Winner of Event Innovation Award of the Year 2009 - Seattle Action Center
NOMINEE : SEATTLE Action Center
Event: Uphaar 2009
- New event idea/event – Not new event, but new format
- # of participants/attendees – 220
- Type and diversity of attendees – Mostly Indians from the technology and consulting industries.15% non-Indians
- Revenue generated - $120,000
- Degree of replicability (1-5) – how easy would it be for others to organize this event? 2
- Media coverage (# of articles) - no ne
Uphaar is CRY Seattle's flagship event. It's the largest fundraiser, not only for our Action Center but for CRY America overall. Before Uphaar 2009, it had helped raise over $750,000 over the past five years.
However, in its sixth year, the original format for Uphaar was in danger of becoming stale. Over the past three years, we had seen revenues decline year-on-year, and we were getting consistent feedback from donors and attendees that the event was losing its luster. As planning for Uphaar 2009 started in summer 2008, various ideas to freshen the format of the evening were discussed. After a lot of investigation, we settled on the idea of doing the event at Teatro Zinzanni, a dinner entertainment venue which combines a gourmet dinner designed by celebrity chef Tom Douglas with a variety entertainment show including cirque and cabaret. This venue was significantly more expensive than more traditional venues (golf clubs, hotel banquets) that we'd considered. This meant that we were counting on increased revenues to offset the higher costs. However, not rebooting the format would've meant losing donor interest, so we bit the bullet and moved swiftly to reserve the venue and start further planning.
As we were going ahead with this, Lehman Brothers collapsed, the stock market took a nose dive and all of a sudden, we were looking at a very bad market. Market (and donor) sentiment was on the cautious to pessimistic side as we started approaching donors for attending Uphaar. With the layoffs at Microsoft, sentiments took a nosedive. We considered canceling the event and bearing the loss of the advance we'd paid, at least three times if not more. But we kept soldiering on hoping that we could have sufficient people to come for the event.
Uphaar has traditionally been seen as an elite event, even though the entry fee ($250) is something that a large number of people in the Indian community here can afford. For Uphaar 2009, we turned to them for help through our volunteers. We implemented a 'free pass' strategy, where we asked volunteers to ask their friends to attend Uphaar. Volunteers were asked to use their judgment and invite friends/ co-workers/acquaintances who would attend and then maybe pay at least the basic entry fee ($250). We used the matching grants made by employers like Microsoft as a draw (which meant effectively the attendee could pay $125 and ask their employer to match the rest).
The event was very well-received. The format was never before tried by a South Asian non-profit so the donors and guests really enjoyed the uniqueness of the event. Doing away with the traditional slides and graphs-based presentation, three volunteers took the microphone and spoke eloquently about their passion for the cause of child rights and their reasons for volunteering.
Sustained campaigning and immense volunteer enthusiasm led to over 200 people attending Uphaar 2009, with $120,000 in revenues raised through the event, exceeding our wildest expectations. To top it off, we got a number of new volunteers some of whom have become long-term volunteers for CRY.
- Use of a non-traditional dinner theater/cabaret venue like Teatro with a more relaxed, semi-formal vibe – a first among South Asian non-profits
- Non-traditional entertainment with no keynote speeches - soft sell for CRY, no explicit 'Ask' for donations, with donation forms on each table to donate as you wish
- Use of Teatro Zinzanni's entertainment, making the event lively and memorable (compared to traditional Indian-style entertainment)
- Use of 'free pass' strategy for attracting people who'd traditionally not come to Uphaar earlier