How Team Whoa Wyatt Smashed their Fundraising Goals for 2018

July 6, 2018 0 By muckfestms

Whoa Wyatt celebrates after finishing our second MuckFest MS. In 2017, we took on Philadelphia.

The 2018 New Jersey MuckFest® MS event is coming up quick, so it’s the perfect time to kick your fundraising into high gear! You can go a long way in just a few weeks, especially with these tips from Erika M. and Jessica D. from team Whoa Wyatt. They are taking fundraising by storm, and they’re sharing all that expertise with you…

On April 14, our MuckFest MS team Whoa Wyatt held a special event called “Strength in NuMberS,” a name that captures the spirit of our captain, Jessica Doninger, and her support system of family and friends. The event was a great success, raising $21,500 through ticket sales, sponsorships, raffles, and silent auctions — more than twice our total fundraising goal for the year. Our months of careful planning truly paid off and we’d like to share our experience with other muckers, so that you can build on them as you plan an event of your own.

Event organizers Ericka McKenna, Jessica and Brad Doninger

Get by with a Little Help from Your Friends

First, identify a core group of organizers that you can count on to help with the myriad of details and long hours of planning an event like this can require. Whoa Wyatt had a group of five dedicated team members, each with assigned tasks, who put the event together. It is a lot of work and you will need to rely on each other and share responsibilities.

Early on and throughout the planning process, we sought counsel from folks who had planned events for their own charitable causes and got great advice. Their knowledge was invaluable. We also learned not to be afraid to leverage your broader network of family and friends who can offer assistance. In our case, we called upon a trusted family member, who happens to be a chef, to cater the event and two friends who run microbreweries to partner with us on beverages. We also approached friends who own businesses to come on board as our official event sponsors. These sponsorships were extremely valuable to the event, as they covered nearly all of our out-of-pocket costs.

Team captain Jessica Doninger poses with team members Jamie McKeever and Amy Cannistra in front of the custom step-and-repeat, sponsored by BML PR.

Lay the Groundwork

The key decisions to make are the date and time of your event, the type of event you want to hold, and your venue. We decided early on to hold a raffle and silent auction because we were feeling ambitious and wanted to maximize our fundraising opportunity. (Note: Certain municipalities require a permit for raffles and you may need to obtain one.) We also decided to hold the event on a Saturday evening to allow for the maximum number of guests to attend. If you plan on hosting your event in a public venue, try looking for spaces that offer special rates to charitable causes. We held our event in a community club that offered their event room for half price to non-profit organizations. This venue also provided tables and chairs at no additional cost, which allowed us to funnel more of the funds generated by the event to the National MS Society.

Speaking of the Society, we made an early connection with Cory Zarrella, the New Jersey Metro Chapter specialist for MuckFest MS, to let the Society know about the event. The Society was able to provide us with a 501c3 letter and a donation request letter, indicating that they supported our event. These documents were extremely helpful to us as we solicited donations from the local community and beyond.

Team captain Jessica Doninger and her daughter Lily are happily reunited after a very mucky day.

Cast a Wide Net

The two most important drivers of fundraising for Strength in NuMberS were ticket sales and raffle and auction proceeds. We set the ticket cost at $50, which included food, drinks, and a set number of chances in a “tier 1” raffle. To maximize our fundraising potential, we also set up a “premium tier” raffle with specially priced tickets and held a silent auction. Our goal was to provide a variety of ways for our guests to participate in the event — from the smaller to the larger scale.

That said, neither our raffles nor our silent auction would have been possible without some incredible donations from friends and family, local and national businesses, and even some household name celebrities. The key to collecting all of those donations was our standard solicitation letter. Comprehensive tips for writing a solicitation letter can be found online, but in short, your letter should be concise and compelling — and include a personal story, if possible. In our letter, we were able to talk about our team captain Jessica’s journey with MS and the personal empowerment that fundraising for a cure gives her. Her story clearly touched people, as we received 130 separate donations for the raffle and silent auction. We would also encourage you to send as many requests as time allows.

Many companies accept requests only through online portals and some have restrictive deadlines (eg, requests need to be made at least 8 weeks prior to your event) so you should begin making requests well in advance of your event date. Sites like can also be helpful as a way to make multiple requests to different donors at once. If you are interested in soliciting celebrity donations, sites like can give you access to their agents’ or publicists’ contact information for a fee. We had great success with this channel, collecting donations from Meryl Streep, Ryan Gosling, Ke$ha, and Annie Leibovitz to name a few.

We also worked hard to identify partners or donors for materials that could have resulted in out of pocket expenses. For instance, a local advertising agency covered our design and print production needs, Classic Café Management donated $500 worth of food to the event, and a local florist provided us with centerpieces at wholesale cost. Look for people within your networks that are capable of making your event more successful and ask for their support.

The worst anyone can say is no, so ask, ask, and ask some more. We found that most people were more than willing to help with a donation or with their time, and we were frequently blown away by the generosity of our community.

After a successful run in Philadelphia in 2017, Jess reminds her social media followers of why we run – for her fellow MS warriors.

Keeping Everything Straight

This certainly isn’t the fun part, but it’s vital. To track our donations and ticket sales carefully, we used a simple Excel spreadsheet. We also leveraged Event Brite’s platform for ticket sales to help us reach guests who wanted to pre-purchase tickets online.

The night of the event, our front-of-house volunteers carefully logged tickets and raffle chances purchased at the door, as well as our final bids for each silent auction. Guests were asked to present their winning tickets to the volunteers and close out all auctions before leaving with their prizes. With two volunteers at the front of the house and about 100 guests, we were able to manage this easily.

A victorious Whoa Wyatt crosses the finish line at MuckFest MS 2016 the only way we know how – side by side and holding onto each other.

Make It Meaningful and Magical

We made some choices for our event that might have meant a higher out-of-pocket cost but that we thought would bring a little magic to our evening and give our guests an even better experience. Namely, we chose to have live music, floral arrangements, and a step-and-repeat for photo opportunities. Our live entertainment was provided by an acoustic duo; the volume level and song selection was perfect for our chatty and multigenerational crowd. The step-and-repeat was a great addition to the festive atmosphere of the event.

Jessica also chose to share her story with our guests in a brief and very touching speech during the event. Her remarks served to thank all of our donors and guests and also ended up grounding everyone on just how personal and important the search for a cure is to our team. In fact, several guests were inspired to immediately register for MuckFest MS! It was a beautiful and poignant moment in the evening.