Why This Gala Proudly Calls Itself "The Worst Fund-Raiser Ever"

Monetary donations are not allowed at this unique charity event for critically ill children and their families.

By Mitra Sorrells November 14, 2017, 7:01 AM EST

To be admitted to the event, guests had to provide a product or service to a pediatric patient from one of two nearby hospitals.

Photo: Kate Pope Photography

On first glance, the charity event at the Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh, North Carolina, Friday night looked like a standard fund-raiser. The more than 500 guests took photos on the step-and-repeat at the entrance, nibbled hors d’oeuvres, sipped cocktails, and danced to music from a DJ.

But what the guests didn’t do—to secure a ticket to the event or at any time during the three-hour party—was pull out their wallets. That’s because the Give Gala does not accept any money. Instead, guests are required to offer a service, a gift, or a talent in order to participate in the event.

This was the second year for the gala, which was created by Jess Eckstrom and Joey McMahon, two local entrepreneurs who work with children being treated at U.N.C. Hospital and Duke University Hospital through separate nonprofits they have created—Headbands of Hope and the Monday Life.

“These families are going through the worst time of their lives. There is such a feeling of isolation,” McMahon said. “We started to think how can we replace this isolation with interaction. And we decided the best way to do that is to remove money and to ask people to get to know themselves a little bit and determine what kind of gifts they might be able to provide.” The two founders gave the event a humorous subtitle: the Worst Fund-raiser Ever.

Organizers collect requests from families in case some of the interested guests cannot think of an item or service to donate. McMahon said the most common request from families is for an experience, since the cost of their children’s medical treatment leaves little extra in their budgets. So some guests donate tickets to a sporting event or use of a vacation home. Others donate gift cards to restaurants or provide a service, such as doing yardwork for the family or helping them sort through financial issues. This year about 15 patients were able to attend the gala along with their families. The rest will receive their gifts in the coming days.

Sponsors cover the event’s costs or donate goods or services. Sponsors this year included On the Rocks Bartending, the Dillon Raleigh, KBI Biopharma, Raleigh Brewing Company, Kate Pope Photography, Moe’s Southwest Grill, and others.

McMahon said he hopes the event will continue to grow every year, and that other charitable organizations will consider this approach. “For some this might not fit. But in situations where the money you raise will purchase the things being donated anyway, you are not only skipping a step and saving time, but you are involving others in that process of giving, which is incredibly important,” he said. “This gives people the freedom to think, ‘What can I give besides money?’ We all have gifts.”

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