Glitz, Glam, Gatsby // A New Level of Fundraising


During my previous post I alluded to a recent school fundraiser that I volunteered for at the kid’s elementary school.  I was approached this past December by a parent in my daughter’s class, whom I am friends with, to see if I had interest getting involved.  Being a person who has trouble saying no, I said that I would at least entertain the thought.  Later that month, at my son’s holiday party, I was approached by another mom about my interest in volunteering and said I would meet with her after winter break to discuss.  We left it at that because I was still working on healing and wasn’t going to be doing any volunteering at the moment.

January rolled around and our coffee date to talk about the fundraiser was approaching.  I didn’t know anything about the fundraiser, simply that it was a school auction.  This alone gave me anxiety because I hate asking people for money.  I really didn’t want to get involved, but again – I’m terrible at saying no.  

That morning, after dropping the kids off at school, before heading to the local coffee shop, I spoke briefly to the woman who initially asked me to volunteer.  In our discussion it was revealed to me that this auction was not a little event, but an event that hosted roughly 400 people and raised more than $125K for the school.  And the position she was recruiting me for was Co-Chair.  What?!?!?!?  This was not at all what I thought I was signing up for.  Not at all.

From the kid’s school to the coffee shop was about a mile.  The entire mile I was rehearsing in my head how I was going to say no.  I did not want to be involved with something so big and time consuming.  I was just starting to feel human again.  I had to start looking for a job.  We didn’t even know if we would be staying here in DC for much longer.  All these thoughts were on repeat in my head.  I was feeling like someone had pulled the rug out from under me.  

I walked in and saw her sitting at a table with the president of the PTA.  I built my confidence up on the way over, but I had to say no quickly, before I lost my nerve.  I said hello to both of them and then let it all out.  I explained that I had no idea that they were looking for a co-chair to such a large event and that I thought they simply needed someone to help out with a small element of the auction.  I went into detail about my recent health issues and my recovery and explained too that I had planned with the new year to start looking for a job to help with the exorbitant expenses that the move to DC had brought along with it.  I expressed that I had felt blindsided and felt bad for saying no, but that there was no part of me that wanted to be involved with this.

They looked stunned.  Both women sincerely apologized that I felt this way and were gracious and understanding of my disinterest in this position.  I felt horrible.  I said, that I would be willing to help in a smaller way, but there was no way that I’d be able to take on a fundraiser of this magnitude at this time.  They both said that they understood, so I sat down, pulled my laptop open, and listened to the PTA President talk about the auction.

She explained that no one had volunteered to chair the event and that they had already paid for the venue for a date that was only 10 weeks away.  She discussed how the money it raised helped the school and described the previous year’s events.  As she spoke I  took prolific notes and my brain started swirling with ideas.  I had even come up with an idea for a theme and a Pinterest board of ideas was brewing in my head.  I had ideas of the roaring 20’s, black and gold, and Great Gatsby swirling around.  By the end of the meeting, I closed my computer and said “I’m in”.  What?!??!  Seriously, what is wrong with me?  Lol.

And not just was committed, I was all in.  But, if we were going to do this, I wanted the fun parts too, not just the project management task.  I asked to take a stab at the design elements this year, rather than outsourcing it to the parent who had done it in year’s past, who is a professional graphic designer.  They seemed a bit hesitant at first, but I assured them if they didn’t like what I designed or if it was too much work for me, that I was totally up for outsourcing without hard feelings.  They agreed.  I also expressed that I wanted to be heavily involved with the decor portion as well, which ironically my co-chair was not interested in at all.  I was pumped.  And, let’s be honest, I had a Pinterest board created within 10 minutes of the meeting ending and I was on my computer designing a logo that night.   

My co-chair and I planned a time to meet later that week and from that day on we pretty much met every day, all day, with a few breaks here in there for pre-planned vacations; albeit if I had known I was going to be doing the auction I probably would have never planned the travel.  For the next few months we would breath, sleep, and eat auction.  

We first started by trying to wrap our heads around the beast.  We had some notes from previous years, but the fundraising went from a traditional silent auction to an online bidding platform the previous year and there was a gap in the notes due to the previous year’s co-chair getting a virus on her computer.  We had so much data to sort through and make sense of.  For the first two weeks we worked solely on creating a team and coming up with a game plan.  We made spreadsheets of previous data, including financial spreadsheets and contacts of vendors, donors, and volunteers.  We started a campaign to find parents to help secure donations and head subcommittees.  And we met with previous auction chairs and volunteers.  Along the way I started a manual for next year’s team, so they wouldn’t find themselves in the same position.

My co-chair and I would create to do lists and sit across from each other working until we had a substantial amount off the list and then we would review it and add more to it for the next day.  This is how we worked. Bite by bite.  

We knew that we were going into this project with some serious disadvantages.  We were both new to the school (me to DC and her to our Ward and school).  Neither of us had attended the school’s auction (and I’d never attended an auction at all!).  We knew close to no one in the neighborhood and had zero connections to businesses or people.  But, we were both stay at home mom’s at the moment and could commit our time and energy towards this project.  We were dedicated and hardworking.

We also worked smashingly well together.  Having only met one time briefly on a class field trip in the fall, we were shocked by the synergistic relationship we created.  Despite the massive amount of work we were doing, we were having fun getting it done.  We also had good timing – meaning that we would both be able to talk each other off the ledge at the right moments and were never ready to Thelma and Louise it at the same time.  Lol.

It also worked to our advantage that I did take on the design work.  This helped us make up some time in regards to our late start because we didn’t have to go through a middleman to get the work done.  If we needed a poster designed and printed or a new header for the website, I did it right then and there and we kept moving forward.  I had gotten permission from the school Communications Team to access their website directly and make any changes I needed.  Who knew that all the work I had done designing my various websites would have come in so handy?  This proved to be a useful skillset!

We slowly got a team together and started delegating.  It may have taken us awhile to get our team together and despite having less volunteers than previous years and getting a late start, we had amazing people.

My co-chair and I had both agreed at the start of this project that our goal was not to make a certain dollar amount (although, there was definitely a hope to do so).  Our goal was simply to have the event, so that it didn’t fall off the calendar, and to do so with positive energy and good spirits.  I think we were able to pass this energy onto our volunteers.  I glow when I think about the people we worked with who were all ready and willing to work hard for us.  They scoured the streets asking for donations for the auction., connected with anybody and everybody they could, and by the time the solicitation deadline rolled around we had matched the previous year’s in donation amounts.  It was unbelievable.  They were truly amazing!  I also worked with two parents as part of my decor team, that truly made my pinterest board come to life.  I had given them some pictures for inspiration and let them run with it and they did not disappoint.  

I still cannot believe how well things came together.  We grossed over $140K and exceeded this year’s estimate, which is fabulous, but what really excited me, was that the actual night of the auction was fabulous!  People seemed to have such a good time.  The theme allowed people to dress up in 20’s attire if they desired and I was shocked at the number of people who did.  There was drinking, there was dancing, and the buzz on the street was that they event was a success.

Right now we just finalizing the last details of the auction.  Reconciling budgets and reimbursements, sending our thank you’s, coordinating with auction winners, and of course reviewing our manual for next year.

To be honest, I’m in a sort of post auction apathy state at the moment.  Lol.  I truly had an amazing time doing it and I’m glad I got involved, but there is a crash after the high.  I also struggle personally with some of the principles and tactics around the fundraiser.  And the socialist and humanitarian pieces of me are saddened that this is what it takes to have an “A” school in DC and that it doesn’t offer an even playing field for the children in communities that do not have the wealth advantage.  Sigh.  
My co-chair and I both agree that there are a lot of things we would encourage to change if we were to do this again in the future, but I’m glad that I was encouraged to do this, and that I did not end up saying no.  

Overall it was a great event and it provided me with a strong sense of community and some awesome new friends.   It is amazing going from knowing only a handful of faces to walking in a room at a school function and being greeted with hugs and handshakes from a majority of people.  That’s a win in my book.



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