Rattana Mao and Diana Combs-Selman see their business as a way of giving back – to the people who give back. The founders of R&D Occasions, an event planning service that specializes in nonprofit fundraisers, have come through a lot in their lives. At age one, Mao moved to the U.S. from Cambodia with her family and was inspired by her father as he found his way in a new country. After he died from lung cancer five years ago, Mao wanted to dedicate more time to volunteering as a way to carry on his legacy.
Combs-Selman was once homeless until a Dollar Tree manager offered her a job. From there, she saved enough money to earn her GED and eventually a graphic design degree from TCU.
Mao and Combs-Selman’s paths crossed about four years ago when both were volunteering for Bras for a Cause. Last year, they teamed up to launch R&D, with Mao handling event logistics and Combs-Selman handling graphic design. Since the launch, the duo has worked events for clients like the Salvation Army in Arlington, the Girl Scouts and Fort Worth SPARC.
Here’s their advice for a successful fundraising event:
1. Check community calendars.
When scheduling an event, stay away from conflicts with other events that may draw your guests and potential donors.
“There is always the possibility of an event being scheduled the same day as yours, but no need to panic,” Mao said. “Check local magazine listings and social calendars for key events each month, and then plan accordingly by identifying a possible overlap of guests, sponsors or vendors.”
2. Identify sponsors.
Build a strong donor network, offer sponsor benefits such as a VIP reception, and offer a sponsor’s corporate advertising on your website and social media. Treat them like major gift donors because they are.
“When identifying companies or individuals as potential sponsors, look for those whose mission aligns with the organization’s purpose and vision,” Mao said. “This provides a dual benefit for sponsors while providing additional value of fulfilling their mission.”
3. Don’t bog down your board members with event planning.
Helping to sell tables or tickets by speaking about why they serve on the board, why they love the organization and why guests should come learn more about what it is your organization does is the best use of your board members’ time.
“Your board members can speak more passionately about your organization than any social media ticket promotion of your event,” Combs-Selman said. “Use that to your advantage.”
4. Create a themed event.
Themes set the event mood. This can be done with centerpieces, entertainment and a trendy location, or one not often used for similar events. But try not to go overboard.
“I’ve been to a couple of events that did not take the time to carry out their theme into the venue, and it was a disappointment when compared to the invitation I received,” Combs-Selman said. “Follow through on the expectation you’ve created for your guests.”
5. Fund a need.
At some point during your event, guests should be told about the cause and how their dollars are going to directly impact critical projects or programs. Be specific — if you know that every $1,000 raised offers life-changing services to those in need, then say it.
“I went to a fundraiser recently for an organization, and they never stated what the funds were supporting,” Combs-Selman said. “They gave a brief two-minute intro of their organization at the beginning of the night, and that was it. They didn’t even make guests aware of the pledge cards on the tables. I didn’t write a check that night. I want to know how my money is being used to support the organization and its mission.”