Update: The ABCDs of House Party Success — How to Put ‘Em to Work for Your Nonprofit

Update The ABCDs of House Party Success -- How to Put 'Em to Work for Your NonprofitPost-Party Update — Feb. 4, 2008
Our pre-primary party was a fabulous success, with more than 80 folks engaged, provoked, stimulated and talking. Guests responded with huge thanks for the forum. Here are a couple of the emails we received the next day:
“Congratulations, and thanks again on pulling off an ambitious party. It really worked out great! We had fun, learned something, got to enjoy the company of new and old friends.”

It was great fun, good to hear from the articulate and smart folks there, and inspiring to enjoy the general good feeling and hope about next year.  Thanks for pulling us all together, giving us a chance to talk politics and a reason to savor this rather extraordinary moment we are living through!

Here’s what made this party a huge success, and what will work for your nonprofit’s house party:

A) Build a sense of excitement
ahead of the event, to frame the focus and format, and get guests intrigued, involved and up-to-speed before they walk in the door.

B) Organize it out the wazoo.
Nothing is as deflating as guests drifting around, uninvolved. Be prepared to capture the energy, build on it, then put it to work. Outline the format (ours outlined below worked great), have handouts ready and leave the group motivated to act (and make it easy for them to do so).

C) Make it fun. All work and no play makes a party dull. Remember you have a self-selected group of interesting, interested people. Make sure they have the opportunity to connect on other fronts as well…that’ll increase their enthusiasm about the experience, and probably the issues, and add an infrastructure to the community you’re building.

D) Keep up the momentum, continuing to nurture the community of interest you build. Your guests’ departure is only the beginning of a beautiful relationship . Before your guests go out the door, have your follow-up plan in place, and move on it within a couple days. We’re sending out a follow-up email, with a post-party poll, and will keep up with periodic emails, and a mid-July fundraiser.

P.S. Take a close look at the photo above. Yes, our friend Tori at left is wearing a vintage Nixon dress, itself worth the price of admission.
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Readers, here’s a semi-personal story I wanted to share with you.

In our state (NJ), we’ve never had a REAL say in the presidential primaries before. But this round we’re part of Super Tuesday (Feb. 5th), something many folks haven’t fully absorbed. So we’re holding a pre-primary party to help 100 of our undecided Democratic and Independent friends get clear on whom they’ll vote for in Tuesday’s primary, and get everyone, decided or not, excited and motivated to vote, volunteer and give.

The concept — an issues-oriented house party — is ripe for the stealing from the political arena. After all, creating and sharing new traditions is a key way to cope with an ever-changing culture.

The possibilities for your organization to launch a house party campaign are almost endless. It takes only the simplest online support mechanism (deliverable via your Web site) to make it easy for your supporters to raise dollars and awareness for your cause. Education, awareness and possibly fundraising, all  in an atmosphere of conviviality and good food (let’s hope). Talk about putting your supporters to work for you.

Here’s how our party will work:

1) Pre-Party Ramp Up

  • Emails to guests to build understanding and excitement about the event, and a clearer sense of where the candidates are on the issues.
  • Online pre-party poll.

2) Caucus and Meet Your Candidate Captains

  • Guests will caucus for 20-30 minutes with others who also support their current pick.
  • Each group will be asked to define 3-5 key reasons it’s supporting that candidate AND 3-5 reasons why the other candidates aren’t strong enough. (Polite bashing is acceptable).
  • Undecideds are free to roam.
  • The aim of this portion of the party is for the captains to compile a list of reasons to support the candidate (and oppose the others),and find out who among the group wants to participate in the Soap Box session. (This may take some gentle nudging for some.Of course, no pressure for anyone to speak in the Soap Box session.)

3) Soap Box Sermonizing — Pro and Con

  • In rotating order, a representative from each camp (can be the captain or any other supporter for that candidate) will ascend the Soap Box, and be given up to ONE MINUTE to address the party with a key reason the group supports their candidate (Pro). It’s our own Speakers Corner.
  • So, we’ll get one minute from a Clinton supporter, one minute from an Edwards supporter, one minute from an Obama supporter.
  • Then in the next round, following the same order, people will speak to the “Con” — Why the other candidates aren’t up to snuff.
  • We’ll do this until all three camps have shared main reasoning for and against.

4) Caucus Fraucus and Straw Poll

  • We’ll dissolve into a Caucus Fraucus of beer, soft drinks and chips. During this time, primary party-ers are encouraged to engage each other about who they’re supporting and why.Cajoling and persuading are encouraged.
  • Then they step over to our “voting booth” and cast their ballots in our straw poll.

5) Pizza for all, as we announce/predict(?) the winner!

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Nancy Schwartz on February 5, 2008 in Campaign Marketing Models & Tips, Nonprofit Communications, Unique Approaches | 1 comment
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  • russburke

    Thanks so much, Nancy, for a wonderful idea jogger for resource-starved nonprofits. This kind of event is within reach of even the smallest shops. So much of its success can depend directly on the commitment and vision a just a very few people to pull it off. And that’s the beauty of it.
    I cited this on our Mission Research blog. Thanks again!

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