The best fundraiser I’ve ever attended was held last week in Fort Worth. Wow Barbara, the best you say? Yes, the best. The event wins this coveted rank by getting top marks in the categories I care about (the privilege of being the creator of this highly esteemed distinction): buck the system, mission alignment and execution, and audience experience and inspiration to engage.
Some of you who don’t know me might argue that I may not have attended that many events, so what would I know. Good critical thinking, but I’ve not only attended hundreds of fundraising events in my career, I’ve also created them. And its in that insider experience that this events earns my highest marks.
Ok, get to it Barbara…what was the event?. Last week the National Juneteenth Museum held the inaugural speaker event, in a series they are calling Uniting Voices, to a full house at the theater at I.M. Terrell High School in Fort Worth.
Buck the system 10/10
Location, marketing, and event construct were all antithetical to generally accepted fundraising practice, but brilliant choices reflective of community-centric fundraising principals.
I.M. Terrell High School holds rich significance to the black Fort Worth community as the city’s first black school during the era of formal racial segregation. In 1921, the school was formerly named I.M. Terrell in honor of its former principal. The school boasts some notable alumnae including Bob Ray Sanders, Commissioner Roy Brooks and the grandmother of Juneteenth herself, Mrs. Opal Lee.
The school currently boasts Fort Worth ISD newest, most modern theatrical auditorium and it was filled with a diverse and enthusiastic audience. No gala. No auction. Just affordable ticket prices, a casual environment and meaningful conversation imbued with hope and a quest for an era of truth and justice.
Mission alignment and execution 10/10
This event featured a moderated conversation by Leah Frazier with Fort Worth’s Mrs. Opal Lee, and Bryan Stevenson, Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative.
Mrs. Opal Lee is a retired teacher, counselor, and activist in the movement to make Juneteenth a federally-recognized holiday. She is often described as the “grandmother of Juneteenth”. On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden, with Mrs. Opal Lee present, signed Senate Bill S. 475, making Juneteenth the eleventh federal holiday.
Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer, social justice activist, law professor at New York University School of Law, and the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and visionary behind the The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery Alabama.
The conversation was comfortable and both Mrs. Opal Lee and Mr. Stevenson shared openly about their struggles, experience and lessons – all with an undercurrent of hope for the future.
Audience experience and Inspiration to Engage 9/10
Lectures are hard, panels are hard and often moderated conversation are hard to execute, but this one was seamless and it was a joy to watch the mutual admiration between Mrs.. Opal Lee and Mr. Stevenson.
“The reason we want to talk about Juneteenth is not because we want to punish America, we want to liberate America, ” – Bryan Stevenson
Mr. Stevenson told a moving tale from his experience with The Legacy Museum about the power of organizations like his and the Juneteenth Museum to bring people together. He also shared some stunning data on the direct and indirect impact his museum has on Montgomery. He confessed that he had to build his museum in secret for fear of rejection and reprisal and was inspired by the community support already shown for the National Juneteenth Museum.
The only reason, I gave this category less than a 10/10 is the annoying placement of stage props that prevented an entire section from seeing the speakers. But the audio was good and the conversation landed as intended.
With an official groundbreaking coming this fall and nearly $40 million raised to date, the National Juneteenth Museum is expected to open in the summer of 2025. This has to be one of the fastest capital projects I have ever seen.
Thoughtful community-engagement and inspirational, truthful and hopeful content, without a forced fundraising pitch, the event inspired giving and further engagement well beyond the evening. Notes were taken.
Well done, well done.