Feature Article - January 2006
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Festival Fundamentals

Six habits of highly effective special events

By Stacy St. Clair

Give them a good reason

Want to make your event special? Then start with a good cause.

Festivals and races nationwide use their event to raise money for and awareness of various causes. Autism, leukemia, blindness, breast cancer and AIDS are among the diseases that have events earmarking proceeds for their research.

Finish Strong, a sports performance facility in West Chicago, Ill., went a different route.

When the facility opened, employees wanted the business to become part of the community. They decided to host a 5K race that would raise money for charity, though they didn't know which one.

"We wanted to be a family facility," says Heidi DeMarco, marketing manager. "We wanted to be a business that was very involved in the community."

The business toyed with donating to a national charity, which could use the funds for research. The staff, however, wanted something more personal, more community-based. They then came up with the idea of helping a local resident, making life easier for a specific person in their area.

"We wanted to see where our money was going, instead of just writing a check to a foundation" DeMarco says.

The staff selected Joel Gomez, a 24-year-old Army sergeant who was paralyzed from the neck down in the Iraq war. Gomez, whose family has been struggling to care for him since his release from the hospital, had been a popular varsity athlete at a nearby high school.

The community had been raising money to help build the soldier a handicap-accessible house and pay for round-the-clock care. Finish Strong decided to join the effort.

In September, it held a 5K run to benefit Gomez. Roughly 80 runners participated, a solid number for a first-time race in the Chicago suburbs.

In addition to the run, the staff organized an impressive raffle and auction to raise money. They asked their sponsors for donations and received an impressive array of items, including sporting equipment signed by pro athletes. American Lacrosse star Kevin Leveille also came to the event to greet people and sign autographs.

In the end, Finish Strong—which received a lot of media coverage for hosting the race—raised $2,500 for Gomez, who plans to use the money to build an elevator in his home. Organizers hope to run another 5K next year to benefit a different local family.

"We think we have a really good thing here," DeMarco says. "We're really just very different. We want to be a part of the community."