By Sarah Hidey, JVA Consulting
Be in touch with the things you know will matter. Hold up your own candle of consciousness…if everyone did that the world would be a better place. – Betty Lehman
There is nothing that inspires me to give more than hearing from strong women who have used their influence to make a difference in our city— impacting the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of people. A couple weeks ago I attended an inspiring and unique fundraising event hosted by the Denver Rescue Mission (DRM): Women Who’ve Changed the Heart of the City, a tea at the Brown Palace Hotel. This was not a typical fundraiser where the entire event is spent learning about the hosting organization. Instead, the focus was on honoring women from the community who are changemakers, philanthropists and tireless advocates for different causes— Janet Elway, Francis Owen, Betty Lehman and Emily Howell Warner (the first female U.S. airline captain). DRM benefited from table sponsorships, ticket sales and donations from the event, but the audience was not regular donors and the focus was on the honored women, not DRM. What a refreshing and engaging fundraiser! It was more than a way to raise money; it was a call for action—to encourage attendees to give back and follow their passions—and hopefully be inspired to donate to the Mission.
My personal hero, Betty Lehman, the President of the Autism Society of Colorado, was one of the honorees. She has changed the course of history in Colorado for people with developmental disabilities through advocacy and an unrelenting commitment to her goals. She shared how twenty years ago her life was impacted by a nonprofit, the Autism Society of Colorado, when her son was first diagnosed with autism. They gave her hope, and she has since made it her mission to be there for others, as they were there for her. She shared that “everyone has the ability to be there for someone else in a very profound way.” And ultimately, this inspirational message was tied back to DRM’s mission of giving hope to the homeless.
I believe this type of fundraising event is genius! Denver Rescue Mission reached out to new people in the community who may not have attended its typical fundraising banquet by taking the focus off of itself. Friends and family of the honorees filled many of the tables. Many attendees were not familiar with DRM, but they were familiar with the honorees. By putting the attention on the honorees, DRM demonstrated that it cares about the common good of the city and enhancing philanthropy and volunteer efforts in all arenas. Many attendees were motivated to give donations and become more involved in the community – something that benefits not just DRM but our city at large. DRM’s Manager of Events and Corporate Giving, May LaClair, says that this is why they decided to host this unique event, “The Denver Rescue Mission is a small part of a large network doing wonderful work throughout Denver. If each of us takes on a small role serving others, our impact will truly change the heart of this great city.”
When it comes to fundraising events, it is difficult to get a large audience of potential new donors who are not already invested in the work a nonprofit is doing. According to the Colorado Nonprofit Association, metro Denver ranks 10th out of the largest 50 cities in the United States for the number of nonprofits per capita. There are thousands of nonprofits in Colorado alone! That’s a lot of nonprofits, which in turn means a lot of nonprofits hosting fundraising events —all competing for your time and money. I believe DRM saw the need to think outside the box in order to reach a new audience with its message of helping the most vulnerable. As an attendee, I think it worked. There are ALWAYS innovative ways to find new audiences with which to share the great work your nonprofit is doing. Ms. LaClair says this annual event has, “introduced the Mission to new networks of volunteers and philanthropists while raising funds to sustain the greatly needed services we provide to those experiencing hardship in our community.” Sounds like a model for success to me.
From Janet Elway, to Francis Owens, to Betty Lehman, to Emily Warner— these are women who have changed the heart of our city. And they inspired people to give back— to the Denver Rescue Mission and to other great charities serving Denver.