Non Profit

Mission Centered Events that will Change your Life

Ever wanted to know how to weave your vision throughout your organization? We were joined this week by Gwendolyn Cowle of Feed My Starving Children. She shares how they have been able to encapsulate their vision in all their events and create an engaging gala. 

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

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
Meeting Minds by EideCom

Raise More By Spending More

Hear about the story of Goodwill, why your giving matters, and how you can take what they’ve learned and use it to impact your event. Shannon from Goodwill joins us in the studio.

Shannon, the director of Philanthropy.

What is goodwill, what is easter seals?

For goodwill, we are a member of goodwill international incorporated , across the whole world. For easter seals we are an affiliate. The difference is GW, most people know us through our stores, we collect your stuff and sell it for revenue. The original model was started by Edgar, he went around to wealthy people and knocked on their doors and asked if they had old broken stuff. He took people that were poor in his church and taught them how to fix it for revenue. He used the revenue to help lift them out of poverty, that is still our model, we don’t do the fixing stuff anymore. Our CEO likes to say if you’ve been to one goodwill you’ve been to goodwill. Ours might me different from those across the nation but still the same concept. 

Is it a division of the national, funded by or connected?

Being a member you do get some support through GW, mostly through the retail stores. We get some marketing support, you’ve probably heard our ads, “Take me to Goodwill”. 

Before envelopes were self-sealing, you had to seal them, so Easter Seals started by sending those so they could seal the envelope so people would know they gave to ES. It was the first marketing campaign in a way. They do a lot of advocacy work around vets, people with autism, and people with disabilities. 

Tell us about what you do?

GW is an interesting organization. We have this massive retail side that people are familiar with. People are confused why we are collecting donations. 

Before we started recording we talked about the investment in the event.

This was our 12th year of our event.  When it started it was the idea of friend-raiser. Sometimes people take that idea and forget about the fund. You have to tell the people to come and bring your wallets. It’s ok to say we are having a fundraiser and expect you to bring people that will bring money. When they first started they didn’t really identify what this event was going to be. Kind of staff appreciation, kind of inviting partners and they didn’t make an ask, just hoped people might want to give.  That never works. Hope is never a strategy!  After a few years people felt more comfortable with it being a fundraiser. About three years ago was the first time we put on the invitation signature fundraiser event. 

We are seeing a lot of changes in the non profit fundraisers, what is the mentality you are using when approaching the growth, how are you keeping your mindset in tune with the investing and growth?

You have to know what you’re telling them that you can back it up. What we did was hiring an outside agency to do some donor focus groups. We knew what they were looking for.

  1. Education
  2. Mission connection
  3. Community

We have three events and know the three important things and each event focuses on each one.  This event is the mission event, everything is mission focused and we don’t need to muddy the water with the other things. I can go to leadership and say this is what we know about our audience.

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Twitter:The Meeting Minds

Next Level Fundraising with Children’s Cancer Research Fund

Jim Leighton, VP of Events and Partnerships, and HaiVy Thompson, Director of Marketing and Community Engagement from Children’s Cancer Research Fund, join us today to share how they are changing the game of fundraising! In this episode you will learn what makes an event an experience, how to tell a story, and a special premier of CCRF’s big announcement!



One of the key things is that we put it into our value statement. One of our values as an organization is innovation. Our team and all of our partners, they know that. We are not afraid to innovate. Personally, I get bored. I don’t want to do the same thing every year. We have the great opportunity to create and play a little bit. Because we are in the non-profit space, we know we have to be cost-effective and money does matter. But you never know where the best next thing is going to come from! We have to diversify. Our event can’t just stay in the ballroom, so we play in the digital and virtual space. Innovation is at our core.

Also, we get so energized by our donors, our fundraisers, the kids, and the families we work with. We get so much inspiration from them to keep pushing ourselves year after year.


We start by thinking about what are some compelling stories that are happening with our families right now. We get so much inspiration from the things they are dealing with in their cancer journey. Even when the journey is complete and they are living post-cancer, there are a lot of challenges that come with that. We stay close with our families and we learn a lot from them. Then, we talk to our researchers and ask them what they are doing, what they are excited about, and what is new and different that donors might really enjoy hearing about. We take that and start there. Then, with all the event components, we ask how can we weave that into each and every moment whether that be a gala or a walk/run.

Impact in our world is challenging to show. Impact takes a long time. Research takes a long time. One of the things at CCRF we pride ourselves on is the time from bench to bedside. Because we focus on certain research we have had some situations where that has been greatly shortened and then we can tell that great story! In research it can be decades before we get to clinical trials. So instead of asking people to give money now and see their result in 30 years, we focus on those things that have had a greater impact in a shorter amount of time. We build those relationships with the researchers to share those stories.


Thank you so much. We think about all of the ways people are engaging. All of the senses. The one we haven’t figured out is smell, but we will get it.

In 2007 we had a mom share her story and it was so impactful (tune in to hear the story!). That was the moment in my career that I said, “Authentic storytelling. How can we continue to tell these stories?” And then we started assembling a team. So now with HaiVy and her marketing team, our partners (who are so important because we need people to amplify that story and craft it) we really put stories and mission at the forefront of every event.

A few years ago, we took the guests on an experience that the children go through. So going back to the five senses, we wanted people to experience an MRI, because that is something a lot of the kids have to go through and it is really scary for them. You have to lay really still and go through this dark tunnel. So we worked with you guys, EideCom, to really build the sound for that and we dimmed the lights and we got people to experience what an MRI feels like to signify how challenging the journey is for families, and kids especially, and that their support makes it possible so that this doesn’t have to happen in the future. That was really cool because it involved all the senses. We want to give the guests something truly memorable that they can share with their families and friends tomorrow.

We can’t do any of this without our partners. You need to have partners you can trust. Like you guys, EideCom, were so onboard with our MRI idea and you made it possible. There was a lot of things that could have gone wrong!


It’s about relationships. Great relationships with the researchers. Then, collaborations. We have a great collaboration with a group of moms called Momcology. This group is made up of 6,000 women across the country that have the unfortunate common ground of having a child with cancer. We have people on our team involved with that, listening to what is going on. The first thing in sharing a great story is that you have to listen. Then, we think how can we effectively share that story. One thing we are being more cognizant of is utilizing digital and social media, figuring out how we can tell these stories before we get into the ballroom and how do we continue the conversation after they leave the ballroom?

The other thing to add is that we have invested resources into relationships and listening. You can’t just go out and find a great story. You have to have relationships with families, researchers, caretakers, and then those stories bubble up over time. So that is the number one thing I recommend a lot of marketing teams to do, invest in an outreach person.


Definitely! One that we have retold and has new chapters to expound on is Mindy. Her son, Connor, has a brain tumor and she now works for us, but in the mid 2000s we featured her story at Dawn of a Dream and a few other marketing places. Connor was a baby at that point and had a few treatments for his cancer already. Then, a decade later things started to change. The after effects of all the treatments cause him to start having seizures. And for the past ten years his family was thinking they had conquered the cancer and they would be fine, and all of sudden the reality hits again. We shared that story.


This is about guest experience, not necessarily story telling. We look at everything about the event afterwards and we see what worked, what should be tweaked, and what didn’t go well. So for us, we will always have a live auction because it works. We really want to focus on the things that will have to most impact because again we don’t have a lot of money. Some organizations like to do things new every year and go to a new venue every year. And for us, well next year we are going to a new venue, but it has been 15 years at the same place! To us it is important to have consistency with our partners so you can make those impactful changes. One thing we try to change-up is how we tell the story. So not just through video, but through live interviews, live talent, etc. We try to switch it up so you have a variable of experiences throughout the night. We have found that in person story telling is something magical. The thing about focusing on the things that work, know who your audience is. It doesn’t matter if we are bored. Just because we might be bored with it, doesn’t mean our audience is!

We also think about the morning after. I call it “the Caribou experience.” I want someone who has attend our gala for the first time to talk about the event they were at last night when they go to the coffee shop the next morning. If they say, “I was at a great event last night,” that’s good but I’m sure they say that about a lot of events. I want them to explode with passion. So we really think about what we want that Caribou conversation to be when we are crafting the message and planning the event. If all they can recall is the dinner and drinks and not the actual message, we had them there as a guest, not a donor.

Awareness and story telling is all a way to get funds raised. Raising as much money as we can is the key to all of this. Experience matters to fundraising, so when we have a new team member or partner I talk about the guest walking into the room. Say that guest has $500 in their pocket. Every time they have a bad experience, like valet takes too long, there goes a $100. So we don’t play games like that. It takes the whole team to be involved in making every experience matter. Registration has everything to do with revenue. All the little things combine to make a major difference.


In gala situations, talk to your table hosts. Who is it they are bringing? We are working on personas of our gala guests. There are a few assumptions we make, like they are from the Twin Cities or the west metro and they probably go to a gala a month. So we need to step up our game. But what excites them? What are the types of things that they want to do? This is a group of people who, for the most part, can buy what they want. But maybe they weren’t thinking of going on a trip to Australia, but trips sell! There is a lot of talk about balance, like there has to be something for the sports person or this or that, but for us we know trips are going to do well. So I’m not going to put in a Nascar experience, because there might only be one or two people in the room that care about that.


We know about our demographic. They like first class. If you don’t include it, they will probably upgrade anyways but be crabby about it. So it’s all about knowing your audience. If we were doing an event at a school or a smaller event, we wouldn’t do luxury trips. Also, it’s about collaboration like we said. We have an amazing partnership with a luxury travel company, Travel Beyond. Since 2010 we’ve been working with them to curate these trips. We trust them and they are excited about what we are doing. We sit down with them and they tell us what is hot and trending. They also do such a great job at selling the trip that night. They come up with the description, they will speak about it, they truly work with us in our event.


This is something I’ve grown on. Raise the money before you get in the room. You don’t know what is going to happen that night. We raise the most money through our Fund a Need, a direct ask. So as a fundraiser and human, that makes me feel really good, because the donors are not getting anything out of it. These people are giving purely philanthropical. But that doesn’t happen without us doing our homework and building relationships and asking for that money. We can try to control the experience and event, but we can’t control the weather. So what if we had an event on a snow storm and people didn’t show up? You have to build your relationships and get as much money raised as possible beforehand.

I would say we raise more than half of our goal beforehand. Our live auction does do really well but we know some people like to donate privately. We are very conscientious about that. We have a rule with our auctioneer, never call out a person’s name. We want to give recognition, but not too much.


So this is more than just what’s happening with the gala. As an organization, we are getting about 50% of our revenue from partnerships and events. So it can’t just be the gala. One of the biggest things we did is we invested in this peer-to-peer fundraising. That is a whole different fundraising conversation. It is not about logistics or people in the room, it is about where we are with fundraising. We created an opportunity for people to not have to be in the ballroom. It is the Great Cycle Challenge. They ride their bike anytime in the month of June and they set their mileage and fundraising goal. We engage volunteers to fundraise for us all over the country. This started in 2015, and in the first year we raised 1.7 million dollars. It is extremely effective and it allows us to play and be a little more creative on the other events. It is all possible because of digital! We leverage Facebook and social media. 10 years ago this would not have been possible. It is really cool to be able to take advantage of the new audiences. We get to expose ourselves and give other people the chance to know us all over the country, which is really cool.

The funds are raised all digitally. For scope, the first year we raised that 1.7M and this last year we were at 6.8M. We had 50,000 people participating and of that 15,000 fundraised. We couldn’t employ 15,000 people across the country, so we are now engaging volunteer fundraisers to do the work we couldn’t do. As an organization we pay attention the trends. Our legacy is the gala, we started as a gala, and could easily be a nice organization that does really great events here in the Twin Cities, but the trends led us to opportunities else where. We are now a national event organization. That was four years ago and now we are asking, “Now what? What’s next?”


From the moment they get invited to the event, we want the experience to start there. For us it is a lot of careful planning and making sure it is authentic to our brand. So before the invitation even arrives, they are hearing from us via email or social media or whatever. We want to make sure that when that invite arrives it is consistent to what they have been hearing from us throughout the year. So that to us is the most important thing. We want to set the tone for what they will be experiencing. That is something we want to build on for our next gala. How can we get people really excited? We want to set the theme. Right away there needs to be a key message. When they walk into the room that night or pull up to the valet, we don’t want them to be surprised. We want them to be delighted, not shocked that they walked into this thing they weren’t expecting. So it starts long before they purchase a ticket.

Once they are in the room, it is utilizing decor in different ways to lead them on that journey. We have been partners with BeEvents for years and they know how to create a space authentic to what we are looking for. They create focal points, not just little things all over. Sometimes it is using the stories to fill the room with decor. Some years we’ve had like an art gallery of children’s faces. We’ve turned technical problems into an art installation. It is really important we have great partners out there doing amazing things because they bring back new ideas to us! We do a good job of asking our partners to do that. We don’t have a laundry list of what we need. We like to empower them and give them creative freedom, because they are the experts, not us.


This all started a little while ago, and it started as a resource conversation. We ask a lot of our marketing team and donor services, so we were looking at our calendars to see what we could move around so they weren’t feeling such a crunch. We want to allow the marketing team to have the time to do everything well. So I was trying to figure out what we completely control, because we do a lot of partnership events that we don’t have full control over, like golf tournaments, radio shows, etc. And the thing that came to mind was the gala. We decided to move the gala from November, which it has been for 15-20 years, to the spring. This can be a bit risky, because it is a more competitive season, but makes more sense for us and our resources. Then, we though about our venue. We have been at The Depot for a long time, it’s great and we love it! But we heard of this great new venue that people are really excited about and we wanted to be part of it, so we started the conversation with The Armory. So I went to the space and I realized it might not really work for all the things we usually do, because it is more of a concert space. So I thought maybe it’s time for some national entertainment. I went to The Armory with the idea of doing dinner and then a concert, and they weren’t really onboard. A few weeks later we were talking and they brought up the idea! It was great. We started talking about it and I realized I had no idea how we were going to do it, because we are bringing in now two different groups of people. We have our core audience that will attend the dinner, but then we want to bring in up to 5,000 other people for the concert! We now have the former producers of Macy’s Glamorama that are working with us to produce this! We feel comfortable with them and their experience.

We are so excited, because our audience for the gala is getting younger. We see younger people in the room and in the analytics. We wanted to be able to build a new experience to match the new generation of donors and attract new people. I believe this plan that we have is going to help us achieve those goals.

The last part of our transformation was the name. Does Dawn of a Dream still make sense? So the team got together and brainstormed. We realized there are a lot of hurdles and sensitivities we have to be aware of with changing the name, but at the end of the day we are producing a new event. So on Saturday, April 27th, at The Armory you will see the debut of Dream.


We still have the website,, which would be the place to go. We will be announcing talent around December or January. It’s challenging because we are a non-profit producing this concert so we have to get the right price. Cost per dollar raised is the key we go by. We do have a dream team put together that have good connections though! So be on the lookout for that.

This is an event you will not want to miss! Check out for more info and for more about Children’s Cancer Research Fund.


Meeting Minds by EideCom

Fundraising Tricks To Raise More Money

In this first episode, Charles meets with Shauna Brick and Sara Meyer of the American Heart Association to discuss maximizing a non-profit fundraiser. This episode covers everything from the strategy for pricing gala tickets to the use of alcohol. We also talk about live auctions, audience reactions, show flow, and entertainment for your guests.




We, American Heart Association, are a national organization and we run much like a corporate business. We work a lot with sales and budgeting. Our gala is successful because we are so driven by the numbers.



A couple of things. Sometimes when you look at who is going to be the Chairman(s) for our event, we have big C-Suite executives and it has to work with their schedule. Also, the venue. We have over 700 attendees and we need a space that will accommodate that. Plus, when we are trying to raise 1.8 million dollars, we need a beautiful venue! *link to donate below* Also, since we live in Minnesota, the majority of our guests are snowbirds, so they leave for 6 months of the year, and unfortunately November falls into that time. So we moved it up two months earlier! Which really can throw of our timeline, because that is two months that we no longer have to fundraise and plan. Our goal is $300,000 higher than it was last year, so those two months would be amazing to have, but we know our audience and know this event, so we are not too worried! *Shauna has been with AHA as their Gala Coordinator for seven years! Sara was there for five, left, then came back, and is coming up on her seventh year!



It ranges depending on the organization, but AHA is very corporate heavy. So when you look at the audience and who is in the room that night, a lot of it comes from the corporations in the community, like U.S. Bank. We are raising about $300,000 tops on the night of. Majority of the money comes from sponsorships and donations beforehand. Even though we love monetary surprises, we want to make sure that we have done our due diligence of sharing what the mission is and where the donations are going. The more planning and less surprises the better, because people’s lives are in our hands. The expenses alone are what you are going to make the night of, give or take. I think it would be irresponsible of us to gamble on raising all the money the night of.



First and foremost, it is not something you plan for 2-3 months. It is a process. People often ask us what we plan on doing now that the gala is over and we are shocked, because there is still so much work to be done and we have the next one to plan! We are always looking out 2-3 years. The individuals you want chairing your event are so busy, so we need to plan years in advance. Especially, if you have a large fundraising goal. We couldn’t do any of this without our amazing volunteers. We need those volunteers and C-Suite executives to spread that awareness. It is our job to help them sell the mission to their friends, because this is not their full time job, it is ours.

FUNDRAISING TIP: Have monthly check ins with all of your executive leadership team members. Simply, a 15 minute call asking them who are the ten people they are going to call this month. We will even create the message (email) and send it to them as a template for them to send to others, then we check in with those people and “close” the deal. Also, their assistants need to become your best friend so treat them well!!! We like to be pleasantly persistent.



It seems like a lot of people like to be a jack of all trades, but for us, we have a team of three for the Gala. The three of us cannot do what this event entails without great volunteers. The night of and weeks leading up, we are reminding them how valuable they are to us and we set up specific leads. Someone to lead registration, ballroom set up, etc. You need a specific lead to be there if anything was to arise and you NEED to prep them! No amount of communication is too much and no amount of information is too much. You are putting your event and goal in their hands, they need to know everything.



We pick the veterans, the ones who have been at the gala a few times, and we sit down with them prior to the event, either for coffee or at the office, and we run though everything. I give them all the materials they need to be successful. For example, our auction room. Our goal is to raise $160,000 that night and if I’m putting out fires left and right I cant be there to talk to John from XYZ Organization about the next auction item coming up and getting him excited about it. So I need to make sure that the key volunteer knows the lay of the land, like where the online auction person is or what the vacation parameters are around the vacation home in Mexico, etc. It may be overkill in the beginning but it is worth it. These meetings happen about a month out and then again two weeks before, and then the leads need to arrive even earlier the day of than the guests and other volunteers. You need to realize that just because you’ve been planning this event for eleven months and you know all about it, doesn’t mean your volunteers do. Give as much information as you can and delegate as much as you can.



Continuously! We learn every year. For example, we changed how we did check out a couple years ago to make it more efficient. At least we tried. To the three of us it made perfect sense, but we weren’t there when people were trying to check out and it was absolutely chaos.

TIP: Keep your guests’ experience in mind the whole time. From the moment they reach the valet to when they check out or leave the valet. What is the first thing they see? It is all about the details. Have a glass of champagne being passed during check in. Just like any event, there is a general flow to the event, which is why the details matter so much in helping you stand out. It changes everything. Put yourself in their shoes.



In the past 7 years our registration has dramatically improved. It used to be ‘stand in this line, carry your program, carry the seven other things we have for you, etc.’ Now, our guests do not get any of that. You can go to any computer or open line, and you don’t even get a program anymore. You get a little card with your table number, because everything is on your phone!

TIP: Don’t be afraid to look into mobile bidding. Mobile bidding is your friend! For years we used BidPal, but now we use Greater Giving.

We also have volunteers to show you where to go. Then, at your table is where your program is, your bidder number, etc. We don’t want them holding anything but their phone and a glass of whatever. These are little pieces that make a huge impact on your guest’s experience. What are the experiences your guests can have? Also, be sure to change your experiences! Some people are going to galas every weekend. In the past we have had bright lights hitting the valet so our guests feel like stars when they walk in. Last year we had a gorgeous coffee station, Girl Friday helped us set it up. And as our guests were leaving we had these cups made with our logo and all of our sponsors logos that would be working with us next year. It was a take home gift that everybody loved! The guests loved it because it was pretty and who doesn’t love a take home gift? And our sponsors loved it because it was getting their name out there. For some, that coffee was that extra little push to get sponsors on board for next year. And now sponsors that weren’t on it, want to be on it!

Last year, when we were trying to get our donors on board before the night of the event, we had this beautiful wine wall, where you could “buy” a bottle and have it engraved in memory of the person you were there for. Then, you received it in a beautiful bag on your way out. It was great!

We will caution you to be careful with your changes. You know your audience and you know what they like. So if you change up the auctioneer, for example, it can be really hard on your guests because it eventually becomes endearing to them.



For sure. It breaks up the program. Some years, our survivor stories can be pretty heavy. Sometimes non-profits can be “Debbie downers,” but we need to give hope. You have to be very careful with how you tell your stories. We’ve learned that through having people actually leave the room because the video or story was too heavy for them. We love a good tear jerker, but there needs to be hope.

TIP: If you’re going to make a video or share a really heavy story, bring in hope at the end!!! That’s where the money comes from.

You’re walking a fine line and you need to know your audience. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to know everyone and it has taken us years to work up to get a room full of high level executives. We go out before the gala, about a month to a month and a half out and we let them know the importance of who is in the room and that they are there too. We are setting the expectation of who we want in the room with the large company. We talk with our sponsors about Key People. From day one with our Gala Chairman, who this year is one of the EVPs at 3M, we always tell him, it is very important that your CEO is there.

Over the years, our event has gone up in donations exponentially and gone down in size. You need to focus on who is going to be there, because at the end of the day it is about hitting goal for the non-profit.



We don’t rely heavily on ticket sales. We focus more on the big sponsorships. A lot of our tables come from our sponsorships. So with those say four tables, for example, that comes with the sponsorship, we sit down with the sponsor and say, “we want X, Y, & Z at your tables.” We do individually sell tickets, they are $375.



Honestly, nothing. It is a pretty consistent group of people and amount that we raise/sell from tickets. But, everything has to be a strategic decision. We go through the pro’s and con’s. Keep in mind though, you can’t raise the money after the fact. Start high, set the expectation, and put the fundraiser hat on. You always have to think about if this: ________ is going to move the bottom line.



Instead of having the preset desserts, we decided to hold off and did a dessert cart after. That probably held another 100 people than we would’ve ever expected.



Yes, because although planning the event can be very repetitive, there is always something new. Also, it can be very hard to switch from wearing the “Gala hat” to the “Young Professionals event hat” or whatever it may be, because you are not given enough time to really put everything you can into making the event the best it can be. Knowing that the gala is our baby has really helped our organization grow.



It isn’t always money. Our policy is that every single year we are supposed to get three bids on every aspect. But it goes back to our relationships. We have used the same vendors in a handful of different areas because they know us and what we are trying to achieve. They know our goals, our bottom line, our room most of the time, etc. So even though they might come in a little higher at their cost, we know the service they are going to provide.



Well, we have an amazing Senior Communications Director, Elizabeth. And we are thankful that we all know our expertise. We are good at fundraising and planning, but not writing a script. And in some cases, like for some non-profits, you do have to do it all. At the end of the day it is all about the goal and what you need to accomplish. So when we start planning the program, all three of us get together and we all have say! We come from different points of views and it is always interesting. One of the ways we start, is what kind of advocacy wins have we had? What are the things we can celebrate that evening to show the impact that the donations are making? We meet with our survivor and go over expectations and make sure they are comfortable with our expectations.



  1. Warming the room. Like an email to the guests from the survivor or the Chairman and in that email we will share our goal and encourage them to join us in meeting that goal. It prepares people to spend and start talking about it beforehand. It may sound like overkill, but that key messaging is so important. One email will preview the speaker, then the survivor, then the auction, etc.
  2. Alcohol. It gets people relaxed and a little competitive.



We have a balance. When you come, all of our pre-selected beverages are open bar, which is more than just beer and wine. That is open to everyone. Then, when you get to your table there is a bottle of wine, red and white, which we try to get donated by a vendor. We have a great partnership with a company, called Colby Red, that we will be working with. From that point on it is cash bar. Last year, we had a champagne toast at the end to celebrate the night, and I don’t know if there was value in it. But, alcohol in the beginning really loosens people up. We noticed with an open bar all night you have to worry about people being over served and it can be a bit messy. We like to give a little “liquid courage” up front, then let the rest be up to them. Our VIPs, or higher donors, also get a bottle of champagne and we will replenish their wine throughout the night. It goes back to what your overall goal is. Is it to have a party or to raise money?


  • It is not a 2 month event. The gala is a year-round event and we are always looking three years out.
  • Don’t be afraid to lean on your seasoned volunteers that night. The night of you should be the thermometer of the event, seeing what works and doesn’t work.
  • Make the small changes.
  • Know your audience.
  • Don’t forget about the details. Ex. Cards or gifts to your sponsors at the table. You want everyone to feel special and we all work hard for our money and there are tons of different amazing causes out there fighting for that money. Remind them of how much you appreciate them.
  • Build relationships! Don’t only talk to your sponsors once a year when it is time for them to donate.
  • It is important to have POST-event meetings, with your team AND with your vendors. What worked well, what didn’t. They are uncomfortable conversations, but SO necessary.
  • Understand the cadence and the flow of your evening.
  • Put the guest experience first.



Lead with mission and be sincere. And believe in your mission. It’s hard to sell what you don’t care about. Be yourself.



Volunteer! Email to volunteer, donate, or provide connections for AHA. The gala is September 29th, 2018. A Saturday night. It is a black tie event and we are looking for volunteers for everything from the auction room to guest experiences!

Find out all you need to know about the 24th Annual Twin Cities Heart & Stroke Gala HERE.



Meeting Minds by EideCom