Party for a Purpose: 5 takeaways from the SF stop on Vivanista's Viva Impact Tour

On Tuesday night in San Francisco, our friends from the excellent nonprofit site Vivanista hosted their ‘Party for a Purpose’, an event dedicated to sharing fresh ideas for nonprofit event organizers. The evening showed that they certainly know how to throw a party for a cause—and it empowered attendees to successfully do the same for their own organizations.

Eventbrite’s own Tamara Mendelsohn spoke on the first panel, along with Giles Marsden of Tiffany & Co and Carol Tran of Chic Meets Geek. The following panel included 2011 SF mayoral candidate Joanna Rees and the founder of the Exploratorium’s Young Professional group, Cameron Phleger. Each had a different perspective to bring to the table and left attendees with great ideas and insights. Here were five of my favorite points from the evening:

5. Don’t use generic forms when soliciting sponsorships. When Giles Marsden answered a question from the audience on what not to do when soliciting sponsorship from a large company, it spoke to something I’ve been noticing lately, too. Many submissions asking for sponsorship are completely generic and even include the salutation “To Whom It May Concern,” which reminded me of cover letters I immediately nix when scanning through resumés. He stressed the importance of taking some time to research the company you’re requesting a donation from and making a concerted effort to show why the company will be a great fit.

4. Starting something new can begin with your network. Cameron Phleger is the Founding Chair of the new Exploratorium Lab’s Young Professionals group, a social group that supports the Exploratorium while participating in unique events, volunteer opportunities and activities and excursions. Whether it’s kayaking, hiking or attending a cool event together, she looks for the appropriate sponsors given the audience and the needs of her events. She made a great point about where to begin your ‘ask for money,’ and suggested looking at your network as if it were a layered onion: starting at the core and moving outward. You begin with people who are close to you (friends and family) and then start expanding to their friends and family and outward.

3. Leverage social media networks to sell more tickets and bring in more cash. Tamara shared Eventbrite’s findings on social sharing on the panel, and this was one topic that the audience really responded to. Attendees who share the fact that they are attending your event with their networks take a lot of the pressure off event organizers. It’s a huge help when you can use your attendees to get the word out, too.

2. Fundraising isn’t easy—and you have to understand that you’re always fundraising (even before an official campaign begins). Joanna Rees would know—she’s currently up for the position of San Francisco Mayor in the 2011 election. She’s all too aware that every single relationship you build before your fundraising begins is critical to your success. She also admitted that while she went into the election with the mindset that fundraising was fairly easy for her (despite warnings from her colleagues), she agreed that it’s one of the most challenging aspects of the campaign.

1. Relationships are key. Whether it’s fundraising, selling out your event or finding sponsorships, all panelists agreed that relationships are critical to your philanthropic success. For Tiffany & Co, they literally ask their top clients to suggest the charities of choice Tiffany should be involved with. And Tiffany doesn’t want (or need) branding or their name featured in a brochure: they love opportunities where they can present a gift on stage in their signature little blue box to an actual recipient at an event (like Shannon of Spark, who received a necklace on stage for her winning Party for a Purpose video submission). Carol Tran with Chic Meets Geek finds her sponsorships based on the products she uses, with which she’s already established a relationship as a client (like the natural makeup company Bare Escentuals). And when an attendee of an event shares with their social network that they have registered for an upcoming event, it’s that relationship that helps the event go viral and increases ticket sales.