How to use your powers — and parties — for good

Guestpost by Amy & Mistie Watkins on Mar 7th

Fundraiser? More like FUNraiser, am I rite? Photo by izatrini_com, used under Creative Commons license.

On New Year's Eve, we raised over $2,000 for a local food bank by dressing up, showing off, and getting cheerfully smashed with 30 or so of our best buds. We don't have loads of cash, a fancy venue, or any (particularly) super powers, so how'd we pull off this feat? By focusing on what we do have.

A few years ago, just after Christmas, we heard a depressing statistic: according to, about 20% of children in the U.S. live in "food insecure" households (households without consistent access to food). That kind of statistic feels insurmountable, like a tall building there's no hope of leaping. We didn't have money to spare. We didn't have loads of free time to volunteer. We didn't have power or influence or ideas for solving a problem this big.

Then we started talking about what we did have. We had a lot of friends who cared about others. We had some artistic talent. And we had a pretty kickass New Year's Eve party.

Most of our friends are artistic types, so every New Year's Eve, we throw a big party and trade the art we've made throughout the year. We've done this since 2001, and it is a great party! The art gives people who don't know each other something to talk about. The trading provides an activity and a reason for people to mingle and move about the house. We thought there might be a way to harness the energy of our art trade and use it for good.

Obviously, the money we've raised in the past few years hasn't solved the problem of hunger in our community, but it has changed the way we think about insurmountable problems.

We asked our friends to bring one piece of art to sell, rather than trade. We would donate the money from the sale to Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. And it worked! Fundraising actually made the party more fun. The next year, we added a silent auction, which let more people get involved in what was already great about the art trade — wheeling and dealing and taking art home at the end of the night.

Obviously, the money we've raised in the past few years hasn't solved the problem of hunger in our community, but it has changed the way we think about insurmountable problems. Focusing on what we can do accomplishes more than focusing on what we can't. Working together accomplishes more than struggling alone.

Want to use your own party for good? Here's what we've learned in four years of fundraising via our house party:

It has to be a good party. Parties need people and social lubricant, whether that's booze or good food or just the right music. Offbeat Home has you covered for party planning tips. Ariel's article about hosting an annual party is especially relevant.

Include your super team in the planning. The more people feel like the party and the fundraiser is theirs, the more they will contribute in money and energy. Plus, it's more fun and less stressful if you don't try to handle everything.

Tailor your party to fit your super powers. You could auction off baked goods, crafts, plants, professional services, comics, or last year's thrift store finds. What will your friends care enough about to get excited? Choose your charity the same way. We used Charity Navigator to find a charity that uses over 95% of its funds to feed people.

A party on a random Saturday night will not draw the crowd or the good vibes needed to open wallets like a party for a holiday. Think of a time your friends want to party — 4th of July, the solstice, Bastille Day, a joint birthday — and make it a tradition. New Year's Eve worked for us because the tradition of the art trade was already in place. New Year's is a good time for many charities to receive a donation as well. Even a few hundred dollars can be a much-needed boost to charities that are seriously depleted after the holidays, especially those charities that provide essential services, like food banks and shelters.

Let it grow naturally. The first year, we brought it all together on the fly and were happy to raise $350. The next year, Second Harvest said their demand had doubled, so we set a goal of doubling our donation. Whatever amount you raise is a win because it's more than you could have donated on your own, and it feels really good — almost super-powered — to work together to do something positive.

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About Amy & Mistie Watkins

Amy and Mistie Watkins are sisters. They both write, teach, make art, and rouse the rabble in Orlando, FL.