Non-profit fundraising is not for the faint of heart. One reason Jason Allen Champion, host of Fundraising Events TV, has excelled in this space is that he’s never afraid to get his hands dirty.
After viewing a single episode of his show, it’s apparent that he masterfully harnesses relationships, venues, taste, and style to cultivate generosity amongst donors. Sure, he works hard, but there’s more to it. He works smart. We interviewed Jason to learn his secrets to fundraising success, and discovered a background rich with experience that translates in the nonprofit arena.
What is the key takeaway that people are going to get from this show?
JAC: From the moment a guest receives an invitation, they need to be enveloped in an immersive experience that keeps their attention focused on your organization’s mission. Giving generously should be the natural outcome, because the experience is authentic and truly supports your nonprofit’s goals.
How do you keep an event interesting for virtual attendees?
JAC: If the event is virtual or hybrid, making sure that you can build an experience with a level of engagement that people stay tuned in. It shouldn’t feel like just another show to watch. In the first five minutes, you need impact. Something with a significant visual and audio appeal to capture and keep their attention.
Are there any risks to hybrid events?
JAC: There are. People are excited about the universal acceptance of hybrid events, but then they make the mistake of setting up a stationary camera in the back of the room and forget that the in-person experience is not truly being felt by the online audience. Nobody wants to sit at home and see the backs of a bunch of people’s heads with the stage at a distance. So you want to take it to the next level and build something fun and engaging, and at a minimum, have a handheld camera, or multiple handheld cameras, that deliver intimacy to the online audience.
You’ve always been an experience architect, in every role you’ve held in your career. Where did that come from?
JAC: I create things that I enjoy myself. I’m my own toughest critic, so the bar is pretty high. Years ago I created an outdoor furniture line, Viteo. Teak and stainless steel furniture manufactured in Austria. The marketplace was fairly saturated, so I needed my line to stand out. My ads featured the furniture, of course, but instead of leaving the seating empty or having standard models, my models wore animal heads. If you were flipping through a magazine, you would not skip past my ad. My ad would be eye-catching because it was edgy. It was designed to appeal to a specific audience of forward-thinking, trend-driven shoppers. Now, if my audience for that line had been traditional shoppers, I could have created show-stopping ads for them, too. I’ve always been conscious of who it is I’m speaking to, and this follows with nonprofit events as well.
Styling an event sets a tone, and that’s an area of expertise for you. Beyond immaculately styling your own living space and garden, how have you exercised your styling skills?
JAC: I was brought in to style vignettes for Garden Design magazine photo shoots, and I had fixed resources in terms of needing to incorporate specific elements into the shot. But beyond that I used my creativity and imagination to make it special. In 2010, I was selected out of 15,000 applicants to be a contestant on HGTV’s Design Star. I ended up being in the top five finalists on Season 4. We were given challenges, like renovating a garage or designing a princess bedroom. We started with a blank slate and built something from nothing. I loved it. And that’s a lot like nonprofit events, if you think about it. You start with nothing but ideas and then bring them to life.
How did you land in the world of nonprofits?
JAC: Living in Sarasota, Florida, I have easy access to the Tampa Bay area. The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) needed an event producer, and I was a fit. While I was there I created five major fundraisers. One of them was called Einstein on Food and Wine, and it was a four-hour event that hosted about 2,500 people. And it was a food and wine tasting mixed with science experiments. I invited science students from the University of South Florida to make pop-up stations. Some were food-driven, like the one who made nitrogen ice cream. Some were straight-up science, like the one who showed how you can break a brick with a lightbulb. It was a multi-faceted event that included entertainment, and it was a huge success.
You clearly have a handle on tech, which matters a lot these days since events are frequently hybrid and bidding usually happens on phones even at in-person fundraisers. What got you comfortable with technology?
JAC: After MOSI, I went to a technology company aimed at improving non-profit events through mobile bidding, silent auctions, live auctions, all of those core things. I was there for six years, and it helped me become well-rounded. I had always been creative, but now I had the strategic and practical skills on lock.
All of this has culminated in your current role at Winspire. Tell me what you do there.
JAC: Not to be corny, but I feel I was born for this. I’m Director of Product Development and Brand Strategist at Winspire.
Winspire is essentially a travel company that serves nonprofits exclusively. We’ve all been at that charity gala where people bid on Disney tickets, or a long weekend in Cancun. The travel packages that Winspire offers through charity auctions are mind-blowing. We’re talking about nine nights in India, including gorgeous hotels and tours in Kolkata, Darjeeling, and New Delhi. Or something off the beaten path, like three nights of glamping in an Airstream near Yosemite. The care that goes into crafting these travel experiences is painstaking and the reviews provided by the donors who win these packages tell the stories of memories that bond them to the nonprofit that made it possible, forever.
Through Winspire, I work directly with 1000’s of nonprofit organizations all over the country helping secure additional funds through the experiences I create.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working with the Tampa Museum of Art on their black-tie Pavillion event. The tickets will be upwards of $1,500 each, so it needs to be perfect. Their theme this year is “rising from the ashes” which makes sense given that we are coming out of a pandemic. We are building a Fire and Ice travel package through the Maldives and Iceland. The package is custom to the event, not off-the-shelf. It is thoughtfully designed for an unforgettable experience, like everything I do.
Jason Allen Champion hosts Fundraising Events TV, brought to you by xxx on xx channel xx and can be viewed live on xxx at xxx time each week.