Chapter Nine: Promotable Special Events

In this chapter, we discuss several special events that are relatively inexpensive, or even free, to put on.  These are the kinds of events that your affiliate or chapter can easily promote and that the media will readily get behind, giving your organization valuable positive publicity and public exposure.  These events include, but are not limited to: Dining in the Dark, musical concerts, exhibits of accessible devices and technology, audio-described movie night, and events like bake sales and hot dog & drink sales.  We have affiliates or chapters that have done all of these kinds of events with tremendous success.

Dining in the Dark

Several of our affiliates have hosted Dining in the Dark events.  One such group is the Long Island Council of the Blind in New York.  It has hosted several Dining in the Dark events.  They work with a small facility that holds around 70 to 85 people. The menu includes a cold appetizer, salad, a choice of 3 different main dishes and dessert. Soda, coffee and tea are included. The bar is a cash bar.  The largest challenge is finding an establishment that will work with you.  That is why they intentionally keep it relatively small.  The establishment’s staff serves all the food.  The blind members are asked to sit with sighted folks at the tables to promote discussion. 
 
The event lasts from about 6:30 to 9:30.  It starts at 6:30, allowing folks to mingle and get seats.   Then, at 7 p.m. one of the blind members thanks everyone for coming; after the brief introductory remarks, the sighted guests are told that if they need to use the restrooms, they are to ask the servers to guide them.  This is followed by a brief "lesson" in things like finding your glass, locating your food, cutting the meat, etc.  Then, the lights are turned off, and the room is in total darkness.  They even put butcher paper and cardboard over the windows and the door to keep out any light. The only light is the exit sign and the glow sticks used by the servers to take orders and pass food. Blindfolds are even provided; some people use them and others do not, but, it facilitates a discussion about low vision vs. total blindness.  During the event the blind members answer questions from their tablemates, e.g., how do I find the butter once I get it on the bread? How do I tell the amount of salt or pepper?  The lights are turned on just before dessert is served, and this allows for a debriefing and group chat.
 
Planning for the event begins 4 to 6 months in advance. Flyers are created, printed and widely distributed to promote the event.  The event is featured on the chapter’s web site, and the word is also sent out to all of the previous participants.  In addition, media releases are prepared and sent out to all of the media in the area. 
 
The restaurant charges the organization $20 per person and their chapter sells tickets for $50.  Since this event is meant to be both a public education event and a fundraiser, a publication is created that tells about blindness and blindness-related issues, e.g., a message from the chapter president, something having to do with blindness -- whether it be a piece from a member about their experience going blind, proper sighted guide technique, statistics on blindness, or information on the need for accessible currency.  To raise more money, advertising is sold to go in the publication.  For instance, a table for 4 and a journal ad are available at a package price or individually.  The organization makes considerable money on the publication from the ads, which members have sold to businesses.  Advertising on the front and back covers and inside covers cost more than the other inside pages.  The layout of ads and program material is handled by the printer. All the chapter does is provide the information. 
 
For a detailed manual on how to conduct your own Dining in the Dark event, go to http://www.firesight.org/DINING%20IN%20THE%20DARK%20manual%20final.doc.

Musical Concerts

Again, several of our affiliates and chapters have hosted various types of concerts.  All types of musical concerts can be put on, featuring all blind and low-vision musicians, popular bands, or an event featuring both.  In almost every area of the country there are musicians who would be willing to perform for little cost or even free to help support the goals of your organization.  These might be a group of musicians you put together yourself, or you might be able to find a band that would be willing to help your affiliate or chapter.
 
The South Central Kentucky Council of the Blind (SCKCB) has put together several such concerts.  For example, a well-known band from Nashville, The Prisoners of Love, agreed to put on a concert, which was sponsored by and held at a night club called Ellis Place.  The event was heavily promoted by the SCKCB but also by Ellis Place, using media releases, community-oriented radio and TV programs, and there was a huge banner in front of Ellis Place announcing the concert.  There was an admission charge.  The band was paid a reduced rate for their performance.  Ellis Place kept all of the bar and snack revenue, and the SCKCB received the balance of the admission revenue.  The SCKCB president served as the MC and members of the chapter helped as servers.  SCKCB brochures were distributed to all guests, and the MC worked into the event information about the SCKCB, including several humorous stories about its members, illustrating that blind people are just like everyone else. 
 
The South Central Kentucky Council of the Blind is also fortunate to have as one of its members a woman who is recognized as one of the very best pianists in the entire world, Sylvia Kersenbaum.  At the peak of her career, she was considered among the top 5 pianists in the world, and she has performed in concerts all over the United States, Europe, South and Central America, and Asia.  Miss Kersenbaum is legally blind and has agreed to perform a concert each fall for the past several years on behalf of the SCKCB.  The event serves both as a vehicle for public education and as a fundraiser for the organization.  The SCKCB hands out its brochures to all attendees.  The president of the SCKCB starts the concert off by introducing the South Central Kentucky Council of the Blind as the beneficiary of the event, then he introduces Miss Kersenbaum.  She takes a break in the middle of the concert, during which time a member of the SCKCB tells more about the organization, how it benefits blind and low-vision people, some of the accomplishments of the SCKCB and the ACB, then invites a few questions from the audience.  The sponsors, e.g., local businesses and local individuals who give significant contributions to support the concert, are also recognized.
 
SCKCB promotes the concert by creating media releases that are sent out to all of the local media sources, e.g. radio, TV, cable systems, and newspapers.  It is also listed on all of the calendars of events in the area, such as those on TV stations, cable, radio, and various web sites and local publications.  The SCKCB president also secures appearances on local TV and radio programs, e.g., the Mid-Day Report, Talk of the Town, Happenings in Bowling Green.  There is a small admission charged for the concerts, which is kept entirely by the SCKCB.  The concerts are held in either one of the large local churches or the concert hall of Western Kentucky University.  Since both Miss Kersenbaum and Dr. Milliman are members of the Western Kentucky University faculty, they are able to secure access to the university’s concert hall free of charge, providing all students are admitted free by showing their student ID cards. 

Exhibits

Perhaps the most feasible, common and popular type of exhibit that can be relatively easily hosted by an affiliate or chapter is a technology or accessible devices exhibit.  If your group is large enough, it might have numerous devices available among your own members to be able to display and demonstrate, e.g., braille or talking watches and clocks, various kitchen aids and small appliances, magnifying devices (both traditional and the newest digital magnifiers), accessible computers and cell phones, etc.  As an alternative, you can often find a distributor of such devices to put on an exhibit for you free for the publicity and exposure.  These kinds of exhibits are of interest to people of all ages.  Young people love them because they are often the ones especially interested in and desirous of the latest technology and love to have the opportunity to see it and be able to get their hands on it.  Older people are extremely interested because they have often lost their eyesight later in life and are really struggling to continue doing the things they have been used to doing with sight.  So, they are excited to have the opportunity to see devices like magnifiers, accessible computers, calculators, kitchen appliances, etc., things they never had any idea existed.
 
The South Central Kentucky Council of the Blind (SCKCB) has hosted several such exhibits.  The last one was comprised of a combination of accessible devices and gadgets exhibited by a newly established retail distributor from Louisville called “See The World and products provided for exhibit by members of the SCKCB." The exhibit took place on a Tuesday evening from 7:00 until about 9:00.  All of the devices were on display, but they were also demonstrated.  After the demonstration, the people attending the event could test them for themselves and ask any questions they had about the products.  Media releases were created and sent out to all of the local media, and announcements were listed on all of the community calendars provided by the local media services, bulletin boards in stores and on the campus of Western Kentucky University.  E-mail announcements were sent out to a list of local residents and also to all of the blind and low-vision students attending Western Kentucky University through the cooperation of the disabled student services office.  The exhibit was covered by both the local newspapers and one of the two local TV stations, and heavily supported and covered by the local public broadcasting radio station.  SCKCB literature was given out to all attendees.  In addition to the massive publicity obtained, several new members for the SCKCB were recruited from among the attendees.
  

Audio-Described Movie Night

The South Central Kentucky Council of the Blind has also conducted several audio-described movie events, some at night and some on the weekends.  The evening movies have been open to everyone, especially aiming toward the general public and the Western Kentucky University students, while the weekend movies were targeted toward kids.  Two facilities were used, depending on availability.  One location was on the campus of Western Kentucky University where the SCKCB had access to a large- screen theater.  The other facility was simply a large room with chairs and a wide-screen TV.  Both locations were equipped to play VHS videos or DVDs.  The main focus was on public education, educating the viewers about audio description, but a secondary objective was fundraising.  Brochures were given to all of the attendees.  After a brief introduction of the SCKCB, what it does and how it helps blind and low-vision people, the audience was told what to expect from the audio description of the movie.  They were told that after the movie, there would be a question-and-answer session.  One question that they had to be prepared to answer was, “Even though you can see, did the audio description add something or take something away from the movie for you?" Then, immediately following the conclusion of the movie, there was a question-and-answer session. 
 
The movies were promoted with media releases, listings on all of the calendar of events available in the area, e.g. TV stations, radio stations, the cable system, newspapers, and web sites.  The movies targeting the kids on Saturday afternoons were promoted by placing announcements on the schools’ bulletin boards, and on the schools’ web site’s “Of Interest to Kids Calendar.”  However, anything posted that was aimed toward the students had to be approved before it could be posted.  Also, an opt-in list was developed from the people and students who attended the movies so e-mail announcements could be made to promote subsequent movies.
 

Sales: Hot Dogs, Drinks, and Baked Goods

There are many different kinds of sales your affiliate or chapter can host to achieve public awareness, public education, and even to raise funds, such as yard or garage sales.  However, we are going to focus on two different types of sales commonly hosted by various affiliates and chapters.  They are hot dog and drink sales, and baked goods sales.  
 
Two chapters of the Pennsylvania affiliate, the Lehigh Valley in the Allentown area and the Golden Triangle Council in Pittsburgh, have held a “Coke Wagon” hot dog and drink sale. While they have been used as a fundraiser for the chapters, netting around $1,500, they also serve as a major public awareness and public education event as well.  They call it a Coke Wagon sale because they get a small vending wagon from Coke and use Coke products for the soft drinks.  They hold the event at a local Sam’s Club, the date for which must be done very early in the planning process in order to secure a good, high-traffic date, like on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
 
In arranging a date with Sam's, we strongly recommended that your affiliate or chapter ask about Sam’s matching funds up to $1,000 on your net income for the sale.  They have also been successful in arranging for cooler space for soda and hot dog storage during the weekend. As a condition for getting free use of the “Coke Wagon,” they must agree to buy their drink products from Coke, except for bottled water. They reported that they had no success in asking Coke for a few cases to be donated to support the event, but they don't push Coke on this issue since Coke provides the Coke Wagon out of which the chapters sell their hot dogs and drinks.  They shop for the best price on good hot dogs, and in Pittsburgh, they have been successful in getting all of the buns donated from a large bread bakery.  They also contact local stores for donations of other needed items, like napkins, condiments and bottled water; this latter item is also a good seller.  They utilize the services of both blind and sighted volunteers, like Lions Club members, to assist with the event.    
 
The South Central Kentucky Council of the Blind (SCKCB) holds a baked goods sale each year in the fall, usually in September.  Several members of the SCKCB provide a variety of baked goods for sale.  The items include, but certainly not limited to, several kinds of brownies, many different kinds of cookies, chocolate-covered pretzels, no-bakes, all kinds of cupcakes, chocolate and peanut butter fudge, chocolate-covered Ritz Bits, coconut macaroons, and more.  The hot sellers are the brownies, fudge, chocolate-covered Ritz Bits, and chocolate chip cookies.  However, most everything sells out before the end of the day. 
 
To make pricing simple, everything is priced at 25 cents, but the quantity of what is included in the Ziploc bags varies, depending on the item, its size, and the cost to produce it, etc.  Different locations have been tested for best results, and consistently, the highest traffic and the best results occur when the sale is held in the front of the highest volume Wal-Mart store.  The sale must be booked well in advance of the desired date in order to be able to secure that particular date. 
 
The chapter tries to purchase as much of the ingredients and materials from the Wal-Mart store as possible with the view that if they support the SCKCB, then, in turn, the SCKCB should support Wal-Mart to the fullest extent possible.  The main purpose of the sale is not to raise money (though it does), but to draw shoppers’ attention to the sale table.  All patrons are given SCKCB brochures and other blindness-related literature, pens with the SCKCB contact information on them, and refrigerator magnets with the SCKCB logo and contact information on them.  Press releases are sent out a few days before the sale to all of the local media, resulting in a short piece on TV mentioning the sale and an article in the newspaper.  Sometimes a reporter is even sent out from the TV station or newspaper to cover the activity. 
 
In conclusion, these are only a few of the kinds of promotable events and activities your affiliate or chapter can host that will focus media attention on your organization and help you achieve your goals such as:

  • Public education
  • Recruiting new members
  • Serve as a fundraiser, in some cases, to bring the funds that you can use to support your other important activities. 

Promoting the kinds of events illustrated in this chapter are short-run, event-to-event promotions.  You also need some kind of longer run, ongoing campaign to keep your name in front of the public all of the time.  In our next chapter, we will illustrate how to integrate several of these guerrilla marketing methods into an ongoing campaign.

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