This past January we lost a dear friend to Glioblastoma, a truly devastating disease. He had no signs or symptoms until BOOM…and then the grave diagnosis was made. Almost exactly a year after his first visit to the ER, on April 20th a large group of Art’s friends and family gathered at the banks of Lake Hartwell to celebrate his life and raise money for cancer research. The weather was glorious. We shared stories and laughed while Springsteen blared in the background. Art certainly would have been in his element.

Dragon-Boat-LogoYou may ask why we chose this location at the Portman Marina. It is simple; we were participating in the seventh annual Dragon Boat Upstate Festival. And I am proud to announce that the 40 individual and corporate teams represented that day raised more than $300,000 to benefit cancer research and rehabilitation at Greenville Health System’s Cancer Center. This year’s event brought their seven-year fundraising total to more than $1 million dollars.

Our team, “Art’s Navy,” was one of the top teams raising more than $30,000. We also won both of our dragon boat races, and just fell short of racing in the finals. Our tent was selected as the most creative…perhaps because of the large 10’ gondola that displayed Art’s name. And, as our t-shirts read, we were “Kicking Gliobastoma in the Glutes.”

As I reflect on the success of that day, I present a question that I have been asked often. Most recently a board member of an established local nonprofit posed it.

Our Development Director has recommended that we create a new special event to raise additional revenue. Could you offer some tips if we decide to establish a team fundraiser for our nonprofit? ~Sally

I appreciate your asking this question, Sally. I first want to acknowledge that your organization is embarking on an important strategic decision. It is not easy to identify a new and unique fundraising event that will offer the potential for long-term financial success. Many nonprofits are seeking opportunities that fall into the category of “must attend occasions.” These are the types of events that are marked on calendars a year-in-advance and that we invite our friends to.

Take some time making this decision. Before selecting an event I recommend holding a brainstorming session with your board and staff members. You will be amazed by the group’s creativity. Then research ideas and contact organizations around the country that hold similar events to find out about their experiences.

As you might imagine there are many fundraisers that are based on a team structure…on any given weekend the Upstate has numerous walks, runs and cycling events. Consider some of the successful models: March for Babies (March of Dimes), Team in Training (Leukemia and Lymphoma Society), Wheels for Meals (Meals on Wheels Greenville) and the Dragon Boat Upstate Festival. So if you decide to go this route, be sure to evaluate your competition, choose your date wisely and follow these recommendations:

Identify and recruit strong team captains
These individuals are the backbone of your event. They will tap into their personal networks and will champion your cause. They will build engaged teams of individuals who are potential donors and friends of your organization. Their efforts will support your organizational goals of encouraging annual participation and growing donations.

Offer an outstanding event experience
Develop a unique and memorable event. Make sure it is well run. Plan down to the smallest detail to ensure that participants walk away with a smile. During the event creatively tell your story so teammates understand and are motivated to spread the word about your cause. Provide incentives to encourage friendly competition and recognize outstanding contributions.

Provide the tools needed to engage teammates
Your team captains provide an important communications link to their teammates. It is, therefore, imperative that they have access to current information about the fundraiser. In addition they need user-friendly tools for team registrations, donations and recognitions. Fortunately there are many software providers that offer these solutions. In addition, be sure to incorporate email, online and social media strategies to support the event.

In closing, I want to congratulate the Greenville Health System (Office of Philanthropy & Partnership), the South Carolina Ovarian Cancer Foundation and Winn the Fight for successfully orchestrating the Dragon Boat Upstate Festival. It was a great event that inspired me to continue supporting the fight against cancer…especially as I watched the many survivors parade among their supporters. As I reflect on the day, only one thing could have made it better… and that is if we could have had Art there to enjoy the celebration.

Until next time,


Thank you to the Upstate Business Journal (UBJ) for inviting me to be a regular contributor to their publication. My goal in writing this column is to share my passion for nonprofits by bringing to light relevant information and success stories. This column is presented in a question and answer format. So whether you are a nonprofit professional, an active community volunteer or someone just looking for a way to get involved, I want to hear from you. I invite you to read all of my UBJ columns here.