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Case Study: Ice Cream Social Friendraiser Scoops Big Dollars

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Kris Gates, HQL
Sister District Portland Eastside

When I got involved with the Portland Eastside chapter of Sister District, I knew that holding my first-ever political fundraiser was going to push me out of my comfort zone. Fortunately, since the 2016 election, I had been sending out a weekly email to a group of politically-minded friends who were looking for ways to make a difference, and I felt comfortable asking them to support these efforts.

For our July weather, I chose an Ice Cream Social Fundraiser in my yard and sent the invitation to two groups: about 50 local friends on my existing mailing list, and the roughly 35 people on the SDP master contact list who lived in my zip code-based zone. Of that second group, no one responded, but I had 26 guests from among my friends (including a few who couldn’t attend in person but made a donation).

I provided all the food and beverages to help build the expectation that I would be asking for something in return. At the beginning of the event, I welcomed the group and gave a quick run-down of the agenda. First, people built their sundaes and mingled while I introduced folks who didn’t already know one another.

When everyone had some ice cream to enjoy, I made a 20-minute pitch focusing on three topics:

  1. Why I was personally motivated to get politically active—my fears and concerns about where our country was going and what that meant to people I love
  2. The premise of the Sister District Project and how our grassroots efforts could make a real difference at this level, and how state legislature make-ups rippled upward into federal impacts that affect us all
  3. The importance of Virginia and the opportunity to flip the who state blue, and then specifically our two candidates and the issues they were fighting for

I set a fundraising goal of $2000. Since I knew all my guests, I felt I could suggest a $100 donation per guest but was sure to emphasize that they should give less (or nothing) if they preferred. I explained the procedure for the text-to-donate process (having asked everyone to bring their cellphones) and showed them how to anonymously color in the goal-thermometer I had tacked up on a wall as they made their donation.

I also had prepared some door-prizes—the group earned one door-prize for each $400 we raised (these were my homemade pickles, salsas and jams). Once we were through all that, I set them loose, re-opened the sundae bar, and did some necessary tech-troubleshooting with the Act Blue steps during the process.

As folks finished up, I pointed them toward a huge chart I made with the 20 Democratic candidates running in the presidential primary at that time. We made it a game where guests marked their top five and bottom three. This turned out to be really popular and sparked conversations.

There also was a sign-up board for hosting of future events; that resulted in another $1000 fundraiser and two post-carding parties that wrote 250 postcards for each Virginia candidate.

Before I knew it, someone called me over to see that the goal thermometer was colored to the top and overflowing! We had raised a total of $2800, and the yard of guests erupted in applause!

This first fundraiser helped me realize that there are a lot of people who want to help and are happiest when they are given specific ways to do so. Being very clear about the fundraising nature of the event and the suggested donation took away a lot of the discomfort among the participants. I also realize that coming together with kindred spirits is good for everyone’s mental health, because we realize we’re not alone and we’re working for concrete, positive change in a world that often feels out of control these days.

Having guests willing to host follow-up events expanded the volunteer circles to increase our influence and ability to lift these candidates! What a joy it was to share Virginia’s November success story with the many friends who had helped along the way.

Kris Gates, Oak Grove, Oregon