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How to Help During the Season of Giving

What's the best way to help charities? How do you set up a fundraiser?

'Tis the season to be jolly and, traditionally, to think of those in need. Charities are counting on the spirit of the season to move people to donate, whether it's spare change dropped in a bucket or the gift of some gently used clothes or toys.

The holiday season is a prime time for donations for nonprofit organizations, whether it's a big-ticket fundraiser gala or a garage sale.

"Around the holidays, I think a lot of organizations have their year-end campaigns," said Laran Hyder, communications director of the Caring for Carcinoid Foundation. "We've seen some increase in donations recently."

Hyder recommends contacting your chosen charity before setting up a grassroots fundraiser event. The organization can offer advice, direction, manpower and other support.

Some of the most successful fundraisers can be very simple, community events. Massachusetts teenager Avra Liverman helped raise $4,000 for the Epilepsy Therapy Project with the fourth annual student Purple Dance with her high school classmates. Between the four dances and a letter-writing campaign, her efforts have raised more than $40,000 to date.

Hyder has heard of people opening their homes to guests for small parties. A few envelopes with donation forms gave guests a chance to make a difference while enjoying some good food with friends.

Online suggestions for how to establish a fundraiser, include:

  • If you don’t already know, decide which charity are you going to raise money for. Which one do you think needs help most? If you are unsure, discuss this with friends and family.
  • Consider opening a bank account if one is not already available and you plan to raise quite a bit of money. This is especially helpful for fundraising events that help a person or family. Put a name on the account that makes it clear what the account is for. For example if you are raising funds for a child who is getting cancer treatment, name the account in the child's honor.
  • Decide what the event is going to be. Ideas are limited only by your creativity. You could choose to hold something traditional, such as a silent auction or a dinner, or you could try something really different, such as a race, a water-fight or even collecting donations while wearing something silly for the whole day. Be creative!
  • Find out if the cause you are championing (person, group, non-profit, etc.) has a list of people that would be open to being contacted. Email is especially useful for contacting many people at the same time, particularly for finding volunteers.
  • Use the contact list to find anybody who has experience with the type of fundraiser you are planning. They don’t have to have been in charge, but any experience will be helpful. This is very helpful is you don’t have any experience!
  • Find a place to hold the event if you don’t already have one. Possible places for large indoor events include schools or halls of fraternal organizations. Find out where other similar events have been held and ask about the availability of those places. Depending on what your event is benefiting, you might get the space donated. You can also use the contact list to ask people for ideas on a place for your event.
  • Tour the facilities to determine if there is adequate space and to find out what supplies are available to use. While touring the facilities consider make a map of the event ahead of time to help avoid any people “traffic” problems, such as lines blocking places needing access.
  • Determine a date and time. Consider things such as when other fundraisers are being held. Choose an end time that takes into consideration time for clean up.
  • Decide what types of payment you will accept. Cash and checks are fairly easy to deal with. Credit cards probably get people to spend more, but they are more complicated to deal with. Also, credit card companies take a percentage of each sale as payment.
  • Check with proper authorities to see if you need to complete any paperwork. (For example, a gaming authority if you plan to hold a raffle or a health authority if you are selling food.)
  • Determine if your event will be free admission or require tickets. If the event requires paid admission, determine prices (single, couple, family) and have tickets made up. Tickets are fairly cheap, so overestimate rather than underestimate the number you need. Also, make a large information sheet for the entrance table that tells people who to make checks out to. Depending on the type of event you might get some friends and family to donate money in return for being allowed to take part.
  • Get the word out. Find out if a local advertising business would be willing to help. Either way, a local newspaper can be helpful. Contact both the advertising department for advertising and the editorial department or a columnist for news coverage of your event. Contact local radio and television stations to see if they will give your event news coverage or offer Public Service Announcements. And use your contact list to have people spread the word via email or any other method they can think of.
  • Make up flyers and post them around the area. If you make a flyer on your computer and know how to make it into a PDF or a JPEG, you can email that to anyone on your contact list willing to print and post flyers.
  • Pre-sell tickets, if you are charging admission. This gives people who can’t make it to the event a chance to donate to the cause. It also can give you an idea of how popular the event might be. (This is helpful when buying supplies.) Volunteers can try to get permission to set up tables at local businesses to sell tickets and accept donations. This is good advertising, too.
  • Get cash for change and a lock box to hold cash and checks as people pay. Consider putting a large bucket at your entrance table with a sign on it that gives people an opportunity to donate more. It works surprisingly well. Watch all money repositories very carefully. Probably nothing will happen, but it would be easy for someone to grab something and run out the door.
  • Start the event! Try and make it as fun as possible.
  • Clean up as much as possible after the event.
  • Give the money you have collected to the charity.

Get in touch with your local Patch editor to help publicize your fundraiser or cause.

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