How to Put On a Successful Non-Profit Event

On May 26, 2011, Pacific Cookie Company was a main sponsor for Mama’s Night Out, a benefit that supported Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. Many of our employees were involved with the success of this event and we wanted to share the process with you…

Keys to Success and the Challenges We Faced

Mama’s Night Out, a benefit to support Cookies for Kids’ Cancer (CFKC), was held on May 26th, 2011. Michelle Riddle and Cara Pearson were the co-chairs of the event and we planned it in three months time. Liam, our inspiration and the son of the founders of CFKC, lost his battle with cancer in January and turning our grief into action we, along with many other across the country, honored him by putting on this event in May. Liam would have been 7 years old on May 13th. The theme of the evening was to Love Like Liam. In the words of his mother Gretchen who spoke at the event, “Liam loved a party and he would have loved this one.”

Concept: To attract mothers and women who want a night with their girlfriends to support a good cause.

Women in attendance: 275

Ticket price: $40 until one week before the event, $45 at the door (included unlimited wine and desserts).

Donation to CFKC: $18,000

It all started with the perfect location. The event was held at the Top of the Ritt in Downtown Santa Cruz, CA – a building so new it has not yet found tenants. It is a raw space of 10,000 square feet littered with pillars and balconies, and sweeping views of downtown Santa Cruz and the surrounding hillside.  With our vision of creating a shabby chic feeling where women can come and feel comfortable dressed up like they were out on the town in a big city away from their kids, it was perfect.  The space, valued at $2,500 a day, was generously donated to us.

Next was creating a shabby chic vibe. We contacted a local event planner known for creating fabulous spaces for all kinds of events. Linda and her team from Eventscapes worked with us to design the décor. We knew we wanted orange (Liam’s favorite color) with hot pink accents. We wanted to cater to women who would be moving around spending money and mingling, so Linda envisioned a space with limited seating, tall cocktail tables, and stylized areas where women could grab a seat and gather around on couches. Since the space was raw, Eventscapes brought in everything from tables and linens to lighting and accent décor and did an absolutely amazing job… completely exceeding our expectations! The décor in so many ways really made the event. It cost us $2,400, but was valued at $9,000. Everyone attending agreed that the décor was a key factor in the success of the evening.


Publicity: Now we needed a way to publicize. First we created a Facebook event page with vague details to get the ladies excited. Facebook was one of the keys to the success of this event because it was an easy way to spread the word.

We purchased the URL and asked a friend who is a website designer to do a basic design for us. Michelle had some connections to local families with kids battling cancer and they became our “local heroes” and were featured on the website. We wanted people to know that, even though CFKC is based out of New York, families everyday in our community are faced with the devastating news that their child has cancer.

We set up an Eventbrite page. Eventbrite is an online event registration site where you can easily advertise events and create a shopping cart so people can buy tickets online. People would go on, purchase a ticket and pay through PayPal.

A friend that is a graphic designer designed a flier for us to post around town. We wanted women to get excited about leaving their kids at home, putting on their best dress, and coming together to make a difference. We posted the flier all over town:  in schools, restaurants, clothing stores, and at mommy and me classes and gathering locations. A press release was created and sent to the local publications and TV stations to have stories written about the event in hopes of receiving some free advertising space. In the end, the only advertising costs were associated with Eventbrite fees; everything else was donated time or services.

Getting Volunteers on Board: We needed a donation coordinator, two donation coordinator support people, a volunteer coordinator, a promotions person, a person in charge of registration, setup and clean up help, and volunteers to pour wine and do miscellaneous tasks on the day of the event. We wanted everyone attending to enjoy the evening so we enlisted 15 high school volunteers looking for community service hours.

The Raffle:  The main way to get people to spend money. The donation coordinator was important because this was a BIG job. We compiled a list of local businesses in and around the Santa Cruz area and sent e-mails and letters asking for donations.

The items were placed on tables and grouped into categories including Dining, Kids, Fitness, Pampering and Accessories, and Arts and Technology. In the middle of each category was a vase where people could drop tickets to win a raffle prize from that specific category. The raffle raised $1325.


Success: Over 125 items were donated from all over the community so we were able to spread the word about CFKC and the event. Women were excited that they could be specific about how they used their raffle tickets to potentially get an item they wanted. The items were fantastic and the tables looked great.


Challenges: There was so much to do at the event that some women did not make it over to the tables. In the future we will consider not grouping the items into categories, and instead allocate a raffle vase to each as either a $2 raffle ticket item, $5 raffle ticket item or $20 raffle ticket item. This would perhaps allow greater potential to raise more money.

Silent Auction: We had originally planned to only have a raffle, but once we looked at the donations we realized that we had some big ticket items that could potentially help us raise more money. We silent auctioned 6 items: the Date Night package (2 nights at a donated apartment, dinner gift certificate, pleasure pack and breakfast gift certificate), Private Perfume party for 12 people, Feel Great Pampering Kit (with skin products and a hair cut), Glad Be a Good Cookie gift basket, Michelle Riddle Photography session, and a beach cruiser.  The silent auction raised $1375.

Success: Brought in $1375. The beach cruiser was great and got a lot of attention.

Challenges: Women mingled and talked a lot so the silent auction was a challenge to get them to pay enough attention to know when tables were closing, etc. Next time we will modify the raffle to make more money and not do a silent auction.

Bake Sale: A given when putting on a Cookies for Kids’ Cancer event. We offered cookies in either one dozen or six packs, as well as biscotti, homemade ice cream cake pops, and local taffy (all donated). We made a sign like a school bake sale and staffed it with high school volunteers. The bake sale raised $402.

Success: It was very cute and represented Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, showing how easy it would be for attendants to hold a bake sale.

Challenges: It did not sell out like we thought it would. We assume that after drinking wine and cocktails and eating desserts, attendees did not want to have any more sweets 🙂 In the future, the lobby may be a better location; or a bag at the end of the night with cookies in it (where the cost is built into the ticket).

Dessert Tables: Included in the ticket were unlimited desserts. We contacted many local bakeries, cake makers, candy makers and chocolatiers. We had an amazing response and over 16 local companies donated hundreds of dessert items from chocolate covered strawberries and lemon bars to mini cupcakes and fudge. There were two beautiful 14 foot dessert tables to enjoy.

Success: Incredibly yummy, very popular, and beautifully put together. Again, with the solicitation of donations we were able to spread the word about CFKC and the event.

Challenges: More chocolate covered strawberries needed. Next time we need to have some food with a bit more substance (not just sugary treats) – as much as we loved it, wine and sugar can cause quite a hangover.

Drinks: We had 12 cases of wine donated from Epic Wines, a local wine distributor, so included in the ticket price was unlimited Chardonnay and Cabernet. Pellegrino was served as a non-alcoholic choice. Clouds, a local restaurant from across the street, set up a bar and offered martinis for $5 each. The featured martini was a Liam’s Lemon Drop.

Success: Good variety with wine and cocktails. Everyone behaved themselves. $5 cocktails were very reasonable.

Challenges: We could have made money on the alcohol but we wanted to include a perk for spending $40 + to attend. We needed to have someone on site with an alcohol license so the local restaurant was a given, but if we could have served our own alcohol from Costco we could have made money.

Mommy Owned Businesses: In order to fill the space, add variety to things for ladies to do, and reach out to other circles of women, we asked 9 local mommy owned home businesses to come in and set up tables showing their wares. We had everything from bra fittings and shoes, to skin products and pleasure party goodies. Each business paid a $100 table fee. The mommy owned businesses raised $900.

Success: Raised $900 and opened up to other circles of women to attend. It presented a variety of fun things to do at event, at the same time supporting the businesses with great exposure. Bra fittings were the most popular.

Challenges: Time was a constraint and made it difficult for women to mingle while still having enough time to walk through all the booths and “events”.

Glitter Tattoos and Feather Hair Extensions: Women LOVED that they were able to get a glitter tattoo or feather hair extension at a great price. The prices were $5 for tattoos and $15 for hair extensions. This piece certainly added some pizzazz to the event and was a busy corner all night.

Success: Women were VERY enthusiastic about paying to have something fun done to them, especially after a glass of wine. Glitter tattoos at $5 each brought in $270.

Challenge: We could have made more money on the feather hair extensions since the only income was a $100 table fee. Next time, having three people doing the extensions would raise more money to go directly to the cause.

Photo Booth:  A local photographer, Rebecca Stark, set up a space at the event with a backdrop and props for women to dress up with fun accessories. She then posted the photos on Facebook so people could download them for free. She also took many photos of the event to catalog the evening.

Success: It was really fun!

Challenges: Perhaps we could have made money off of the photos?

Dancing: What is a party without something to move to? We contacted a local DJ who works for a local business and is a mother herself. She was very excited to get involved and offered her services at a discount of $525 for 4 hours (a better rate than any of the non-profit rates in town). The best part, her DJ name is DJ Sparkle.

Success: She blended into the scene perfectly. The music was great when it was mingle time and she bumped it up for dance time. She provided the sound and microphones for the presentation and slide show. People danced!

Challenges: It would have been ideal to get it completely donated.



We were incredibly lucky to have Gretchen Holt-Witt joins us for Mama’s Night Out. The presentation started with a slide show of the photos taken at the Mommy and Me photo sessions then transitioned into a film segment of Gretchen speaking about Cookies for Kids’ Cancer from her video interview with Traditional Homes and ended with a slideshow from Liam’s memorial service. Michelle and Cara attempted (we were very emotional) to speak about our inspiration for the event and introduced Gretchen. Gretchen spoke completely composed about Cookies for Cancer and the need for funding pediatric cancers. Most importantly she spoke about Liam and how to Love Like Liam. It was perfect and very touching.


Money: How we were going to deal with credit cards and cash at the event was a big topic for us. We ended up using the “Square,” a small card sliding device that plugs into the iPhone to process credit card charges. Basically you go onto their website to register and they send you the device for free. Then you register your bank account so you can make transactions directly with an iPhone. It is incredibly easy. Visit to sign up. We had one at registration and one at the raffle ticket table.

At the tables where people could purchase things like cocktails, glitter tattoos, bake sale items and feather hair extensions we took cash and “Mama’s Night Out Dollars”. If someone only had a credit card for the whole night they could purchase “Mama’s Night Out Dollars” at the raffle ticket table and spend them all night long. Each table also had change to make change for cash.

Success: The “Mama’s Night Out Dollars” worked great and so did the Square.

Challenges: We needed a treasurer to keep track of the money on the evening of the event to deal with distributing change and storage of cash. Michelle and I handled too many details and this was an important one.


Registration: One of the reasons that Eventbrite (the online event site who hosted the event) was so great is that people were able to buy tickets and their info was automatically put into spreadsheets. We could also go in and add people that paid us in cash as well. Included was a way to make a straight donation and we were happy that many people that could not attend donated to the event this way. Registration was located in the downstairs lobby. We pre-sold 250 tickets and wanted it to go quickly so there were 4 lines – the first three lines were separated by the first letter of the last name and grouped (example: A-G, H-P, Q-Z). The fourth line was for people paying at the door. It was staffed by one adult and three high school volunteers at all times.

Success: Registration went very smooth.

Challenges: None.



There were many beautiful details that evening that were a tribute to Liam and the impact he had on many peoples lives like the theme of “Love Like Liam”, the color orange, the Liam’s Lemon Drop martini named after his favorite cookie, and Jack Johnson songs that played throughout the night.

Bracelets: A favorite, and the idea of the very creative Michelle, was a bracelet that had one single orange bead on a string and was attached to a postcard talking about the significance of Love Like Liam. Everyone received the bracelet at registration with a card that explained that they should go to a table at the event and add a bead in the birth stone color of their children or a loved one and wear it as a remembrance of Liam and to Love Like Liam.

Below is a photo of the table set up with the birthstone beads and photos of the postcards the bracelet was attached to.







Mama and Me Photo Shoots: Another amazing contribution from Michelle and her mommy photographer friends was an idea to hold mini Mama and Me photo shoots a few weeks before the event. The cost was $60 and included a disc of professional photos and one black and white image enlarged and printed on a board. All of the money went to CFKC. The best part about the photos was that 50 of the black and white photos were hung on the pillars in the Ritt. The special touch that this piece added was amazing. Women wandered around looking at photos of moms and their kids thinking about how special our children are and how much more they deserve than to battle cancer when we could help give them more of a chance by supporting Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. There was a special pillar with photos of three local mamas with their child who has been battling pediatric cancer, called our “ Local Heroes.” Check out this link to see Michelle’s blog about the event, complete with Mama and Me photos. The mama and me photos raised $1200.






Success: Moms were very excited to get in on this great deal which gave them the needed motivation to get in photos with their children

Challenge: The weather was not going to be very good the afternoon of our shoots, so we had to switch to the morning which made us lose about half the people who signed up. $60 was a little too cheap, and we will probably do at least $100 or $150 next time as well as do it on more than one day.



  1. Weeknight – Next time we will look into a Saturday night even though we were able to get the location donated because it was a weeknight.
  2. Event needed to go longer. Too much fun to be had and the dancing had just started when it needed to stop at 10pm. Next time 5-11pm?
  3. Need to have real food. Too many sweets combined with too many drinks = hung over mommy.
  4. Our community is full of non-profits and wonderful causes to be inspired by and give to. One of the most common questions was if CFKC was a local non-profit. Next time the event may benefit by tying in a local non-profit like Jacob’s Heart.
  5. Could have MC for the night or have DJ talk about what is happening in all different areas of the event. In a large space it is easy for women to get stuck talking so they need to be enticed to move around.
  6. Next time we would charge more $??

Keys to Success:

  1. Inspiration (Liam)
  2. Passion for the cause
  3. Supportive/ Giving Community
  4. Event Location
  5. Décor
  6. Power of Social Media (Facebook)
  7. Buzz about the event – Women really loved the idea of getting dressed up “LBD” (little black dress)”


The event completely exceeded our expectations. We originally hoped to raise $10,000 for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer and at times we did not know if we could do it. With the support of an amazing community of friends, family, and most importantly people we did not know who understood the importance of the cause, we were able to raise over $20,000 with $18,000 going directly to CFKC!!


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