Philanthro-tainment

Circus_2"Let me try to explain it again," I said.  "It's not straight philanthropy because giving isn't the only goal.  But it's also not just entertainment because it's more than a good time.  It's a mixture, one part philanthropy, one part entertainment.  It's more like...PHILANTHRO-TAINMENT."

That pretty much summarizes how I came up with the word "philanthro-tainment", which best describes the type of cause marketing programs I do.

I don't work for one of those organizations where donors are tripping over each other to host golf tournaments, black-tie dinners, fishing tournaments, and every other type of fundraiser imaginable.  That's "shooting fish in a barrel" philanthropy, which is great work if you can get it.

The rest of us poor slobs need something to rally people round our flag, and talking about our mission ain't the only thing.  As a wildly successful retailer once explained to me, "Every business is show business...Nonprofits are businesses, aren't they, Joe?"  Yes, they are.

Here's how you can turn yours into the greatest show on Earth. 

Entertainment is the first ingredient.  Stop the whining and begging and start brain-storming ideas that are cool, trendy, unusual, interesting and fun.  Halloween Town started as an idea to throw a big Halloween party for the City of Boston, not as a fundraiser.

Weigh your assets carefully.  Now that you have your big idea, time for a reality check: what makes YOU more capable of pulling it off than someone else?  Do you have a key partner in place? (For Halloween Town, we had a solid title sponsor in iParty.)  Do you have any competition? (Better to be new than better. Does the world really need another walk?  In the case of Halloween Town, Boston didn't have a major Halloween event.)  Do you have the resources to invest in it?  Can you afford to take a loss your first year or two before it catches on?

Stir the pot.  Get sponsors jazzed by showing them how their employees and customers can participate in fun and interesting ways.  This fall, Finagle-a-Bagel will sell a special orange "Halloween Town" Bagel at their 19 stores.  We've also created a rewards program for their employees that promises free Halloween Town t-shirts and tickets to those who promote the event to Finagle's 20,000 daily customers.  The point is to keep things light so it seems more like a perk than work.

Add something sweet.  Invite celebrities, change things up, giveaway something unique.  People should look forward to your event because it's fun AND supports a good cause.  Halloween Town this year will have new sponsors, giveaways and guests to keep things interesting, and people coming back.

Let the dough rise.  We started Halloween Town to throw a party for the City of Boston.  But we've stayed focused on raising money for the hospital from sponsorships, mobiles, ticket sales (individual and corporate) and "Trick-or-Treat" fundraising boxes.  Next year we might add a Saturday night party for adults.

The benefits of philanthro-tainment go beyond having a good time.  According to a March article in the New York Times, "having a blast" may uncover buried treasure for nonprofits: donors under-40.  Tired of rubber-chicken dinners, golf tournaments and magazine subscriptions, Generation X's and Y's are looking for more exciting and creative ways to give.

'There's an innovativeness there that goes beyond the baby boomer generation,' said Michael Nilsen, public affairs director of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. 'They want to get involved with the more regular mainstream charities but by doing something outside of the mainstream rather than just sending their checks.'

Philanthro-tainment will test your creative powers, put the "fun" back in fundraising and appeal to the next generation of donors.  Is your big top looking empty?  Has your act gone stale?  Are donors heading for the exit?  You're the ringmaster of this three-ring circus.  Forget the high-wire act; it's time to send in the clowns