How to run a fundraiser gala – ideas from Charity: Water’s recent $3.2 million success


Charity: Water’s CEO, Scott Harrison, knew he was taking a risk with his nonprofit’s fundraiser gala plans. He knew he was, “either going to look very stupid in front of 400 people or maybe make them cry” as he admitted in an interview (Fast Company). When searching for how to run a fundraiser gala, a lot of answers will point to how to organize it all and how to ensure you feed your guests (which is no doubt important). However, Charity: Water’s example highlights the need to take a chance and think outside the box.

Recap of Charity: Water’s gala

According to an article featured in Fast Company, the gala took place in a glass atrium at Temple of Dendur, which was filled with a candlelit glow. At each table was a locked iPad on which a photo and name of a resident from Adi Etot, Ethiopia was displayed – each guest having their own individual from the community.

After dinner, Harrison got on stage to talk about their work and to show a video of life in Adi Etot. Then he instructed attendees to type in the iPad password, “together,” which unlocked more photos of the person they had seen on the lock screen. Once a person donated the suggested $30, the screen above the stage showed the person’s grayed out photo become colored. This was the first way they highlighted the impact each individual donor has.

But Harrison was just getting started. The screen then changed to live footage of Adi Etot, featuring the people the gala’s guests had just seen on their iPads. They were surrounding a drill. Suddenly, the geyser of water was activated, spreading water over all of the people there. Everyone was cheering – those in Adi Etot and those at the gala. Many of them, including Harrison, had tears streaming down their face.

All Harrison said after that was, “I don’t really have much to say. I’m glad that worked,” adding, “You don’t get a handbag or a trip to Telluride. You get nothing out of this except knowing that you can truly, truly impact the lives of people thousands of miles away.”

It worked. By the end of the night they had raised nearly $3.2 million.

How the gala idea came to life

In order to pull of such an act, Charity: Water planned their gala for six months. They had to:

  • Coordinate with Ethiopian government officials and their well-digging partners, REST, to both record the video and get the timing just right for the live stream
  • Visit Adi Etot to film the video, interviewing the community regarding the hardships of life without a well
  • Rent iPads and train volunteers to get these iPads both set up and tested for the gala
  • Match each guest with an Adi Etot community member – pairing gala attendees with someone of the same gender or similar circumstances (mothers with mothers, etc.)
  • Test their live stream to ensure all would function properly
  • Develop their tool for showing the live update of donations throughout the night

What can your nonprofit learn from this for your next gala?

Establish trust

“The biggest problem with charity is that people don’t trust charity,” – Scott Harrison, CEO of Charity: Water

When planning your gala, don’t get too caught up in details like what you’ll eat and how it will all appear. Back up and think about how to resolve the big factor Harrison points to in the above quote. People need to know that their money is being spent wisely. They are willing to donate to an important cause, but they may have been burned in the past:

“Historically, humanitarian aid groups have wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on poorly planned or maintained projects that have broken down, according to the International Institute for Environment and Development, a global-sustainability research group.” – FastCompany

With a gala, you have an opportunity to show them where their dollar goes, through a full on experience.

How can you establish trust for your gala attendees? Is it simply by producing a fancy dinner and showing them a video that pulls on their heartstrings? As Charity: Water’s example shows, it’s about more than that. Showing them exactly who their dollar impacts and how direct this is is what engages them.

Relate donor and recipient

Yes, it takes time to go through your attendees list and try to match them with someone of a similar background or identity, but this helped Charity: Water stir up empathy in their audience. When your event attendees can realize they have the power to make an impact on someone they can relate to, it’s more likely they’ll recognize how important that is.

Show them the real situation

Maybe you don’t have the funds to transport your team to the places your nonprofit impacts, but if you can somehow show the communities and situations you impact, focus on that through your gala.

The point where Charity: Water switched the footage from a recorded video to the live stream of the launch of the well was what changed the momentum of the evening. In that moment, the attendees were present with the people of Adi Etot.

For more help with fundraising your upcoming campaigns, reach out to our strategists at ArcStone »

4 fundraising metrics to start prioritizing (and 4 to stop worrying about) [Infographic]

Fundraising can be all-consuming for your nonprofit. Yes, it’s all about the cause, but we also know how much of a nonprofit’s day-to-day functioning revolves around a budget.

A common temptation is to put all your energy to continue to grow this budget, but a wise guy once said, “you are what you measure.” When it comes to fundraising, measurement matters.

Knowing this, a recent email subject line caught my attention, “Fundraising Metrics You Should Care About.” It made me pause, as it seems like there’s sometimes too many numbers to track – could we be overlooking some of them?

The headline was from Brady at re:charity. His post featured four metrics nonprofits often waste their time on and then four that are often neglected. If you take the latter four and really study them, this could have a great impact on your nonprofit long term.

We decided to take this post and illustrate the points through an infographic. See the full infographic by clicking on the preview below – Fundraising Metrics Your Nonprofit Should Care More About:

Planning an event for your nonprofit? Consider your millennial audience at every step.


For most nonprofits, events are paramount to your organization’s success. A good event can boost awareness for your organization and help you meet your goals. However, a poorly-executed event can damage your organization’s image and turn into a major time suck.

Like most aspects of communication, the key to successful events is speaking to your audience. With this in mind, how can you prepare for the “changing of the guard” (read about what I mean in “Millennials Overtake Baby Boomers)? What can you do to attract this new, younger audience?

There’s more than black-tie galas

We’ve all been to black-tie galas with the rubber chicken dinner followed by the boring powerpoint programming. Don’t get me wrong, it can be effective but there are other options. If you’re trying to break through and attract a younger audience consider a less formal, traditional event. One of our clients, YouthLink, recently held an event that featured whiskey tastings and prize drawings. Though upscale in its own way, this event was a far cry from a traditional nonprofit gala. This makes it stand out.

Depending on your event goals, you may consider one of the following:

  • Activity-based events such as walks or runs
  • Experiential events
  • Pub crawls
  • Food or beverage-based events – food trucks, wine pairings, whiskey tastings
  • Trivia contents
  • House concerts
  • crowdfunding

Be upfront with “the ask”

There are more nonprofits now than ever before. With worthy causes out there competing for donors and volunteers, getting someone to even attend your event, not to mention make a gift, can be challenging.

Some of us tend to hide that fact that we’re seeking donations, but I’d like to argue that it’s important to clearly communicate what your expectations are. If your guests know ahead of time what the goals of your organization are, they’ll be able to budget and consider their options, rather than feel unprepared or even tricked into an event.

Make it easy

Whether we’re talking about registering for the event, subscribing to a mailing list, or making a donation, make it as simple as possible. If there’s any bit of friction, your conversion rates and interactions will decrease. When you’re planning your event, consider your attendees: how do they prefer to interact? Do they prefer to donate online or are they more comfortable writing a check? Would they want someone to check them into the event?

Organizing an event for your nonprofit, takes time and money. Considering your audience will help you to plan an event that resonates with them while also allowing you to meet your goals.

Collective philanthropy & the potential it holds for nonprofit fundraising – Steve Boland Tedx

Charities respond rapidly to the changing winds of big foundations and corporate donors. If a group capable of writing a six-figure check says “We no longer fund X, we are all about funding Y!” – it becomes quite a buzz in nonprofit circles. Some organizations may even try to create new programs or shift mission statements to chase those big dollars.

But that isn’t where the big money is given.

GivingUSA shows us that most money given to support nonprofit work comes from individuals, not from institutions. Billions upon billions of dollars more. Most charities don’t chase the collective wisdom of the crowds in the same way, because it has been too hard to hear a common voice among millions of donors.

But that can change.

Collective philanthropy envisions tools to start a conversation with social donors in ways that impact giving. Steve Boland of Next in Nonprofits explains more in the video, and welcomes feedback and additional conversation at,, and anywhere donors may be talking.

Get your lower-budget audience involved on Giving Tuesday

As a nonprofit, of course you want donations on Giving Tuesday, and a lot of your attention goes towards that. However, according to the independent sector, the financial value of a volunteer working in the U.S. is $23.07 per hour. Moreover, volunteers are twice as likely to donate as non-volunteers (GiveGab Blog). This goes to show, it’s a financially-sound investment to find ways to get people involved without their cash. Mashable posted “How to make an impact on Giving Tuesday when you’re strapped for cash” by Katie Dupere, and we thought we’d share some of her ideas.

What can you encourage your audience to do on Giving Tuesday, besides donate?

1. Make actual plans to volunteer

Encourage your audience to make concrete plans to volunteer. Rather than just saying they’ll do it eventually, they can take a pledge on Giving Tuesday to volunteer that month or volunteer on they day itself.

Resources: Giving Tuesday’s website, VolunteerMatch, or Mashable’s post on how to find volunteer opportunities online.

2. Offer their skills

If you’re like many nonprofits, you are likely understaffed, leaving you with a need for volunteers specialized in marketing, design or finances. Even an upcoming event with a talented knitter or singer could be beneficial. Encourage people to donate their skills over their dollar.

3. Create their own fundraiser page

One of the reasons nonprofit charity:water is a four-star nonprofit on Charity Navigator is largely due to their ability to have people fundraise for them. Anyone with a Facebook page can do this. Teach them how with Facebook’s help.

4. Try out an easy tech hack

VocaliDTab for a Cause, and Freerice are all tools that can help an internet user raise money over time. They can simply browse the web and still help fundraiser for your nonprofit.

5. Speak up for your cause

Maybe the current reader of your nonprofit’s content doesn’t have any cash to spare, but it’s likely they know at least one person who does. This one person might not know about your charity, even if it’s a cause they could get behind. Encourage your audience to simply retweet or share your message. Challenge them to retweet your #GivingTuesday post.

Check out how the U.N. Foundation is challenging their users to get involved on social media.

As you navigate Giving Season and Giving Tuesday, don’t forget the folks who would love to help, but don’t see the many ways in which they can give.

The rise in donations after election collided with this nonprofit’s redesign perfectly.


Regardless of how you felt about the turn of events post-presidential election, it’s become evident that since then, post election donations are higher than ever. With this in mind, your nonprofit’s donation and overall conversion potential is also on the rise; the need for a good site with a strong user experience is even more immediate.

To keep up with the heightened web traffic post-election, pre-Giving Season or whatever the busy period may be, there are a few aspects in which your site redesign or tweaks should hone in to improve your user’s experience. One such area? Your web forms.

In fact, a recent project with client Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities highlighted the truth to this and the timeliness of their website redesign with ArcStone. They’ve seen an uptick in volunteerism and donations since the election. One reason they point to is an unexpected referral from a, encouraged people to get involved with a nonprofit like BBBS. See excerpt below:


In regards to the number of people they’ve seen complete their volunteer signup form, Director of Communications and PR, Gail Vold Greco excitedly reported:

“Last we knew, we were at about triple our normal week, and I suspect when I add in the last day we’ll be closer to 4x. It’s amazing and I’m SOOOOOO happy that they’re encountering our beautiful slick new website rather than that old mess.”

Before this success, they were dealing with a higher drop-off rate on their web forms than is ideal. The fact that they were using a non-responsive site likely contributed to this, seeing as 38% of their leads used mobile devices. Think of it: if they had held off on their website redesign, they could have lost many of these new volunteers, leads and potential donors. 

In order to lessen the form drop-off rate, we used a favorite WordPress plugin, Gravity Forms to build their new site forms. For their informational session signup form, mentor referral form and their event signup, we were able to improve the usability of the forms. Another benefit to BBBS is in their easy-to-use CMS, WordPress; tweaks to these forms take a matter of minutes rather what it used to take (all the time and money communicating back and forth with their web developer).screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-2-12-11-pm screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-2-12-21-pm

This goes to show, if you’re debating whether or not your nonprofit can afford to invest in some website tweaks, if not a full redesign, it’s important to take into account how big the return could be, especially if the timing is right. Learn about the full BBBS case study or talk to ArcStone’s team if you think it’s time to make some tweaks to your nonprofit’s site.

Holiday marketing prep guide for nonprofits – Part 2: Site & User Experience Updates

In part 1 of our holiday planning series we covered how to get started with your holiday marketing prep and how to approach promoting your initiatives. In part 2 we will cover how to deck out your nonprofit site in a way your budget can handle and keep your momentum going all the way through the final donation.


Keep in mind, this is coming from Hubspot’s highly insightful ebook, “The Guide to Ecommerce Holiday Success” where they cover all you need to know about holiday marketing for ecommerce businesses. The Nerdy Nonprofit is helping you break it down for your nonprofit specifically.

Step 6: “Deck out your site”

As Hubspot put it so cleverly, this is the time to deck the halls! Don’t make changes last minute, as this could result in a lack of time to test your tweaks. When you’re still a couple months out, go through your site and make sure you have all the bells and whistles you have been talking about implementing all year.

  • Conduct a site audit:

ArcStone has a great downloadable worksheet “How to conduct a mini site audit” that walks you through a way to measure your website and how it compares to others. Make sure you at least meet the likes of the average site, and from there, stand out as much as you can, drawing in the attention of donors.

  • Make it mobile:

Although this is a bit of an investment, your site should be mobile. If you haven’t upgraded to a mobile site, this may be the best time to do so as you’ll reap the benefits. If you need to persuade your Board of Directors, read about the numerous benefits to making your site mobile (and consequences of not). Without this change, you could lose several donors.

  • Focus on navigation & slight tweaks:

If you can’t afford to change much about your site, focus on one area. Hubspot suggests choosing your site navigation as it is pretty central to your site’s UX. They also say adding just a few tweaks like a countdown timer to Christmas or snowflakes here and there can make a difference.

  • Build a landing page & strong CTA:

Another option for a tight budget is focusing on a solid landing page. We talk about strong calls to action and successful landing pages in, “Donate Now – The Workings of a Successful Nonprofit Call to Action.”

Step 7: Think about what happens to “abandoned carts” or abandoned donors

Just as we abandon our Amazon shopping carts due to distractions or better deals, your donors may start out with the intent to donate and realize they don’t want to follow through. In fact, research shows that 50-70% of donation pages are abandoned. How can you avoid this?

  • Read these 7 tips from npEngage
  • Be responsive: Maybe your potential donor left the page because they have questions about where their money goes. Be prepared to answer questions.
  • Follow-up: After they’ve donated, thank them and make sure they had a pleasant experience. It’s scary to put your credit card information out there or give money to a cause you haven’t before. If they know you are tracking their donations, they’ll likely feel better about it.

Step 8: Be prepared to change things up last minute

It goes without saying that just because you put a lot of effort into planning does not mean things will go your way. Avoid letting any aspect of your careful planning go as you leave for Thanksgiving break. Leave some room in the budget and timeline to continue to make tweaks based on your nonprofit’s donations and whether or not you’re meeting your goals. If this means setting reminders and mapping out a careful calendar to hold you and your nonprofit team accountable, do it!

If you need helping boosting traffic and drawing in donors at this time of year, it’s not too late! Message our team and we will see how we can best help in your digital strategy.

Holiday marketing prep guide for nonprofits – Part 1: Plan & Promotion Ideas


“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” may not be ringing through your ears quite yet, but the hope is that, with enough holiday foresight you’ll be able to sign it at the top of your lungs without worry of your nonprofit’s year-end fundraising goals.

Thank goodness for digital marketing giant, Hubspot, and its holiday content offer, “The Guide to Ecommerce Holiday Success.” And thank goodness for the Nerdy Nonprofit and how we’re about to break down this guide for nonprofit’s specifically.

Step 1: Ask Questions

  • What worked for your fundraising efforts last year? OR what should you definitely do again?
  • … and what didn’t? Rather, what should you definitely weigh heavily before repeating
  • Did you time your heightened efforts appropriately?
  • What is your fundraising goal?
  • Which social channel, content format and/or advertising method worked for your audience?

Step 2: Break all your nonprofit’s fundraising goals down into digestible pieces

As Hubspot reminds us, it’s much too overwhelming to accomplish all your goals all at once. Find ways to silo your goals and map out what you hope to accomplish when. One Hubspot recommendation that might really help is to break out the Holiday Season into several pieces…

  • Thanksgiving: Mon., Nov. 21st – Thurs., Nov. 24th
  • Black Friday: Fri., Nov. 25th – Sat., Nov. 26th
  • Cyber Monday: Sun., Nov. 27th – Tues., Nov. 29th
  • GIVING TUESDAY (our own edition): Tues., Nov. 29th
  • Christmas & Hanukkah: Thurs., Dec. 1st – Sun., Dec. 25th
  • New Years: Mon., Dec. 26th – Wed., Jan. 4th

Knowing what goals you hope to meet and at what point, will help this time of year feel more approachable. Moreover, uncovering what audience to target and via which digital network will help you be more efficient in your digital marketing efforts.

Remember this effort at this time of year is worth it! Especially if you target Giving Tuesday, you may see donations well beyond your goals. Check out this encouraging data regarding Giving Tuesday and its development since its initiation:

Data source: Wikipedia & Blackbaud

Step 3: Start some serious brainstorming

Now that you’ve established your nonprofit’s goals, timelines and focus, it’s time to get creative. We’ve discussed preparing for Giving Tuesday in a previous post, but how can we get creative with the entire season of campaigns?

Hubspot broke down a list of ideas to get the creative juices flowing, but let’s apply them to nonprofit’s specifically:

  • Take the idea of gifting and craft it for your campaign:

– Encourage your audience to give a gift to their loved one and also a gift to someone they might not know. Underline how valuable gift-giving is in general and then show how much a gift could mean to a stranger.

– Understand that your audience may be feeling stressed about finances and incorporate that into your messaging. You understand they may not feel they have extra cash as they buy presents for the family AND donate, so could their family decide to sacrifice a gift and give one to those in need?

  • Use the age-old marketing tactic of urgency:

– Even though donations are valuable all year round, use a countdown to remind your audience of timing. People often put off donating and doing good till later when they believe they’ll have more time and resources. Emphasize that the difference will be biggest if they make a donation now.

– Tie in some humor with last-minute shoppers. Are they a little late to getting to the store or sending that Christmas card? Well luckily it’s never too late to give a small gift with HUGE benefits to your cause.

  • Reward those who’ve helped:

– The holidays are perhaps the best time to be thanking your donors. For one, they deserve thanks. Likewise, hearing from your cause about how grateful you are and what a difference they made may help them feel inclined to donate again. The holidays are filled with anxiety as people want to gift their friends and family, and we often feel guilty when we can’t afford this or that or when we get too materialistic ourselves. Remind your donors of the good they’ve done and the true meaning of the holidays.

Step 4: Focus on email specifically

Maybe you haven’t been the best at reviewing your nonprofit’s current email marketing efforts (which you should be!), but if there’s any time you must, it’s now! During this season, potential donors and campaigners are receiving more salesy emails than ever, some of which leave them feeling dry and discouraged as the true spirit of the holiday is dampened. Your nonprofit has time to stand out – as long as you find the best subject line, the most concise and effective messaging and the easiest user experience possible.

Analyze your nonprofit email marketing effectively with the help of “Would YOU read your nonprofit marketing newsletter?

Step 5: Create a social media budget and AdWords campaign

Yes, email is the go-to tool as it’s effective AND affordable, but have a plan for your other channels as well. Facebook, Twitter and especially Google have free resources for nonprofits – take advantage of them in full throttle for your nonprofit’s holiday marketing. In the very least, we strongly encourage you to set up your Google AdWords campaign to gain $10,000 in Google Grant money.

Hubspot also provides you with several easy-to-use social media calendars.

Get strategizing and read Part 2 next!

Nonprofit staff bonding or fundraiser idea – Olympics

nonprofit-fundraising-ideasIn our ArcStone office, we were rather inspired by the athletes of Rio this year. Rather than merely watching the games, we decided to participate, to the best of our abilities. When you put together designers, developers and business gurus, the competition gets fierce.

Continue reading if you want to take these games into your own nonprofit office or even your next fundraiser. Don’t worry, we won’t penalize you for gleaning some ideas from us!

Nonprofit Fundraiser Ideas (or staff bonding) from ArcStone Olympics:

1. Host an opening ceremonies of your own:

What you need:

2. “Discus” throwing competition

It helped that we had unwanted, unusable laptops at our disposable, but you’ll have to think up an item related to your nonprofit or fundraiser. We don’t recommend throwing your own laptops. They will break.

What you need:

  • Field or path (again, Midtown Greenway saves the day – look out bikers…)
  • Two strong participants with good aim so they don’t knock out your videographer
  • Two items – preferably flat and throwable – that you don’t mind breaking

3. Arrow shooting contest

Again, the unwanted computers came to our aid.

What you need:

  • Bow and arrow from ToysRUs
  • Target (computer screen may not be a good option for you, but a window should work)
  • Way to mark the target

4. Swimming Race:

What you need:

  • Swim “suit”
  • Snorkels
  • Filing cabinets with wheels

If you need help brainstorming, promoting or recording your next fundraiser, contact our team! We promise we’re not as weird as we appear in these videos.

What motivates people to take action for your cause? [Infographic]

Day to day, we often get caught up in many little things and neglect the bigger picture: what motivates us? Better yet, what motivates the people we work with and to whom we market towards? Same phenomena happens with your nonprofit. Donors, volunteers and the community at large says, “yeah, I’ll help and contribute to the greater good,” and they have the intention to do so. Then day to day they are too busy to remember to do something with that thought. Your nonprofit needs members, but how are they motivated to actually join? And what can you do to keep them motivated to stay?

Software provider and consultant company Abila conducted a study and came up with an in-depth infographic on what motivates people to be a member of a nonprofit. The data and visuals help clarify what is the reality behind motivation versus what many nonprofits assume it to be.

The infographic on nonprofit membership engagement covers…

  • The age people are most likely to sign up – are they ambitious millennials, or only taking time when they retire?
  • Why they might decide to opt out – was it what your nonprofit did, or their own personal life that got in the way?
  • The difference between why most organizations assume people sign up versus why individuals do sign up – what motivates them in the first place and on what is your nonprofit missing out?
  • What benefits each generation values from their membership. This is especially great for you if you have a content strategy based on audience (if not, check out this infographic). It also compares this to what organizations assume people value.
  • A spectrum of engaging vs. dull activities – what types of activities can your nonprofit do to engage their members?

Take a look at the full article here or click on the infographic below to see the larger image:


Need help targeting your audience?

ArcStone specializes in audience persona development. Request a quote or set up a meeting with our team!