Earlier in my career, I was director of development for an organization that raised funds for orphanages. I learned a great many things, not the least of which is that face-to-face marketing is the most effective form of fundraising. When our donors met other donors and heard their stories of being involved with our organization, connections were made and hearts (and wallets) were opened. When our donors met the kids they were supporting, there opened the floodgates. People matter, stories matter, experiences matter.
So it happens with the fundraiser, Dining Out for Life, that is held across the country each year, raising funds for organizations that provide support services for people who are living with HIV/AIDS. Here in the Twin Cities, Dining Out for Life raises funds for The Aliveness Project in Minneapolis. And, from my stance as a fundraiser in a former life, it’s a dream event with multiple points of face-to-face marketing, education, branding, and impact.
How it works is that restaurants in the area sign up to participate in the Dining Out for Life event, agreeing to donate a certain percentage of the night’s dollars to the organization. So, the diners will advertently or inadvertently be giving money simply by dining out that night. Then, there are also Ambassadors at each participating restaurant who are there to answer questions, represent The Aliveness Project, and ask for additional funds.
Many volunteers participate at every level. There are so many wonderful fundraisers out there — like galas, dinners, bake sales, cookie sales, rides, walks, and online campaigns with incentives. Each of those involve some form of communicating, but this night out at restaurants includes a large number of people — restaurateurs, chefs, front-of-house staff, and volunteers for The Aliveness Project — acting as ambassadors, communicating in-person, with the very real interaction of educating people who aren’t familiar with the event, the organization, or the topic, as well as asking them for funds, formally and informally.
In past years, I’ve lauded the restaurants for doing some “heavy lifting” in terms of donations, but this year, I’d like to laud the Ambassadors. They are the people who are in each DOL location, whether for breakfast, lunch, or dinner (or multiple times and places) who interface with the guests at each restaurant. They bridge the spaces between the restaurant and the organization, as well as between the donors and the organization, and they do it beautifully.
There are restaurants where it seems like a big party and the Ambassador is there to funnel the goodwill and funds: everyone knows what night it is, everyone knows about Dining Out for Life and where the money goes, and everyone is digging deep and giving money to do more good. Then there are restaurants where the ambassador is in a location that is new to the event and there is a learning curve when talking to diners who are new to raising funds for an AIDS/HIV organization during their meal and may require education or might even give a little pushback to the whole situation. Having been an Ambassador for four or five years before I started this job, I experienced all sorts of scenarios, and each year left me feeling ultimately tired and happy for the challenge the fundraiser presented. I salute the Ambassadors for being out there, trying to field whatever comes their way, with a smile and a hope that the whole town is painted red by people who “Dine Out, Fight AIDS.”
With thanks (and wearing my “I ATE” sticker),