11.17 Redefining Wealth, Giving Thanks

This weekend at The Stone House, we’re doing a community event and fundraiser called “Redefining Wealth, Giving Thanks.” The inspiration came after I went to a couple of events hosted by other nonprofits in our area that were designed to cultivate donors. These are both organizations I like a lot and that we collaborate with.

The first event was super-fancy in many ways (real nice venue, fantastic food, open bar); the main speaker was excellent and the staff did a heroic job of presenting their work in an exciting and grounded way. The organization has a somewhat radical analysis underlying its issue area but a less political board and somehow they had managed to bridge the two in a way that included everyone. Overall, a successful event, though not the kind we would likely organize given what they spent.

The second event, held the following day, was more disappointing. It was clearly organized around its board and donor base. The atmosphere was stiff and even a bit unfriendly, though I did manage to have a couple of fascinating conversations with people I never would have otherwise met. The programmatic information was offered up in such a dry manner that it was almost felt like a betrayal of the awesome work this group does. I left feeling unfulfilled, hungry for more.

All of this got me wondering about what makes for a successful fundraising event. It can seem like a bit of a conundrum for grassroots organizations if you want to both raise money and throw an event that looks and feels like the work you do. We’ve done many house parties, all in the name of building relationships, and most have not raised a significant sum. I realized that while we have a very small number of higher-wealth folks in our donor base, we’ve really been attempting to redefine what wealth means. (Of course, almost any grassroots organization has its own version of this.) We have a “Friends” program that invites people to become five-year donors, at a level that is significant to them. We have a robust in-kind giving program around our constantly-changing wish list. And we have an enthusiastic group of regular volunteers that help us save on multiple costs.

This weekend’s event is a bit of an experiment. I’ve asked four people we’re in relationship with to speak about what redefining wealth means to them. One is a grassroots activist who ran for U.S. Senate in our state a few years back; her campaign was funded by thousands of “small” donors. Another is a member of the tribal council of our local tribe; her entire perspective on wealth is rooted in cultural survival. A third has an in-depth analysis of capitalism, while the fourth is a real estate agent with a focus on land preservation.

The importance of this event is that it feels like what we do – gather a number of different people and create a container where they can engage compassionately across whatever lines of difference exist. We’ll eat good food from our cooks and do some discussion about the ideas presented. The “ask” will be clear and inviting. My hope is that people will leave having made a gift to us and feeling like they got one back – a taste of our mission that opens the door for deeper relationship.