Recently, Melissa Hoeman Carlberg and her husband Zach hosted a dinner party fundraiser in their home to benefit the Literacy Center, which provides basic literacy education, General Educational Development (GED) prep and technology training to adults in the community, free of charge. “I think the most important first step in hosting a fundraiser like this is to ensure you are raising money for a cause you care deeply about and have a personal connection established,” Melissa says. She is on the board of directors for the organization and became involved after hearing about what it’s doing to prep hundreds of students each year for GED testing, the work force and even simple, taken-for-granted tasks like reading a menu or a storybook to their kids. Every spring, the Literacy Center hosts a formal campaign to create awareness and raise funds to cover operating costs. While a lot of that campaign is done over social media, Melissa and Zach decided to take a more personal approach to raising money. “My husband and I both love to cook and entertain. I thought it’d be fun to have a party, host our friends and raise money for a good cause. For us, it is fun to prepare menus and cook together,” she says. Menu planning took about two weeks and the couple spent two days preparing the dinner.
Melissa started with a large guest list. Her intention was to cast a wide net with the invitation to spread general awareness. “I knew that not everyone would be able to attend, but that some might still be willing to make an online donation,” she says. She invited past and present co-workers, members of her book club, fellow Literacy Center board members as well as Junior League of Omaha members. The invitation was designed by a friend of hers that incorporated a book-related ABCs theme and suggested a “hardcover” donation of $20 or “softcover” donation of $10 to the Literacy Center. The invitation was sent electronically through Facebook and email.
“Zach and I wanted to play off the ABCs theme by offering appetizers, beverages and conversation at our event,” she says. The couple’s signature cocktail for the event was named “Teacher’s Pet,” an Old Fashioned made with apple-flavored whiskey. Zach and his sister spent a great deal of time putting together decorations of custom flowers made from the pages of old books that the local library was planning to toss. The evening of the dinner party, roughly 60 guests poured in and out of their house. There was no formal programming that evening, rather a cocktail party like atmosphere where Melissa and Zach could pop around to guests and casually pepper the organization’s mission and plans for their upcoming building plans and move into conversation. “We sat a laptop by the front door so guests could make a donation as they came in or left,” Melissa says. “Most of our guests were willing to donate about $50, and I am guessing that figure came from what they would have spent on a night out for dinner and drinks, which we provided that night.”
The donation results from the dinner party were quite impressive. Initially Melissa set her campaign goal at $750, then increased it to $1,000 for the party after receiving so many “hardcover” and “softcover” donations from those who could not attend. The evening ended with $1,300 donations made to the Literacy Center as a direct result of Melissa and Zach’s efforts. To put the total amount into perspective, $1,300 could pay for 10 students to take the GED test. Melissa and Zach will be hosting another dinner to benefit the organization next spring. “We were really thrilled with our friends’ generosity and were so pleased to have the money to go to the overall campaign.”