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Taking the "Fun" out of Fundraiser

July 1, 2010

nofun.jpegSince launching a non-profit arts project at the start of this year, I've been thinking about fundraisers quite a bit. I've attended a few for other organizations and I even mounted a modest one myself for my project last October in advance of the launch.

I've come to the conclusion that fundraisers are a crazy amount of work and may not raise a ton of money. But they're worth doing anyway because of the connections and goodwill you can generate, the pleasure you can give people if the event is done right and the (perhaps modest) amount of cash you can procure to keep your project afloat.

Last night, however, I attended a fundraiser for an arts organization which made me see that there are times when it's just not worth bothering. The event was, in essence, the worst fundraiser I've ever been to in my life.

The organization in question is one I care about, so I went along, even though I received my invitation only the day before the event itself. When I got there, a woman at the front desk barked "We're asking for $20." The invitation had said "donations at the door" so I was a little taken aback to be hijacked for a specific amount of cash in such an aggressive way.

The venue where the event was held was soulless -- a boring black box theatre space which had not been decorated or changed in any way to make it appear more convivial. There was no free food or drink and the stuff that you could pay for -- a few untempting cans and some packets of candy -- was not inspiring at all.

Inside the theatre itself, a few people sat in the seats silently watching a singer-songwriter with long hair and a knitted beret sing endless, boring songs about his "darlin'" to the sound of a nurdling guitar. The music was accompanied by video footage of the performer and his friends messing about on a lake and in someone's apartment. At one point, the musician invited a girl up to the stage to sing a song with him. She was horrible.

What was really weird about the set-up was that the stage area was flanked by long tables at which the organizers of several other non-profit arts projects sat silently with fliers, posters and other materials relating to their projects on display. They looked uncomfortable sitting up there in full-view while the music was going on.

After sitting through the first musician's effort, the event's organizer and the director of the arts organization whose fundraiser it was made a couple of pointless speeches. Then another singer-songwriter got up to play his long set. His guitar was out of tune but no one seemed to care. He had, at least, a lively stage presence and some of his lyrics were funny. (His song about a lesbian cocaine party mad me chuckle slightly.)

To make matters worse, everyone was badly dressed. My friend and I didn't stay for the third and fourth items on the performance roster. We snuck out mid-song with sore bottoms from the uncomfortable seats.

I'll probably organize a fundraiser for VoiceBox in the fall. I learned a lot last night about how not to go about putting on my event. So at least there was one positive outcome from last night's debacle.

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