Holding a Benefit Dinner
In 2006, after the birth of my second son, my husband and I had a lot on our plate with all of the costs of having a baby in the NICU. My mother-in-law organized and executed a benefit dinner to help us with travel costs and medical expenses. The dinner was very successful and we were very grateful for all of the people that came out to help. This is what we learned from that experience.
For a Good Cause
Whether you are looking to raise money for a charity or someone who is suffering from a debilitating illness, a benefit dinner may be the best way to go. The process to set one up is fairly simple if you have a keen sense of organization and a willing team of people that are able to help.
Steps To Success
1. One of the first things that you should do is find a place to hold your benefit. Some places may donate the space once you explain what it is needed for. Others may charge only a small fee to rent out a space big enough. One other thing to consider when choosing a place is to determine if you need access to a kitchen to cook the food. If not, your options may be more open that if you need a place to prepare the meals.
2. Once your place is set, then you need to decide on a date and time to hold the event. This, of course, may vary on the availability of the place that you are using. The day and time should be such that many people will have the opportunity to show their support if they choose to do so.
3. The place, date, and time are three of the first things that you should accomplish. Next on the list should be deciding what to serve. Many popular choices are spaghetti, ziti, chicken, or pancakes. A small tip: choose something that is easy and decently priced to make so that you can keep the clean-up easy and the costs low. You want to make money off of the food and don't want the cost to make the dinners outweigh the profit. Another option would be to have the dinner catered. You could always discuss the cause with local catering companies and some, or at least one, may be willing to cut the costs or donate the food.
4. A raffle is always a great way to raise more money for your cause. The best thing to do is to visit local merchants with a professional letter explaining who you are and what you are doing. You will find that many will donate something that can be raffled off such as a gift certificate, a product, or free services. Go through the phone book and think of as many places as you can. For every five that you visit, you may only get one donation. The more places that you visit, the more chances you have of gaining those donations. Also, in the letter make sure that you give the details of the event in case they would like to show their support that way. Make sure you do this step early on in the planning process because it may take time to gather the donations. You could also, or along with a regular raffle, do a 50/50 raffle. These types of raffles are very popular and can raise a lot of money. Whoever gets the winning tickets wins ½ of whatever was raised. It is a win-win for everyone.
5. At some point you will have to decide on entertainment. Talking with people in the area can give you ideas for this. A popular choice is a DJ service, however this can be costly. Again, If you approach a company with who you are and what you are doing, free services or a discount may be offered. You will find that a lot of people and business are willing to help if they are able. You could just have someone play CD's or hire a band as well.
6. One of the next things that you should do is advertise. We were lucky enough to have a newspaper reporter and a radio DJ hear about our story and both media outlets were willing to run free ads for our dinner. They even interviewed my mother-in-law about the details and she was on the radio talking about it. Hanging up fliers is always a good way to go to reach the people that may not have access to other ways of advertisement. Some locally-run websites may be willing to offer free or discounted advertising space. Don't ever under-estimate the power of word-of-mouth either.
7. By this time, the date of the benefit dinner is approaching quickly, and there are still a few more details that need to be considered before the planning stage is considered done. Decorations should be one of those things that you consider. Simple decorations are best. For our benefit dinner, I made a chart with information and pictures about what happened to our son and what he was going through. This allowed people who didn't understand his condition a chance to be educated. The decision to make such a poster paid off because a woman off the street came in to the dinner, read the information, came up to me gave me a big hug, and handed me and my husband a check for $500.00. At that time, I had no idea that people were so willing to give.
8. Shopping for the dinner will be quiet a process, unless you are having the meal catered or donated. You will have to try to estimate how many people will come and then try to get all of the food that you will need. Bulk stores may be the way to go with food shopping. For our dinner, we had a lot of left-over food, but that was better than running out. Make sure that you get enough paper products as well. And don't forget the take-out containers if that is an option you are offering.
9. Now the time has come and it is the day of the dinner. You will probably be really busy, running around like mad, making sure that everything is done and ready to go. Setting up tables, decorations, making food, getting raffles ready, and all the other little things that you have to do may lead you to forget one very important detail: HAVE FUN! Enjoy yourself and all of your hard work knowing that you are helping someone in need.