Every planner of a fundraising event should take a lesson or twelve from the folks who planned Gerald Ford’s funeral. Because, as every event planner knows, the key difficulty in securing the media coverage our Boards are always exhorting us to attract for our events is that generally the media resist covering something that’s not actually news. Generally–but not always.
Among the Ford funerary lessons:
1) Do something pointlessly weird enough that people mistake it for news. Admittedly it’s a challenge to identify the charity equivalent of conducting three funerals spread across as many time zones over the course of the week; but come on, people! Challenges are what we do! And surely anything we do would have as little inherent drama as the burial of a 93-year-old man who died of natural causes after having been long forgotten. Or did someone expect him suddenly to bolt awake and point out his murderer?
2) Bring together relatively well-known people who (it’s relatively well-known) can’t stand each other under circumstances that require them to be polite. People will watch hoping a dogfight breaks out.
3) Most important, plan your event at a time when a really, really important and hideous item of news calls for the public’s attention. Maybe you can’t arrange to have Saddam Hussein executed in a manner so repellent as to evoke sympathy for a genocidal dictator and revulsion against the countrymen who called him to account. Maybe you’re not contemplating a decision to ignore the results of a recent election and kill off more American servicepeople. Never mind: the least you can do is to come up with a narrative that no one wants to hear, and then pitch your own event to the press as an alternative. (That probably explains why nonprofits get so little press attention as a matter of course: we’re usually peddling the narrative no one wants to hear.)
I’m not saying Ford acolytes Cheney and Rumsfeld actually did this, mind you, or that the press fell for it–but if they had, and if they had, every planner of an event for charity should go to school on the results.