Weeks 37-38: Must-Mix-and-Mingle Fundraisers [Score +9 each]
My first memory of volunteering just for the purpose of doing something for the community—not because I would enjoy it or benefit personally—was for a church breakfast over Labor Day weekend when I was in middle school.
My mom made me do it. She made me go to church, too, even though I didn’t like it. But once a year, for the church’s two days of fundraising breakfasts during the local Labor Day weekend festival, she made me volunteer. This meant bussing tables. The first of the two mornings' features was always sausage gravy and biscuits, the other day’s special was pancakes with loads of golden Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup.
I dreaded this volunteer duty. Picking up the messy, half-eaten plates of food, sloppy silverware, and dirty napkins, unable to avoid touching the sticky remnants of syrup along the plates’ edges as I transferred them from table to plastic bin… I’m scarred.
There’s a reason why my first real summer job in high school was doing data entry, not working in food service.
I still can hardly stomach the smell of sausage gravy and biscuits.
I’ve since avoided any and all volunteer duties that involve cleaning up after strangers’ meals. (Serving the food is another matter.) The good news: I’ve found loads of opportunities to volunteer and give back in ways that I find much more enjoyable.
‘Tis the season for fundraising as nonprofits work to secure a bigger budget for impact next year and as taxpayers work to secure a bigger deduction from the IRS. I intrepidly attended two mix-and-mingle fundraising events for different organizations in subsequent weeks, so I’m combining them into a single post today.
Have a Local Beer and Support a Local Charity
First event: A happy hour at Books & Brews, a local craft brewery with nine locations in the Indianapolis area. They whipped up a new coconut-infused cream ale for the occasion, named it “Opportunity Brew”, and donated $1.00 for every pint sold.
The cause: The Hendricks County Community Foundation is a nonprofit in my home county that awards grants to other nonprofits, houses dozens of charitable funds, awards scholarships, and generally works to connect people with the causes they care about.
I’ve been volunteering and donating to this organization for more than a decade. My affinity for the HCCF started when they awarded me a college scholarship, then I interned in their office for two full years while in school. Since then, I’ve volunteered on a couple committees and have donated monetarily.
Aside from the benefit I’ve felt personally, I love that all of the funds donated to this organization stay in my home county and benefit dozens of other worthy organizations.
I knew one friend would be at the fundraiser, but it was really my curiosity about Books & Brews itself that tipped my RSVP from “interested” to “going”.
That, and the social intrepidity it would require of me to go to a happy-hour event, which I normally avoid. So noisy, so much surface-level small talk. (Refer back to part two of this post from August for a refresher.)
The brewery had me with the name alone: books plus beer? I like beer, but mentioning books is a great way to get me in any door. In addition to offering a standard host of beers and a small menu, Books & Brews’ walls were lined with bookshelves full of books for sale at $3.00 each. To solidify its place as a hangout of choice, they also had dozens upon dozens of board games and puzzles patrons can play with friends, family (this brewery is kid-friendly), and no-longer strangers.
Walking in, I had the familiar mild jitters that accompany an introvert’s entrance in which the situation and crowd are unknown. Will my friend still be here? Will I know anyone else? How easy will it be to find them? If I can’t, how long do I have to stay [to get the intrepid points and make my appearance official] before I can escape home?
In this case, the room was small—I think the space used to house a Big Apple Bagel—and the plentiful overhead fluorescent lighting made it easy to scan for familiar faces. My friend, Eric, was a schoolmate in high school and someone who has also spent a lot of time volunteering locally. I looked forward to catching up with him and spotted him quickly.
He’s also an extrovert, a very good person to associate with when you know few others in a crowd: he already knows five times more people and can quickly make friends with anyone.
I got a charitable pint, made some new friends and connections via Eric, and spent most of the evening laughing and sharing harrowing tales of online dating.
Buy Yourself Some Jewelry and Provide Schools for Kids in Central America
Second event: Kendra Gives Back, an opportunity to shop for jewelry and support a good cause.
The cause: Project Alianza, a nonprofit organization founded by my dear friend, Kristin, that is working to build and run schools on coffee farms in rural Nicaragua. [If you’re new here (welcome!), I tamped down my fears this past summer, and I traveled and volunteered with Project Alianza in Nicaragua for a week. I came home with opened eyes, fresh perspective, and lots of stories.]
One day this season, while shopping at the Fashion Mall on Indianapolis’ north side, I found a necklace at Kendra Scott that begged to come home with me. While paying at the register, I noticed a small stack of square cards: the company asked for suggestions of nonprofit organizations it should support. Submit an organization you cared about, along with a contact person, and a representative from Kendra Scott would follow up.
I expected nothing to come of it; in all likelihood, the card would be lost on a desk and never make it to corporate headquarters. But I filled it out anyways, just in case, and submitted Project Alianza for consideration.
To my amazement, Kendra Scott’s local community liaison reached out to Kristin within 48 hours.
Philanthropy is a core tenet of the Kendra Scott brand, and they offered to have a Kendra Gives Back party at the Indianapolis store benefiting Project Alianza. That evening, the store associates would handle all refreshments and offer the space, and 20% of all sales would be donated to the organization. They suggested Kristin bring brochures and photos to tell the story of their work, but nothing else was required.
It took zero arm-twisting to get me to go back to the store and shop for more jewelry. I’d like to take home almost one of everything in the store.
Throughout the evening, I chatted with other volunteers and some board members, met a magnetic woman who’s helping connect Kristin with the local Spanish-speaking community, and got to introduce two great friends to each other.
Small Events Can Lead to Bigger Impact
I don’t imagine that either of these events were big money-makers for HCCF or Project Alianza. But sometimes the value from such an occasion is more in the connections made and awareness generated than in the funds raised on the night in question.
For me, the occasion of supporting two organizations I care about—in ways that didn’t require cleaning up any strangers’ syrupy plates—was more than sufficient incentive to get me out of the house during the holiday rush.
- Did something outside my routine: +1
- Left the house: +1
- Had a conversation with a stranger of at least 30 seconds: +2
- Had a conversation with a stranger beyond basics (i.e., work, hometown, what’s your dog’s name): +2
- Learned someone’s name: +3