Throughout my years of experience as a fundraiser, I learned early that the only way to raise significant amounts of money is to make your mission and your goal relevant to your audience. If your audience is captivated, and moved by your story, they will give both generously and for years to come. Here is one great example of how you can take a brand new idea and get it funded in full.
“Unified Art” is a concept I came up with in 2010 while employed at Special Olympics Connecticut. The goal was to start a new type of Art program that would pair students of all abilities to work on the same canvas, sculpture of other project. My boss said I could build the program if I raised $20,000. So I held an event…It was called “fill the Canvas”. Imagine walking into a beautiful home and all of the art work has been removed and replaced with large, white, blank canvases. Here’s how it went…
“Welcome! I want to thank our gracious hosts: Amy & her family. Thank you for your friendship, your generous hospitality and your passionate support of the NEW Special Olympics CT Unified Art Program! I also want to thank all of the committee members who helped make this evening a success.
42 years ago when Eunice Kennedy Shriver said, “Let the games begin” she awakened the world to the blindness of bigotry and inspired a people accustomed to suffering to proclaim their humanity and the power of their spirit. It was the end of disability and as she said, “the discovery of the best in ourselves”. Her son Tim made this statement in Morroco to our Global Congress last week and I wanted to share it with you.
“The Discovery of the best in ourselves”. Special Olympics hasn’t just changed the world for people with disabilities, it has changed the world for all of us. Our Unified sports program, where individuals with and without disabilities train and compete together has taken this experience to extraordinary new heights. The benefits that our athletes and their sports partners have received have created a change in humanity.
So why Art? Well, that’s a story that began right here in your hometown about 3 years ago. While the students at the High School were preparing for a first time Special Olympic track & field event the weather forecast revealed that a pending storm would dictate canceling the event. In an effort to save the day, we quickly changed gears and turned the day into an all day arts & crafts program with music and dancing and gym activities. It was a great save.
As I walked around the building I witnessed kind, caring, interested students who wanted to be there. I found a room full of authentic people…hundreds of them. But what struck me most was a comment from a teacher. She pointed to a student…he was an art student. She said (through tears) she always thought he was a jerk. She never gave him the time of day. But this day she discovered the best in him, his true spirit, as he helped a man in a wheelchair who could not communicate with him bead an entire necklace for over an hour. She asked how she could have been so wrong.
It was on this day that I realized that Special Olympics could do more. We could give our athletes more opportunities for inclusion and involvement in the arts and we could give a wider range of students within our schools more opportunities for leadership and sharing of their gifts.
Tonight we turn opportunity into action. Special Olympics Connecticut Unified Art is at its inception at this moment. We, as a group, have the opportunity to launch a program that will enhance the lives of so many children in our Connecticut public schools, and create a vision for Special Olympic programs throughout the world.
The Special Olympic Unified art program is designed to pair two children (one with a disability and one without) to create collaborative art projects. Each program will hold a minimum of 10 Unified Art classes and will have the opportunity to work in a variety of visual art mediums. Each student “team” will be invited to enter one work of art into our juried art show at Special Olympics CT 2011 summer Games. The winners at the show will have their art works displayed at sponsor corporations throughout CT and several pieces will be turned into greeting cards and PR materials.
Our goal for this evening is $20,000. This funding will support the first year of Unified Art in 20 schools throughout Connecticut. We have a unique auction planned for this evening. You will notice blank canvases throughout this beautiful home. Each of these canvases represents one of our 20 participating schools. Each canvas has a value of $1,000 this evening, but its significance is priceless.
In exactly one year from tonight, I invite you back. To see every one of these canvases transformed. Now, let’s welcome our brilliant auctioneers up to the stage to sell blank canvases to ship off to schools all over the state. It’s time to “Fill the Canvas!”
…We raised $60,000 dollars that evening in less than 5 minutes and received a $20,000 match. It was extraordinary. It was relevant. It continues to be a thriving program 9 years later. Why? We invited the right crowd, we created an environment that sparked curiosity, we shared an important story and we invited guests to participate that evening and in the future. It’s the tried and true recipe for long term fundraising success.