Raffles, silent (and vocal) auctions, door prizes, giveaways... they're the cornerstone to every nonprofit event. Without them, the organizers worry: Maybe people won't want to come to learn about the issue at hand. Maybe we won't get donors. All the above fundraisers require asking businesses to give their stuff away for free - something nobody likes doing. On top of it all, businesses in the Madison area have giving fatigue. Too many requests, too little mutual benefit.
There are other ways - inventive, alternate ways to give, where area businesses take the reindeer by the horns (or antlers) and coordinate efforts themselves.
For nearly two years, The Old Fashioned Restaurant (23 N. Pinckney St., www.theoldfashioned.com) has sponsored a meat raffle every weekend during brunch to benefit a local nonprofit. From what I hear, this is an age-old up-north tradition. It's an obscure one, if that's the case. But that doesn't mean it's not a terrific concept. "We love seeing new folks come in to the restaurant excited about Wisconsin culture and history," says Bob Miller, one of the Old Fashioned's owners. "We try to give back to the community using the same Wisconsin flare that has made us famous."
Here's the way it works: You and a loved one (optional) go to brunch. You eat something tasty like a brat benedict or ham and eggs. Then you get a raffle ticket for $1 (the $1 is also optional).
At the end of each weekend, raffle tickets are collected and prizes are given away to lucky winners whose names are pulled out of a hat. The prizes? Meat, of course: ham grenades, mini-brats (nothing says "party!" like mini-brats), pot roast.... The Old Fashioned covers the costs of publicity to get the word out and the nonprofit receives 100% of the profit from the raffle sales. Everyone wins.
Nonprofits are invited to make informal approaches to the Old Fashioned if they're interested in the program and are encouraged to draw their constituents in to the restaurant during their month of raffling. Past beneficiaries include the AIDS Network, Porchlight and Dane County Big Brothers & Big Sisters. Miller tells patrons to look out for the restaurant's Cherry Bounce opening celebration this winter.
Cherry bounce is a special tradition from Door County. For the Old Fashioned, this means taking fresh Door County cherries (the tart ones) and casking them in sealed glass jars with sugar and bourbon, brandy or vodka. Come December 1, the jars are opened, and a tasty and special drink is served in a brandy snifter. "We'll be giving away commemorative glasses, and proceeds from the night will go to Family Farm Defenders," says Miller. "There'll be appearances by such Wisconsin royalty as Alice in Dairyland, the Honey Queen, the Cranberry Queen and the Holstein Queen. Who'd want to miss that party?"
Around the corner from the Old Fashioned, Café Montmartre (127 E. Mifflin St., www.themomo.com), a dark but homey downtown bar and eatery, has to be cautious with giving. "We'd love to give to every nonprofit that comes in the door, but our budgets just don't allow for the hundreds of requests we receive," explains Kevin Spaulding, one of the café's owners. Instead, the Montmartre has opted to offer their Sidecar space for events. The Sidecar is 600 square feet and shares bar space with the Montmartre next door. "Most nights we won't fill the entire bar, so we close off the Sidecar. But if we can fill it with 50 folks for a charity event, then everyone benefits," adds Spaulding.
Often, the Montmartre even contributes some of its tasty appetizers, and the event coordinators specialize in creative and sometimes outrageous ideas and party concepts. For those who have attended the Hot Parties (a benefit against global warming) or the underwear parties of the past, you'll know how fun, creative, naughty and, ultimately, successful these events can be at attracting new audiences to important causes.
Ian Gurfield, of Ian's Pizza (319 N Frances St., 115 State St., www.ianspizza.com), has a different take. For Gurfield, giving is preferably part of a business model: "My belief is that the greatest contribution we can make to the community is by paying our staff good wages with health insurance, offering a 401K plan, and generous paid vacation time. While there are many great local charities, our resources are limited, and I want to make sure our staff gets taken care of first." These benefits are becoming rare at many jobs these days, especially in the service sector. That said, Gurfield, through his business, donated $3,000 worth of pizza and other merchandise items in 2006.
Taking a lesson from these successful businesses is easy: Giving can be a part of the work we do, while at the same time being fun.