Why Community Matters; or, How to Throw a Killer Party for Charity
I had two jobs this summer: providing research support as a Junior Analyst at FABERNOVEL's offices in San Francisco, and raising $20,000 for a maternity ward in Budondo, Uganda as a Global Advocate for Mama Hope. It's two full-time jobs, but it's hard to complain when you're surrounded by people who work more than 80 hours a week, starting their own companies. FABERNOVEL's San Francisco team runs PARISOMA, a coworking space in SoMa, which you might have read about in any blog post about startups written in the last several years. I am surrounded every day by entrepreneurs and experts in a plethora of tech fields, founders who work breakneck paces to get their companies off the ground.
Their worlds do not end with their SaaS startups, though. I took advantage of the coworking space in order to help meet my fundraising goal for the summer, and organized a Ping Pong tournament to benefit Mama Hope. My resources were a shoestring budget, the good will of my colleagues, and the passion and generosity of our community. Not only were we able to get everything donated - from food to the bartender and DJ - the imposition we put on to those who gave actually helped to spur their participation in and enthusiasm for the event, and helped boost turnout. I had been afraid we were asking too much, but what I found instead was that everyone we asked who was able to give was really thrilled to have the opportunity. Maybe it shouldn't surprise me - after all, I'm doing this for free, myself. But it's amazing to be reminded of the power of community and the rewards reaped by giving.
In that spirit of giving, I'd like to offer a few tips on how to repeat this kind of epic-fun-for-good with no out-of-pocket cost:
Ask friends first
Where we had personal connections, however, we got a totally different response. At Don Ramon's, an awesome Mexican restaurant down the street from PARISOMA, we were given a "yes" right away, and at Ted's deli - our other favorite lunch spot, as evidenced by our consistent willingness to wait in the sandwich line - we had a similarly warm greeting. We still had to follow up, both in person and by email, to confirm the donations and coordinate specifics a week before the event, but it was a powerful lesson in the magic of "warm leads."
Use your organization's connections
After calling many of the local San Francisco breweries, most either didn't respond or said they couldn’t donate. 21st Amendment was the only brewery that responded, after a phone call and an email. That was great because 21st Amendment makes awesome beer, but I knew we needed more than one brewery could donate and I'd been hoping for some variety. I reached out to the Mama Hope team to ask for help, and was reminded of the power of organizations: past Global Advocates had done much of the same groundwork in San Francisco, and Mama Hope was able to put me in touch with the Ninkasi brewery in South San Francisco, who had already been part of our network and were excited to donate again.
Promote early, promote often
The internet proved to have a better ROI for our promotion efforts. We got help from a friend of PARISOMA to create Facebook and Eventbrite events, which helped to drive about half of our total attendance. About 2 weeks before the event, we contacted newsletters such as SF Funcheap, DoTheBay, Sosh, and other tech newsletters, asking them to promote us. The only one who would was DoTheBay, where we had an inside contact. The newsletter didn't drive a huge portion of our attendance - about 5% - but it helped to drum up excitement and get our core community stoked for the tournament. We posted on Meetup and Nextdoor and also sent out direct messages on Meetup; tracking links from Meetup informed us that a few ticket sales came from there.
Our most successful promotion effort, though, came from our community. We wanted to make sure all the do-gooding vibes didn't kill the fun, so we made a rap video geared to those who would come for the social atmosphere. The PARISOMA community pitched in for this - everyone was excited about the video and eager to help. This was our event. After that, we started giving out personalized discount codes, which made people excited to invite their friends when they could provide them with special a discounted ticket.
When the first of our almost 100 attendees began to arrive 10 minutes early and ask if it was too late to invite their friends, we had a feeling that our event was going to be a success. Practice and free play went on until about 7:15, when I had the opportunity to speak to everyone about why my project is so close to my heart and Jeremy explained the rules of our tournament.
Invite attendees to work
An event also takes a lot of manpower, and we didn't want to hire helpers and lose valuable Mama Hope dollars. This was the easiest part to recruit from our network, of course: the only external support we got was from Bartenders Unlimited, a company we had a good relationship with from hiring them to work many PARISOMA events. We told them we were hosting a Ping-Pong tournament for charity, and without even asking, they donated their time.
Other positions we filled with PARISOMA staff, members, and friends. Promotion taught us the importance of marketing with social media, so we asked a friend of PARISOMA’s to photograph the event and then posted the pictures on the Facebook event page afterwards, to spur excitement about Mama Hope and inspire post-event donation. It also gave the attendees a take away, and an opportunity to talk about the event with their friends. We knew that we needed an MC who knew a lot about Ping-Pong to keep the crowd engaged, so we approached one of our members who had won the last PARISOMA Ping-Pong tournament.
All of the event workers, people who checked attendees in, monitored the food and kept score were part of the PARISOMA team who had been part of the planning for the event since the beginning - it was their event so this did not take any convincing. Everything seemed smooth sailing until the last minute, when two of the event workers had to be in a meeting during the set up time so I had to recruit some friends to help with food pick up and setting up the space, one who worked at PARISOMA and another who used to be part of the PARISOMA team.
The tournament began and as we got closer to the final round, crowds around each table grew. People were cheering on close friends as well as people they didn't know - high fives and hugs were given to competitors.
Add a raffle
We had reached out to our connections at large tech companies, including Apple and Sony, initially looking for a tournament grand prize. We thought we could be convincing: a donation in kind would boost their public image and cost them very little. The corporate avenue didn't yield anything for our efforts, but the process of reaching out did: a past PARISOMIE, Patricia, offered to donate an Apple Watch Sport.
When another former PARISOMA member offered a prize from his start-up - a free year of Omni storage - we realized we had a good thing going, and shifted our tactics to sourcing raffle prizes, to add an extra stream of revenue and another element to the event. We engaged the current PARISOMA members by constantly talking about the event and sending an email specifically asking for raffle prize ideas. Our enthusiastic conversation and email got us a Polyglotte keyboard, donated by one of our PARISOMA members and two bottles of Macallan Single Malt Scotch Whiskey, donated by a friend of a PARISOMIE.
As the tournament came to a close, it was time for the raffle. A winner for each prize was chosen - a seemingly normal raffle until we got to the end. The Apple Watch Sport winner was Kevin, a current PARISOMA member. What came next was amazing, inspiring and generous. He decided to auction it off, donating all the money to my project. The highest bid came in at $350 and we ended up raising just under $2,000.
Mama Hope always says we are better together. Yes, we are better together because of our increased strength, but we truly are better when we are wholeheartedly supporting and bettering each other. I learned to believe in our strength together and could not have felt it more than I did at the Ping Pong for Hope event.
We are better when we are surrounded by inspiring and gracious human beings. We are great when other's support makes each of us and our achievements better. All my gratitude to those who contributed to the immense success of this event - we were great!