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How to make your fundraising event a big hit

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As one of the organisers of CEO Sleepout, Depaul UK wanted to put a different spin on the event. Here's how they did it


As a homeless charity, hosting a sleepout event to raise funds and awareness makes sense. But of course, we at Depaul UK didnít come up with the concept; there are already a good number of sleepouts being held each year across the UK - two of which are specifically aimed at company CEOs (this one, and the one hosted by Action for Children). So the question for us was, how can we make our CEO sleepout different, how can we give it the unique edge that will help it stand out from the other sleepouts, while keeping our costs low?


We run the CEO Sleepout London event in partnership with the charity CEO Sleepout, chaired by Andy Preston, who has successfully organised a number of CEO Sleepouts across the UK. In 2013, Depaul UK engaged with Andy and shared our idea for putting a similar event on in London, given the pressing need for our services here. 


Pitch perfect


I felt it was critical for the success of the event that we secure a really superb location, and indeed we did: our inaugural CEO Sleepout was held in the iconic Wembley Stadium. Contrary to what people might assume, securing the venue was simple - we just asked, and they agreed! Holding the event in a huge, world-famous football stadium gave us a strong USP - and we made the most of it, putting on a tour of the stadium, and enabling participants to use the home and away dressing rooms as part of the package.


We want to offer sleepers a different venue each year, if possible. For this yearís event, which took place on 12 October, we chose the Oval Cricket Ground. We were able to secure the venue for free thanks to our relationship with Sir Trevor MacDonald, who is an ambassador for the charity and also president of Surrey County Cricket Club. The cricket ground had an advantage over Wembley in that itís located much more centrally. We were able to get 100 sleepers down to the Oval from a whole range of companies across the capital.


Sporting chance


The Kia Oval gave us permission to put on a cricket session on the night (again for free), meaning any of our sleepers could have a go at hitting pitches fired from a cricket ball machine. Some people went the whole hog and came dressed in cricket whites! We were really happy to have the opportunity to offer this fun activity as part of the evening and it went down really well with our participants.


Nevertheless, we remain conscious of not adding too many bells and whistles to the sleepout event. There is no VIP treatment for participants; we donít lay on any fancy food (just a bit of soup and bread) or hold a quiz or a raffle. We hold the event on a Monday night when most people have to get up and go straight to work the next morning, meaning itís not really an opportunity for a late-night party. We want people to enjoy themselves and make the most of the chance to network and chat, but at the same time we donít want to take too much of the focus away from the cause. The event is about sleeping outside and, as part of this, taking a few moments to consider what it must be like for the people who have to sleep outdoors, or in unsafe places, night after night.


We were able to further maximise the fundraising element, on the night, by selling our own range of Depaul cardboard boxes, for £10 each, to our sleepers which would give them an extra layer to lie on. It was such a cold night this year, they definitely proved to be very useful and were greatly appreciated by those sleeping on the cold concrete of the stands.


Final scores


Another advantage of our low-key, minimal approach to the event is that it keeps our costs extremely low, giving us an excellent return on investment. This year the event cost less than £4.5k to put on. This included soup, bread and refreshments for sleepers, and paying for a film crew to video the event for a film to show future sleepers. We raised around £150k from the event - Thatís greater than a 33:1 return on investment. It just goes to show that you donít have to spend a huge amount of money to host a successful event and raise a lot of money.


Joseph Howes is executive director of fundraising & development at Depaul UK 

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