How to Raise Money for Good Causes

by Hayden Hollingsworth

Money is on everyone’s mind these days and none more so than charitable organizations.  The federal government, every state assembly, and any locality you mention is in the same boat:  There is barely enough money to keep afloat, let alone expand programs.  While it has never been easy to raise revenue for charitable groups, I cannot recall a time when it has been more difficult.

With 501(c)-3 organizations every board meeting, every news letter, every e-mail, and every mail delivery carries the same request:  Send money.  That’s a message that has little resonance when almost everyone is having the same problems with their personal budgets.

Many of these groups do vital and worthwhile work and, now especially, need our support.  It’s alarming to see staff laid off, programs curtailed, and in the worst cases, agencies shut down. One of the key factors in judging how well fund raisers operate is the amount that it spends on administrative costs.

We are subjected to every type of fund raising.  From the harassing robocall, to car washes and bake sales, to walkathons and much more, coming up with a new idea for contributions is increasingly difficult.  In 1999 the Roanoke Academy of Medicine Alliance Foundation found one of the best ever:  The Book and Author Dinner. RAMA is an organization of spouses of physicians whose mission is to, among other things, support charitable agencies. They knew Book and Author would beat selling impatiens and geraniums, their previous fund raiser, by a long shot.

Where it originated I am not sure, although it immigrated to Roanoke from Richmond.  The idea was simple:  Bring in well-known authors for a dinner and book signing.  The profits would go to charities which the Foundation would select. The first dinner featured, among others, Willard Scott, the ebullient NBC weatherman from the Today show.  The amount raised was only $5000 and it was distributed to a RAMA Scholarship Fund for students in health-related study, CHIP, and The Bradley Free Clinic.

Once the kinks got worked out of that initial year, the amounts raised soared.  Now in its 13th iteration, the total funds distributed will likely exceed a half million dollars.  Over the years that amount has been divided between more than 30 charitable organizations. This year’s recipients will be CHIP, Project Access (they bring medical care to the underserved), Children’s Trust, St. Francis Service Dogs, and the RAMA Scholarship Fund; that’s always chosen by the Foundation.

This year’s program promises to live up to past performances which have included such luminaries as David Baldacci, Oliver Sacks, Frank McCourt, Homer Hickam, Nikki Giovanni, and Martin Clark to name only a few.  One thing has always been certain:  A delightful evening at Hotel Roanoke listening to authors, who are never shy, talk about the craft of writing and do it with humor.

The emcee this year will be Adriana Trigiani, worth the price of admission all by herself.  The honorees are Andrew Klavan, a renowned writer of mysteries, Dorothea Benton Frank, widely published and a New York Times best seller, and James Swanson, another NYT winner who writes non-fiction crime books; the best since Truman Capote, says, Patricia Cornwall who is no slouch herself.

The 2011 event will be held April 15 is open to everyone, not just the medical community.  It kicks off with a VIP cocktail party open to corporate sponsors, authors, and patrons, then an elegant dinner followed by the speakers and book signing.  The books will be made available on site at a substantial discount by Ram’s Head Book Store.   A portion of the proceeds from book sales go to the designated charities. Most of the speakers have, in the past, donated their honoraria to RAMA, cutting administrative costs to the bare necessities and making the enormous amounts raised possible.  If you’re looking for more bang from your charity buck, this one is hard to beat.

For more information, call 540-581-4355 and checkout the website:  It really lights up the whole event. Don’t put it off; the tickets go in “a New York minute,” so to speak.

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