Using Fund-Raisers to Promote Your Affiliate

by Ronald E. Milliman

The following is taken from one of the open conference calls of ACB's public relations committee.  The call was organized around a series of events that could be used as fundraisers and to help promote your affiliate. 

The first event discussed was Dining in the Dark.  While nobody on the call had ever worked directly with the event, several people had some knowledge about such events.  One of the most challenging aspects of holding this type of activity is finding the right venue, a place with adequate facilities that could be made as close to totally dark as possible.  It is important to have blind people seated at each table to help educate the sighted diners.  This is an event that is easily promoted because the media loves these kinds of activities.  Ron Milliman pointed out that it is crucial to get out media releases and invite local TV stations, newspapers, and radio stations to take part and maximize coverage of the event.  There are several sources of information about such events available online.  A "Dining in the Dark" guide created by Florida Institute of Rehabilitation Education for People Who Are Visually Impaired is available at

One of our participants, Andrea Damitio, reported that she worked with another organization to plan and carry out an event involving several restaurants. Her fund-raiser started small, but over a few years, it evolved to include over 20 restaurants.  A portion of the proceeds from each restaurant were given to the organization.  The organization helped to promote the event.  

Next, the group discussed hot dog and drink sales.  Ed Facemyer said that some chapters in Pennsylvania have held this type of event. They sold hot dogs and drinks in the parking lot of a store which agreed to allow them to be there.  Sometimes the stores will even donate the hot dogs, buns, drinks, and other items needed.  Brenda Dillon reported that a chapter of the Tennessee affiliate had held a similar activity in the Gatlinburg/Smoky Mountain area with outstanding results, raising several thousands of dollars.  Milliman said that when the SCKCB did something similar, they set it up in front of Wal-Mart, and Wal-Mart matched their net proceeds dollar for dollar.  The issue of potential problems with the health department came up, and no problems were reported to anyone's knowledge. 

The importance of having your organization's literature available at all events to pass out was strongly emphasized.  You should always have at least a sheet that summarizes what your organization does for blind people and the community to let people know how the money that is being raised will be used.  All information given out should also have your organization's full contact information on it.

Ron Milliman said that the South Central Kentucky Council of the Blind has a large, 3-foot by 6-foot bright blue banner with yellow letters with their organization's name and contact information on it to put up at such events.  In addition to giving out literature about their organization, they also give out pens and refrigerator magnets that have the organization's contact information on them for people to take home.

Mike Duke reported on the Applebee's pancake breakfast. He stated that Applebee's provides the food and does the cooking. Your organization sells the tickets, waits the tables, etc. In this case, the ticket sales are clear profit for your organization.

Mike also mentioned that some facilities require a paid-up liability insurance policy.  Some require this policy to be specific to your event, while others will accept proof of an annual insurance policy that covers your organization at any official function.

Milliman talked about holding a chocolate fest.  Everyone loves chocolate, making this a favorite fund-raiser and public-interest event.  It may be conducted in conjunction with a local business that produces and/or sells all types of chocolate, or as a friendly, competitive event, where local restaurants challenge each other to see which restaurant can produce the most scrumptious chocolate concoction.  Your organization charges an entry fee to each competing restaurant or competing participant, then promotes the event and sells tickets to the public with the proceeds going to your organization.

Another promotable fund-raiser is dinner and an audio-described movie.  Members sell tickets to cover the cost of dinner in a cooperating restaurant, and after dinner, the diners attend an audio-described movie.  Alternatively, you can just sell tickets to the audio-described movie.  Ron Milliman reported on success using the movie "Ray." After the movie, a discussion of the movie and audience reactions may be conducted between members of the organization and the audience. 

Another event that was discussed was a chili dinner or chili cook-off.  These events can usually be held in a church or club facility, like the Knights of Columbus Hall, that already have most everything needed, e.g. the kitchen, tables and chairs, etc.  The chili cook-off is often split into two classifications: an amateur competition and a professional competition.  Amateur chili makers compete for who can make the best chili concoction in the amateur division, and local restaurants and professional chefs are invited to compete against each other for top recognition in the professional division.  Tickets are sold to the event; plus, there is an entry fee for the chili-making competitors.  The invited public votes on the best chili in each division.  This is lots of fun and an excellent fundraiser and gets lots of public attention and publicity for your organization.

Dillon reported their organization's participation in two chili cook-offs as a partner with another organization as part of a larger chili event for the Community Shares group.  She emphasized the value of being a member of Community Shares.  Milliman said that people can Google "Community Shares" and find their state's Community Shares affiliate, or visit Community Shares USA at

Dillon also mentioned another activity that has proven to be quite successful is a poker run.  It can be held, for example, in conjunction with a motorcycle club; it will usually raise a lot of money, and will create considerable interaction between your affiliate and the various clubs and businesses that participate in the event. 

Concerts are another way of raising money for your organization and getting lots of public attention.  Concerts can feature local professional musicians or a group of your own musically talented members.  Usually such concerts can be held in a local church, on a university campus, or other local facility designed for such events.  The SCKCB has held several such concerts featuring the internationally renowned pianist Sylvia Kersenbaum, with tremendous success.

Facemyer brought up the idea of gift-wrapping as a fundraiser and an excellent public education activity.  Many stores will let your organization offer gift wrapping to the store's customers, especially during the Christmas season.  The store provides all the gift wrapping materials, and your organization provides the service for a fee or donation.  It is a win/win for all involved.  One store that was mentioned that is especially easy to work with is Barnes and Noble.  Other events discussed included Christmas tree sales, blindness awareness month events, and mobility events.

The call concluded with Ron describing the cutest baby contest.  You get people to enter their baby into the cutest baby contest, charging them an entry fee.  Baby pictures can be posted online with people invited to vote for the cutest baby, or it can be held on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in a local facility.  The public is invited to vote for the cutest baby.  This event usually stimulates considerable word-of-mouth publicity.  It can be lots of fun and very profitable too.   

Often you can boost your revenue by holding auctions in conjunction with the event, obtaining auction items as donations from local businesses. Where permitted, you can also offer an item for a drawing, but be careful not to refer to that drawing as a raffle to avoid issues over the gambling laws in your state.

No matter what the event or activity is, be sure to have literature that tells about your organization and that will show people how you will use the money raised by the event.  Get out media releases publicizing the activity.  Invite and involve the local media as much as possible.  

You always want to include the general public, to help establish the name and purpose of your organization in the minds of the people who take part and attend these kinds of events.  It is also very important to have a system for gathering the names and contact information, e.g. mailing address, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, etc. of all participants or all of those who will give you that information.  In this manner, you can:

  • Send out thank you notes for their participation;
  • Send out copies of your newsletters;
  • Develop a database that you can use for inviting them back to other activities you are holding;
  • Use for fund drives. 

You can use Google to find details on the ideas discussed during our conference call.  Also, the PR Committee has written several handbooks to help you promote such events.  The handbooks are: "PSA Handbook for ACB Affiliates and Chapters"; "The Press Release Handbook for ACB Affiliates and Chapters"; and "The Guerrilla Marketing Handbook for ACB Affiliates and Chapters."  These handbooks are also available at

Finally, we have an ACB fundraiser e-mail list you can subscribe to.  Visit the ACB web site, click on e-mail lists, then select the ACB fundraising list and subscribe by typing in your e-mail address and name in the boxes where it requests them.