by Quentin Wodon
In my district more than four in five Rotarians donate to their club or foundation, and three in four donate to The Rotary Foundation (of Rotary International). As mentioned in a previous post, with about 2,400 members in the district, these donations generate $1.5 million in new funding per year for Rotary service projects. These donations are very important, but they are only part of a broader story. Substantial additional funds for service projects are also generated through fundraising events organized by clubs at which non-Rotarians donate funds or purchase food or tickets. These events are great for both fundraising and public relations. This post provides examples of a few community-based fundraisers and discusses how they contribute to the image of Rotary in the community and the possibility of attracting new members.
Large Fundraising Events
Several clubs in my district have been implementing successful community-based fundraising events for many years. Let me mention two here. A first example is the Crab Feast organized by the Rotary Club of Annapolis every year in early August. This is probably the largest crab feast in the world and it fits perfectly with Annapolis’ identity since the city is located on the Chesapeake Bay which is famous for its crabs. The 2014 edition of the crab feast was the 69th. The feast is an all-you-can-eat event with a reasonable price tag: $65 per adult and $20 per child. Some 2,500 hungry crustacean fans attend the feast and devour a massive amount of crabs, ears of corn, crab soup, hot dogs, beef barbecue, and soft drinks or beer.
In 2013 the event generated $71,000 in net revenues to fund projects submitted by local nonprofits. The organizers have also been working with local nonprofits for organizing the event itself. This includes Annapolis Green, a local environmental group, to compost all the crabs and other food, utensils, and beverages in order to make the event environmentally friendly (zero waste goal).
Another great event is the Octoberfest held each fall to provide fun activities for families as well as food, beer, and music all inspired by centuries-old traditions from Germany. Children can get their face painted, as well as engage in a wide range of activities that include preparing pumpkins and other frightening displays for Halloween. Local dignitaries participate in a Roll-out-the-Barrel ceremony, a Polka Dance contest, and a Chicken Dance Contest. The event is organized jointly by the Rotary Club of Carroll Creek with the Fredericktowne Rotary and the Rotary Club of Southern Frederick County. And another Octoberfest is organized by four clubs in Caroll County. These events generate substantial funding for nonprofits.
Events for Smaller Clubs
Both the crab feast and the Octoberfest are fairly large events that require a small army of volunteers to put together. The Annapolis club is large, and the four Frederick-area clubs are also large enough to put these events together. The events pull the club membership together like no other activity, but one should not underestimate the amount of work involved.
What can smaller clubs do? Smaller clubs too can find their niche with community-based fundraisers. After I joined my current employer in Washington DC, one of my first contacts with Rotary was with the Rotary Club of McLean in Northern Virginia. How did I meet them? Well, they have a burger and lunch stand at McLean Day, the main community event of the year in McLean which brings thousands of people for family fun each year to one of the area’s parks. As many others, we went to the event as a family. I don’t know how much the McLean club has raised in net revenues through their stand at the event, but I do know that this is great for their image in the community and a great way to talk to prospective members who may pass by.
Identity and Membership
Fundraising events are strategic not only for raising funds, but also for public relations and for attracting new members in clubs by making the clubs better known locally. Ideally, all clubs should aim to develop a clear identity in their community, and most should organize an annual family friendly event. Part of the identity of clubs should be about the type of service work they do or fund, and the type of members they attract. But part should also come from fundraising events.
Friendly and (if feasible) family-oriented fundraising events help in positioning Rotary as a youthful and welcoming organization, as opposed to its traditional image as an exclusive club. Family-oriented events also tend to be announced in the local media, which builds the brand. And clearly, when the proceeds of fundraising events are distributed to local nonprofits, this is another opportunity to get recognition and coverage in the community and the local media. Last but not least, all of these benefits are likely to help clubs attract and retain members.
Note: This post is part of a series of 10 on Rotary Membership Analysis. The posts with links are as follows: 1) Introduction, 2) The Challenge; 3) Why Do members Join?; 4) Volunteer Time; 5) Giving and the Cost of Membership; 6) What Works Well and What Could Be Improved; 7) Targeting Geographic Areas for Growth; 8) Initiatives to Recruit Members; 9) Fundraising Events; and 10) Telling Our Story.