class for them?
It’s from the moment they step off the plane or get out of the car, or in the case of the Starkey Hearing galas, a lot of it had to do with the weekend of events. When you get to that size of an event you need people who can host their experience along the way, getting them from event to event, being able to have them understand what the message is and the purpose of the weekend to make that impact and how they can help articulate that. They become in the case of the Starkey Hearing Foundation hearing angel ambassador for that weekend.  They are there to put that message out, because it’s going to raise more awareness and support for what you are doing.  That person who sponsors or buys a ticket, who comes to the event, from the moment they come, once they get on the red carpet of the Starkey Foundation Gala to the top of the steps after their registration and see what’s going on with the silent auction, knowing exactly where to go, how they can actually be able to support that evening.
What was the turning point for you and your gala?
When I came in, they already had the celebrity.  That factor was already there, they already had the celebrity factor as a testament to who Bill and Tani Austin are. For me it was about how do we develop the sponsorship level, taking things to a different level with sponsors. I started to reach out who is the network that is around what Starkey and the Foundation is really about. Who is involved, and it’s just a matter of someone being their 365, 24/7 really hitting the pavement. I start to worry if I’m sitting behind the desk. You have to get out and be able to look in their eyes so they understand.  It’s also about getting out.  I needed to be out in the trenches, myself. It’s one thing to give a fancy proposal, it’s another thing to be able to say “I’ve been in the trenches.  I’ve seen what’s it’s like for a son to be able to hear for the first time and the mothers crying because it’s the first time she’s heard her son say I love you”. Those are the testimonials you have to share. I was spending 4 to 5 to 6 months of the year doing that stuff. It made my job a lot easier when you are able to get out there and be able to identify who those networks and people are.
Next thing you know the Minnesota Vikings hear about the work we are doing.  They get involved in some of the local work we are doing.  Next thing you know the Minnesota Twins are getting involved in different levels. The Minnesota Wild, and so on and so forth. So you hit the sports market and you hit all different levels. It’s about caring and sharing and they understand from the top down what the purpose and mission are. It’s important for donors and those involved to see impact reports. Beyond just the intro point to the cultivation, to the stewardship, to the conversion, the thank you is the most important thing.  I’m the guy who’s going to be calling you from Rwanda or texting you to say, “thinking about you right now, I just wanted to say thank you. What I’m doing right now you made that happen.” Your investment at all levels, its important how you engage that.  It could be a school super intendant to a principal to whatever is mobilizing people to get behind what you are trying to do.  There are multi-lateral versions of fundraising that can be done in all different channels and ways. You always have to be on that, moving those, prioritizing, and re-prioritizing, make sure you’re moving the ball forward. It’s like Bill said you can hit some singles and doubles and sometimes it might not work , no is never a no, They might say, “I can’t do the event this year but I can next year” “I can’t do this, but I can do that.” And that’s ok, for the Starkey Foundation hearing was the platform. Now I’m on a different platform where we’ve actually gone to a different level of the whole circle of life, but at the end of the day it’s important that you really stay on that. They understand that you cultivate that steward that and move forward.
What are you doing now?
It’s been an amazing journey, I’m the CEO of what’s called the African Community and Conservation Foundation.  The patron is a guy by the name of Paul Tudor Jones, he’s out of Connecticut. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Robin Hood Foundation, it’s a foundation he started that raises overall about 60-90 million to knock out poverty and homelessness in New York. I’m not working for the Robin hood Foundation, but Mr. Jones has these properties throughout Africa, but what I’m doing is “blessing the rains in Africa” Toto/Weezer style. Ultimately on a circle of life programs. I’m a big believer of wild life management, I believe in conservation, I believe in anti-poaching. I would not have left the Starkey Hearing foundation just for that. I would have written a check for that, and everything else.  Add the circle of life to that where you are doing human impact programs, where you are providing clean safe water, education where you can give them the tools they need to be able to get jobs and care for their families. You talk about health issues, whatever it may be. That’s what I just spent that last couple of weeks on, doing needs assessments in these areas where they are surrounding the properties there. I”m on the non-profit side of it there.
We are laser focused on everything from scholarships to English immersion to all different things, safe homes for little girls who need it. We won’t have time on this to talk about it all. You talk about what’s going on with the poaching, it’s a terrible issue. They are slaughtering elephants, they are slaughtering rhinos taking the ivory for medicinal, or jewelry. It’s a terrible thing. My whole purpose is to focus on the coexistence of wildlife and humanity and the circle of life. Were doing it not just in Tanzania were spreading out throughout Africa. I’m not going to just leave there. What were doing is expanding into Rwanda, Zambia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. That’s where I spent the last couple of weeks, seeing the property and the surrounding.  We are going to the Robin hood thing in the surrounding.
Africa has been a second home to me with the Starkey Foundation. I know Africa very well. It’s been nice to see the needs and the basic necessities of clean water, education, food, agriculture.  You give them the fish feed them for the day, teach them to fish feed them the lifetime.  It’s about empowerment. Starkey Foundation’s done a good job on the hearing side of that. There’s a menu of options to get engaged. Even though we’re in Minnesota or the USA this is a hot topic when you talk about the wildlife side the conservation side. Many great organizations are doing great work in the area, I won’t mention names but they don’t have the twist of the circle of life. That’s where I was really interested in being apart of this and taking that to a different level. Our goal is to take this to a level where it becomes a household name, not just in the US but around the world. I’m spending a lot of time  going around the world and finding those people who have an interest to make a difference in the circle of life program.
You are also getting ready to use your expertise of events as a fundraiser…
Events have been and amazing platform for us. We’ve had third-party events where rather than me put the expense into it, people say I want to host events for you. For example Liberty on the Lake, coming up this next year. We are excited for the opportunity there, we will be looking at the anti-poaching side. At the same time all different types of events. There’s a lot of these donors, friend-raisers if you will, people come to me and say listen I want to host and event, encumber the expense make it happen so all the revenue we can raise can go right back into the sustainability and transformation of the circle of life programs in Africa. We are bringing a lot of people on what I call a Safari with a purpose, you get to go see some of these properties that are off the charts, I’m not going to lie to you. More importantly, not just about that, rather get out into the community. Yeah see the animals one day, but lets follow the K-9 unit and go look for some poachers.  It’s almost like riding around with the sheriff if you will.  The next day you can go do another safari then lets see what the water programs are doing, let’s go to a school, lets see one of the safe homes where these little girls are living, see what your investment’s making into their life’s that’ll have a future. At the same time, we have a lot of small business enterprise programs there as well. Events will be very key to us.  We are looking to do more events there a lot people in the twin cities that have asked to do events. I love to deal with a lot the event planners, I know they have a lot of great expertise in these areas. I know this is something that will become a household name, not just in this area, but throughout the US as well.
If we don’t start addressing the situation through what we are doing there will be two things: the extinction of animals, these beautiful animals that we will lose.  I can tell you in Tanzania alone, where our property is, there was one rhino there in February.  In the 1970’s they had a thousand, two thousand rhinos there. One at our property, the 2nd one came from the San Diego zoo yesterday.  It’s brand new news that’s going out and it’s going viral. Next year we’re looking at reintroducing 8 to 10.  Then eventually 12. So those 14, when they eventually get there will make up 10% of the entire Tanzania population. Then you talk about the poaching of the elephants. We’re going to have the extinction of the animals, and that can’t happen.  We are counteracting that with anti-poaching units, there’s drone programs that Mr. Allen’s been involved with that are going out to help find and stop the poachers. At the same time we don’t want to lose Africa.  Africa is a jewel.  Whether you’ve been to Africa or not, or whether you never go to Africa, we can’t lose Africa. You talk about the whole human-wildlife conflict and you talk about what’s happening with the density of all the population in Africa we need to start addressing these issues and the needs assessments that are on the ground in these areas.
For the people who want to be apart of it and get involved how can they do it?
We are launching our website which will go live 10/19.  We are also going viral on a whole announcement on the brand. There’s a variety of ways. You don’t have to be a major donor to get involved.  you can sponsor a mission, we’ve had families to say I don’t have the money but I want to go. I’ve got vehicles and platforms for them. We’re doing peer-to-peer fundraising model where we have what’s called Everyday Hero.  We customize an a site.  You talk about social media kids go nuts, they can raise their way to go.  I’m looking at the schools we went to last week in Africa, where the schools want to see what American schools look like from an African perspective.  I’m creating connectivity between the two. We’re going to work with all the schools here locally and were going to hit this hard where the schools can see what Africa is about and what they are doing. We have the sponsorships levels for people to get engaged. There’s number of ways people can get engaged. Our website is africanccf.org
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Event and Video Production

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