How (and why) to run a fundraiser

The Beatrice Bennett Great Aspirations Memorial Scholarship event.

Bella Bennett, right, with Kseniia Soloviova, left, and Katherine Dorr with the butterfly collage created with handmade paper. — Courtesy Bella Bennett

We hear about fundraisers in the weeks before they are held, but — aside from the biggies such as Possible Dreams — we don’t often get to hear how they turn out. Former Times intern Bella Bennett shared with us the process of creating and pulling off a successful fundraiser in her mother’s name. Bella will be returning to Skidmore College as a sophomore in January.

After my mom passed away three months ago, I decided to start a scholarship in her name, in an attempt to carry on her legacy of helping others to realize and achieve their potential and passion. The scholarship, I soon learned, would need a minimum of $20,000 in order to become official through the Permanent Endowment, a community nonprofit that helps manage and distribute grants and scholarships.

Luckily, a family friend, Kim Angell, stepped in. Where I was full of ideas but lethargic with grief and disenchanted with life, she was a powerhouse — eager to turn my idea into a reality. Kim brainstormed a list of fundraising ideas, the best of which came to life last Saturday evening, December 20, at the Portuguese-American Club.

Louis Giordano, who most know as the angel who brought the Island delicious Italian food and the should-be-world-famous TIC rolls at Louis Cafe for 28 years, before closing six years ago, offered to bring back all the old favorites for one night only in support of the scholarship. Once we began spreading word of the fundraiser, back in October, friends and family showered us with help and support.

Kim gathered and organized a small army of help. Kate Feiffer and Tracey Smith organized a silent auction with so many items that it took up nearly half of the PA club’s main room; Goodnight Louise agreed to play; Kseniia Soloviova and Barbara Lampson schemed about decorations; and Louis gathered all of the ingredients for his dishes.

Suddenly, the fundraiser was only a week away. Boy, did that week fly by in a blur of errands, decorating, cooking, and a bit of stressing on my end. I was repeatedly surprised by wonderful people appearing with aprons and smiles over the course of the week.

Finally, it was 6 pm on Saturday. Guests began to filter into the P-A club. Despite decent ticket sales at Conroy’s and Midnight Farm, I’d been secretly worried that nobody would attend.

I should have known there was nothing to worry about. We welcomed more guests than I ever anticipated — about 175 people. It was truly a tribute to my mom’s ability to bring people together. The P-A club glowed with Christmas lights, harmonized with the lively band, and was punctuated by the mouthwatering smells that wafted out of the kitchen.

The silent auction table advertised everything from a piece donated by Jeff Serusa of Seaworthy Gallery, to a strangely beautiful and alluring painted skunk skull by Peggy MacKenzie, to a sail on the sloop Liberty donated by Doug and Molly Cabral. Even I was able to contribute to the silent auction (aside from the soap-making tutorial and gift certificate to Panaché Salon that I bid on and won). Two weeks before the event, I began making paper, (which I learned how to do years before at Island Children’s school). I made a few hundred sheets of textured paper in a kaleidoscopic array of colors, but had no idea what to do with them. Kseniia suggested that we create a piece for the auction. At first I was skeptical, because it involved cutting the paper, which also had designs, quotes, and leaves inlaid. I’m so glad I trusted Kseniia. With the help of my friend Katherine Dorr, the three of us turned the paper into a pile of bright little butterflies, which we then organized according to color, and arranged into a heart shape. The beauty of the piece was that we folded the butterflies, so that the shape appears to be three dimensional and in motion behind the frame. I was honored when the final bid was $800.

My favorite part of the evening though, was seeing my great uncle and aunt, Ben and Paddy Moore, dancing in front of the band. It made everything about the event seem perfect — before I even discovered how much money we’d raised. It was just so incredible to have close to two hundred people come together and celebrate good food, a good cause, and for many, my mom.

When the evening drew to a close, and the last song ended, the bidding wars peaked during a 15-second countdown to the closing of the silent auction. A beautiful ceramic bowl with a majestic owl sculpted on it by Bill O’Callaghan was the object of multiple people’s desire, while others attempted to outbid each other for a large seaside landscape painting by Tracey Martin, which closed at $1,350. The highest bid was $2,500, for a week at Casa Beatrice, the house in Sicily that my parents bought a few years ago. My parents and I spent a lot of time working on the house and making it beautiful, and I am really excited for more people to enjoy it.

In one fun-filled night, we were able to raise almost $25,000, more than enough to become a legitimate scholarship, all thanks to the incredible support from the Island community. Because we were able to raise so much, I am thrilled to announce that we will award our first recipient this spring at honors night. Before that, I will read the applications I hope to receive, and interview the top candidates. The thing that makes this scholarship especially exciting to me, having been through the process of applying to the many Island scholarships available, is that this will be available to both college bound graduates and graduates who aspire to pursue other goals or passions. My mom always made me feel as though the only limits I had to face were the ones that I put on myself. I really hope to be able to help graduates transcend monetary limitations so that those with a hope or dream are able to become more knowledgeable, or worldly, or whatever it is they set out to achieve. At this early stage, we will be able to support any student working through a nonprofit organization. (Believe it or not, colleges are considered non-profits.) NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School), and Outward Bound are just two examples of the thousands of available programs we hope applicants will strive for.

I believe that this scholarship will make a difference in many lives in the years to come, and hope to have a lasting impact on the Island community, just as it has had on me.

My sincerest gratitude to everyone who had a hand, or even a fingernail, in making this dream of mine come true, but especially to Kim Angell and Louis Giordano, who were all in from the beginning.