January 2016 Associate Board Spotlight: Big Brothers Big Sisters

Many associate boards have a gala event as their marquee fundraiser each year. These events can be a huge time commitment for board members and volunteers, but also a wonderful way to expose new audiences to your cause and, at the end of the day, a lot of fun!

We reached out to Teresa Sullivan of Big Brothers Big Sisters Chicago for some tips and tricks on organizing big events. Their annual Big Bash gets bigger and better each year; read on to find out how they do it.

-Why did you choose to get involved with BBBS?

I was a Big Sister when I worked in Madison so when I moved to Chicago for law school I was looking for a way to get involved here. I believe strongly in the mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters; each child and mentor relationship has a lasting, positive impact on the lives of both Littles and Bigs. 

-How is the event committee for the Big Bash structured? How do you work with the leaders of the Leadership Board?

We have four committees: Sponsorship, Silent Auction, Experience and Marketing. Each committee has two co-chairs who do the heavy lifting for their committee with the help of the board at large. Sponsorship works to get sponsors both by reaching out to former and potential sponsors and/or working with each Leadership Board member to reach out to his/her company and the companies in their network for sponsorships. Silent Auction works to gather auction items by reaching out to past auction donors and coming up with priority items (high value sports items, trips, unusual items) and strategizing on how to get those. Experience helps decide on entertainment, event set up, catering and other items like whether to have a photo booth or other fun elements as part of the evening. Marketing helps us get the word out on social and traditional media platforms. Each Leadership Board member is required to buy a ticket or make an equivalent donation. We also expect them to participate by getting sponsorships and auction items and selling tickets to their networks. 

-How have you had success approaching sponsors and donors for the auction?

A personal connection is typically the key. Cold calling rarely works. When we can leverage a Leadership Board member or a Board member to make an introduction to the company (even if that person doesn't want to make the ask him or herself) we are much more successful in securing the donation. Success in sponsorships starts with recruiting and retaining great talent on the Leadership Board. 

-Any challenges that come to mind as you organize a big fundraiser like this? How have you overcome them?

I would say that our biggest challenge has been deciding how to keep a connection to our core mission as an organization as the ticket sales increase each year. We want to share the stories of our Big/Little matches as a part of the event but its hard at a cocktail-style event during which we don't have a formal program. Fortunately, I know our Leadership Board members do a great job of spreading our mission throughout the evening. We also have posters up with information highlighting a few of our thousands of matches each year. But we're still working on that one! 

-What's one big takeaway you've learned from organizing the Big Bash?

Start earlier than you think you need to! This goes for booking a space, booking a band, asking for sponsorships, asking for silent auction items, selling tickets, etc. We try to start early in the year asking the Leadership Board to get engaged with each of those. Ideally, we would book the space and band at least a year before the event, start asking for sponsorships and silent auction items 10 months before the event and selling tickets at least a few months before the event.