Spokane Journal of Business

Ronald McDonald House Charities: Big events, big returns

High-profile fundraisers bring in more donations

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-—Ronald McDonald House Charities
Danica Schacher and Eric Agnew dance at this year’s S-K Ball, which raised $187,000 for Ronald McDonald House Charities.

For 30 years, Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Inland Northwest has provided temporary lodging, comfort, and support for families with children accessing medical care.

That help would not be possible without the financial contributions of businesses and individuals throughout the community.

“Donations allow us to provide critical lodging and other support to families with ill or injured children traveling to Spokane for medical services at no cost to the family,” says Mike Forness, executive director for Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Inland Northwest. “Many of these families go from two incomes to one or one income to no income, so donations make a big difference in these families lives.”

The nonprofit relies on both event and non-event fundraising to generate continued support.

This year, events raised a total of $947,800. Those events include the Cobra Polo Classic, which brought in $595,000, up from $545,000 the previous year; and the SK Ball, $187,000, up from about $160,000 in 2016, says Julie Delaney, the organization’s director of communications. RMHC’s Annual Breakfast brought in $41,000 this year, which is up from last year, and Flamingo Flocking raised $25,000, which is consistent with its 2016 earnings, Delaney says.

“Events play a key role in our fundraising strategy. The success of our events and the revenue that they bring in make up almost half of our total fundraising efforts each year,” says Forness. “Events also allow us to connect with the community and donors to share our mission and spread the word on the role that we are able to play in the region for families in need.”

Each event has its own committee.

Cobra Polo Classic makes a big splash each year both in terms of revenue and media attention. Corporate sponsorship coupled with attendees’ contributions make it the largest donation generating event for RMHC. 

The annual September gala includes lunch, live and silent auctions, swag bags, the Parade of Hats, and a Polo match. 

Melissa Luna, development director for RMHC, says planning for the event typically begins two weeks after the Polo Classic concludes.

“It takes about a full year to plan,” she says. “Twenty-five people are on the committee, including four staff members.”

By the day of event, that committee swells to 500 volunteers, all working together to ensure 1,200 guests have a fabulous time while raising money for the organization. 

Luna says they are constantly looking for ways to improve the experience.

“When we realized the event occurred on the same day as NFL opening day, we added a whiskey-and-cigar tent with TVs playing the NFL games,” she says. 

This year, organizers added a VIP pre- and post-party at the Davenport Grand. Those functions aren’t included in the $200-per-person ticket price for the Cobra Polo Classic, but offer free parking downtown and a VIP bus to and from the event.

At the after-party, attendees get to mingle with the polo players.

“They’re like rock stars to us,” says Luna.

Not all RMHC events are as posh. The SK Ball is strictly downhome.

 Ami Kunz-Pfeiffer, event specialist for the organization, says the ball was the original fundraising event for the Ronald McDonald House, and organizers brought it back for the 25th anniversary of the organization’s presence in Spokane.

It proved to be popular—so popular that the organization had to move to the biggest bay at the fairgrounds to accommodate its 600 guests.

“This year will be our sixth SK Ball,” Kunz-Pfeiffer says. “A lot of fundraisers are black tie, but this one gets you barbecue, line dancing, and a mechanical bull. It’s super fun and it sells out quickly.”

She says they start planning in January for the May event, which takes 75 volunteers to pull off.

“We’re so incredibly fortunate to have the most amazing, committed volunteers,” she says.

Another fun, accessible way the nonprofit raises funds involves multiple flocks of pink flamingos and a host of high school students.

“Flamingo Flocking was designed specifically for our teen board,” Kunz-Pfeiffer says. “Currently, we have 52 teens from area high schools serving.”

The teens divide into teams, and each group is responsible for two flocks of six to eight flamingos. Each team chooses two houses and stakes the birds on the chosen lawns with a sign that reads “You’ve been flocked by the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Inland Northwest Teen Board!”

For a $32 donation, the recipients can send the flock on to a friend or family member, or donate any amount to have the Teen Board come remove it.

“It’s amazing because moving the flocks becomes quite the job,” says Kunz-Pfeiffer. “I’ve managed flocks every year myself. What we love most about this event is that it allows our message to get out to people we may not reach otherwise.”

She notes 60 percent to 70 percent of Flamingo Flocking targets are new donors.

Signature events like the Polo Classic or eye-catching fundraisers featuring flamingos are vital to the ongoing mission of RMHC.

However, events aren’t the only way RMHC raises funds. In 2016 non-event revenue generated nearly $1.1 million.

In addition to individual and corporate donations, non-event revenue includes bequests and planned gifts, adopt-a-room programs, grants and foundations, United Way donations, McDonalds customer canister donations, McDonalds owner/operator donations, guest family room contributions, and investment income.

Those vehicles provide ways to support the mission of Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Inland Northwest without purchasing tickets to a gala or attending an early morning breakfast.

In all, donations made possible 6,900 nights of lodging for 822 family guests in 2016.

“The community donations we receive, throughout all 12 months of the year, are critical to our success,” Forness says. “We rely on event and non-event contributions to support the families we serve.”

  • Cindy Hval

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