How to use your powers — and parties — for good

Guest post by Amy & Mistie Watkins
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.

Comments on How to use your powers — and parties — for good

  1. My friends have been throwing a similar fundraising party for the last five or six years with great success as well. The event is called Booze4Boobs and raises money for breast cancer research. Before the party people can sign up to make boob related artwork (whatever that means to them) which is then placed in a silent auction. We’ve had everything from jewelry boxes, to photographs, to boob pillows, and paintings. One artist’s piece is also chosen as an raffle item. A week or two before the party raffle tickets are sold for a $1 a piece. They are also sold at the event. Liquor donations are welcome and people also bring boob themed food to snack on. Everyone uses the fundraiser as an excuse to dress to the nines as well and it has become quite the fancy shindig.

    The parties are always a huge hit! I mean, who doesn’t love booze, art, helping people, and socializing with friends? As people become more intoxicated bidding wars begin and people scramble to buy more raffle tickets. We’ve managed to raise several thousand dollars each of the last few years.

    Thanks for the post. It’s good to know other groups are having these fundraising parties as well!

  2. Awesome idea! I know a good amount of artists and musicians, so this could easily work! Also, if you have a lot of left overs consider taking them to a shelter, but do call ahead!

    • I keep thinking of activity/charity pairings–clothing swap for Dress for Success, poetry slam for literacy, cosplay for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, video games for disaster relief…

  3. We did something sort of along these lines also… for our annual Christmas party, we decided to call it Toys and Turducken, and not only supply the regular holiday baked goods, but cook something really special and unique, a turducken. We asked that every guest bring a children’s toy to donate instead of a dish or hostess gift. We also had a little homemade photo booth set up so that was an added bonus for guests. We ended up donating a giant box of toys to Toys for Tots just in time for Christmas and it felt great for everyone to get in on the group effort!

  4. Some friends of mine threw a party for their 1-year old where instead of presents, they had people bring canned goods for a food pantry. I thought that was brilliant, since a 1-year old isn’t going to remember a party and doesn’t need lots of toys in any case. I’ve been saving up that idea for my son’s 1st birthday for a while now…

  5. Thank you for this post!

    As someone who works in the nonprofit industry it always makes me happy to see people encouraging others to give back to their community, no matter the amount or the method!

  6. My friends and I did something like this on a smaller scale for my husband’s birthday just this week. We set up a campaign for charity:water on-line, ( and asked friends and family to “buy Chris a drink” by making a donation. We surprised Chris with the results at a small party with those friends who lived in town, and by showing the messages and donations contributed by those who lived far away (you can see these on the campaign website) it felt like our far-off friends were there. My husband was touched by the gesture, especially since charity:water is his favorite cause, and we were able to bring clean water access to almost 40 people in the majority world!

  7. I just want to say thanks, Offbeat Home! I work with a program that brings in international students from literally every continent save Antarctica for the purposes of studying public policy and NGOs. I mentioned to my boss the idea of maybe turning one of our annual parties for the students into a charity fundraiser and she LOVES the idea. If I can manage to pull it off maybe I’ll finally get that promotion I deserve 😉

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