In January of this year, we wrote about Snow Day, the world record-breaking snowball fight that raised $50,000 for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Seattle’s King County.
The event was a tremendous success, but it left its lead organizer and founder, Neil Bergquist, exhausted and burnt out. In the days leading up to the event, he was putting in 70 to 80 hour weeks while maintaining his full-time position as director of SURF Incubator, a start-up supporting technology-focused entrepreneurs.
Neil wasn’t thinking about doing another event, but a perfect storm of circumstances (including the cancellation of the much-loved Blue Angels air show and the possible cancellation of the fireworks display over Lake Union—two local summer favorites) led him to spearhead Party Camp.
On Saturday, August 17, 12,000 Seattleites will throw water balloons at each other in an attempt to raise $75,000 so that kids with serious medical conditions from the city’s Children’s Hospital can attend Camp Korey for one week of summer camp.
While they’re at it, they’re hoping to set a new Guinness world record for the world’s biggest water fight.
Applying lessons from Snow Day
Neil and his team wanted to do another event because they learned so much from Snow Day, and it would have been a shame to let that learning go to waste. They also knew they could raise even more money this time for another worthy cause.
From Snow Day, they learned a great deal about the logistical challenges of pulling off such a large event. Despite a four-hour registration window, for example, most Snow Day participants showed up during the last 30 minutes of registration, overwhelming the systems Neil’s team had put in place.
So for Party Camp, Neil’s team is building in increased capacity and more activities leading up to the event to disperse the demand immediately before the record attempt. They’ve also tripled the team’s size.
Neil points out that, while some things are easier this time, their ideas have gotten bigger. They’re building a 3,000-person beer garden, for example. They have a concert-quality sound system. And the coolest thing? They’re constructing a 40-foot treehouse.
Going big seems to be Neil’s m.o.
For Snow Day, Neil became an expert in the manufacture of snow. For Party Camp, he’s working with the world’s largest patent-holding company, Intellectual Ventures, to design water balloon-filling and tying technology that will allow them to efficiently load the 300,000 water balloons necessary to secure the world record.
“I don’t know how to do these things, but I know how to find the people who do,” Neil says. “It’s incredible what can happen when you bring people together and inspire them around a central cause and mission.”
Want to get into the world of charity events?
Now that he’s nearly finished with his second major event, Neil has some insight into the world of fundraising for charity.
“If you want to raise a lot of money, I’d recommend recruiting a well-connected fundraiser to get corporate donations or high net worth individuals to donate, because you’ll raise more money doing that,” Neil says. “But if you’re more focused on building awareness for your nonprofit, and building an experience that everyone’s going to remember, while raising money, then I would recommend this model.”
He also recommends starting small, and scaling up. “The first event I did was for 275 people. It raised $3,000. The next year I did it again and raised $9,000 at a 500-person event.”
Snow Day was next, raising $50,000 and engaging 6,000 community members. Party Camp will engage 12,000 people and raise $75,000 for charity. “What I learned in that first event I’ve taken to each of the others. You learn a lot in those early stages.”
So: think you have what it takes?
“It’s all about your comfort with risk, and your ability to perform in those situations,” Neil says. “You have to have a steady hand as an event planner.”
Want to get involved? If you’ll be in the Seattle area on August 17, sign up to volunteer at SeattlePartyCamp.com.
Follow Party Camp on Twitter: @setarecord.