Banquet Success: How to “Get ‘er Done,” Courtesy of the Shenandoah Valley Chapter
The Shenandoah Valley Chapter started about 21 years ago and many charter members and their families remain very active. One success factor in keeping our chapter fun and productive derives directly from our family atmosphere. We have many husband-wife teams, often augmented by children of all ages and even grandchildren.
Our chapter members volunteer on many levels, such as going on “scavenger hunts” for donations when they team up to approach local businesses, services and individuals. We use past years’ records (receipts for donation) to provide great information as we begin new donation solicitations. We want to be sure someone is responsible for contacting all previous donors. This gives us a chance to thank them again even after they have already gotten a timely Thank You note, and face-to-face contact helps encourage renewed generosity.
Timely information from RMEF headquarters about monies spent in Virginia also helps because some donors really want to know how their donation may help conservation both inside and outside our elk zone. Many other chapters may use a donation solicitation process similar to ours, and likely those chapters can add suggestions for improvement.
Below is a list of thoughts that may help any chapter, large or small, think about donation solicitation.
To increase banquet profit by having all silent and live auction items and many raffle items donated or underwritten. This may be difficult at first, but should become easier each year. All donated or underwritten items are pure profit. (Editor’s note: the Shenandoah Valley Chapter has had every live and silent auction item donated or fully underwritten the past two years.)
1. Start early. Have a “wrap-up” meeting shortly after an annual banquet or event. Note what went well, not-so-well and what might work better next year.
2. Start thinking about donations/underwriting at least six months before the next banquet.
3. It is important to remember that many businesses/organizations get MANY requests for donations, so (a) make your request personal with an emphasis on the benefit of their gift to their business and (b) don’t pester them if they say “No thank you.”
4. Follow-up on your requests. Businesses get busy and your request may not be high on their priority list, even if they have promised to donate.
5. Be sure to completely fill out an RMEF receipt for donation form to include a contact name and address. This sets up a database for contacts next year.
The “Ask” Packet
1. Each chapter member should receive an “ASK,” or Donation Solicitation packet, at least six months before the next banquet.
2. “ASK” Packet should contain:
• At least five copies of the “Ask” letter, written on RMEF stationery, with clear, local contact
information. Include information about the banquet, the mission of and purpose of RMEF
including its non-profit status, RMEF’s tax ID number, how their donation will help elk and
elk habitat, how their donation will help a chapter’s home state, and updated chapter
• At least five RMEF donation receipts with chapter name and number already filled in.
• A Bugle magazine and RMEF pamphlets on elk status in at least the general home region.
• Relevant home state information about elk, elk habitat and other benefits to the state
(e.g., RMEF’s recent State Grant projects).
1. Again, start early.
2. Add as many new and unique-to-your-chapter items as you can to those offered in the RMEF catalog. People who attend wildlife banquets tend to see the same “catalog” items, simply with different wildlife logos. There are only so many large wildlife prints a person has room to hang on their walls.
3. Think local, think unique, and think imaginatively!
- Contact every business you frequent, keeping in mind that most welcome publicity such as cards/brochures by their items and mention in the banquet program.
- Encourage donors to include business cards/brochures, etc., to be placed by the donated item for attendees to take.
- Don’t forget items for children even if your event is not tailored for children as attendees are likely to have children or grandchildren they might want to surprise with a gift.
- Even if potential donors have nothing to donate, they may be willing to donate cash with which to underwrite an item. (See Underwriting below):
Examples of contacts (remembering that you are limited only by your imagination!):
- Local artists
- Wineries/Breweries: Even if they cannot donate alcohol, they can donate gift certificates for tastings, etc.
- Restaurants: Again, the big ones get asked for donations all the time, so don’t be disappointed if you receive several “No thank you’s.” Don’t forget the small, local “Mom and Pop” restaurants who would love to gain new customers. A collection of restaurant certificates makes a great silent auction item.
- Garden/farm/bird food supply businesses
- Local food products – jams, jellies, sauces, cheeses, vinegars, soups, candies, etc. Check online with the local Department of Agriculture to find the vast array of folks licensed to sell homemade products. Most are willing to contribute baskets to showcase their items.
- Banks – often donate baskets of products containing logoed items
- Grocery stores
- Local authors
- Stationers/gift shops
- Toy shops
- Local folks who make crafts
- Fabric stores/quilts
- Pet items – dog food, collars, etc.
- Bed and Breakfasts, local hotels
- Multiple years of magazine subscriptions to “classy” magazines such as “Garden and Gun” or “Sporting Dog Journal”
- Walk through hunting stores to look for ideas of vendors to contact
- Check local newspapers for ideas of businesses
1. If possible, get each chapter member to underwrite at least one auction and/or raffle item.
2. When contacting local businesses with the “Ask Packet,” stress the idea of underwriting an item or part of the banquet, keeping in mind that most businesses appreciate publicity. Possible examples include:
Part or all of the dinner
Snacks or hors d’oeuvres
3. In order to do well with underwriting, it is important to know at least the approximate cost of the items; however, any cash donation is great.
1. Use RMEF blank note cards.
2. Write a personal, handwritten note as soon as you receive their gift. A standard “thank you” is okay, but add at least one sentence that makes it personal. Mention the gift, the company, etc.
3. Write a second personal, handwritten “thank you” shortly after the banquet. Mention the gift, the estimated total raised at the banquet, possibly how many people were in attendance, and thank the donor for his/her part in the banquet success. This goes a long way toward next year’s support.
1. Information going out to the public can stimulate both donations and attendance. Local news outlets (radio and print) can reach folks who may otherwise never hear about RMEF and the local banquet or event. We have also had press coverage at our banquets, which can help when the time comes to announce another banquet/event.
2. Information to each chapter member is also very critical. The “Ask Packet” can educate each chapter member and help them deliver a consistent message to potential donors.
3. An overall spread sheet (e.g., Excel) of past donors and potential new donors with contact information is extremely critical, especially when chapter members review this sheet and sign up to make a contact. Again, the past year’s donor list forms the foundation for the next year contacts. The information on the receipt for donation is the basic beginning point.
Shenandoah Valley Chapter Volunteer