Five Lessons Ant-Man and Ted Lasso Can Teach Marketing Pros About Fundraising Events

Ted Las­so, Ant-Man and Cam from “Mod­ern Fam­i­ly” walk into a hos­pi­tal. Oh, it’s not the set-up for a joke. It’s the real-life recipe for a high-pro­file event that PR prac­ti­tion­ers can glean plen­ty of lessons from.

Since 2010, “Big Slick” has been a one-of-a-kind fundrais­ing event that’s gen­er­at­ed more than $16 mil­lion dol­lars for a Kansas City children’s hos­pi­tal – all thanks to a group of celebri­ties who grew up in the KC area and want­ed to give back.

Brian and Jen stand for a photo with Paul RuddRob Rig­gle (“The Dai­ly Show”), Paul Rudd (“Ant-Man”), Jason Sudeikis (“Ted Las­so”), Eric Ston­estreet (“Mod­ern Fam­i­ly”) and David Koech­n­er (“Sat­ur­day Night Live”) are the rec­og­niz­able faces behind Big Slick, an annu­al event that gains momen­tum every year. This year’s award-win­ning event in June, the first back in-per­son since before the pan­dem­ic, raised a record $3.5 mil­lion for Children’s Mer­cy Hos­pi­tal and its pedi­atric can­cer research and treatments.

Sev­er­al of us from Bell­mont Part­ners have attend­ed Big Slick over the years to gath­er ideas and inspi­ra­tion for the events we work on. And in her time with the Kansas City Roy­als, Sara Gras­mon worked close­ly with the Big Slick fam­i­ly to bring one of the annu­al events to life. From Three people stand with a dog statue in a baseball jerseycre­at­ing pro­duc­tion sched­ules, to orga­niz­ing per­son­al­ized jer­seys, to wran­gling the dozens of enter­tain­ers to get on-field for the 7th inning stretch of a Major League Base­ball game, she had a front-row seat to what goes into mak­ing Big Slick the tent­pole event it is…and why it’s so successful.

Rudd has said in inter­views that while there are many, many fundrais­ing events across the coun­try, as far as he knows, there’s noth­ing else quite like Big Slick. People’s Sex­i­est Man 2021 speaks the truth. What start­ed as a small pok­er game that raised $120,000 has evolved into a mas­sive can’t‑miss week­end, includ­ing a celebri­ty soft­ball game at the Roy­als’ Kauff­man Sta­di­um and cul­mi­nat­ing in a vari­ety show to end all vari­ety shows: This year’s four-hour enter­tain­ment-fest at the T‑Mobile Cen­ter fea­tured com­e­dy, mag­ic, a triv­ia con­test with pro­gres­sive­ly hot­ter chick­en wings as the pun­ish­ment, an auc­tion and music – includ­ing a set from Big Slick first-timer (and Mis­souri native) Sheryl Crow.

Here are five things Big Slick does extreme­ly well that you can apply to your next fundrais­ing event, regard­less of whether you’ve got a Mar­vel super­hero, Emmy-win­ning TV stars or a 50-mil­lion-record-sell­ing rock­er involved:

Authen­tic­i­ty. Big Slick start­ed from a gen­uine place, by peo­ple with strong and ongo­ing ties to and an affin­i­ty for their home­town. Based on that foun­da­tion, the hosts’ com­mit­ment to their com­mu­ni­ty could not be more appar­ent in every appear­ance they make, whether it’s in an inter­view (this year alone the event gen­er­at­ed thou­sands of media sto­ries and bil­lions of impres­sions) or in the small moments – inter­act­ing with patients at the hos­pi­tal – that aren’t picked up by the cam­eras. The founders may be good actors, but even they couldn’t fake how they’re authen­ti­cal­ly impact­ed by the patients, their care­givers and sup­port from the local community.

Les­son: Every­one involved in a fundrais­ing event can ben­e­fit from keep­ing it real, and focus­ing on com­mu­ni­cat­ing a pas­sion­ate, authen­tic com­mit­ment to the cause.

Col­lab­o­ra­tion. As the event has grown over the years, so has the team that pitch­es in to make it hap­pen. In addi­tion to staff and count­less vol­un­teers from Children’s Mer­cy, the founders’ fam­i­lies – par­ents, sib­lings, in-laws, nieces and nephews, all of whom live in the area – are instru­men­tal to near­ly every aspect of the event. And each year, the founders invite about 30 celebri­ty friends to join in – some with ties to the area, but just as many with­out. And they keep com­ing back year after year. Daw­son him­self, James Van Der Beek, fig­ured this was his fourth year par­tic­i­pat­ing. Actor Kevin Pol­lack, when it was sug­gest­ed that maybe he has been to more Big Slicks than any­one oth­er than the founders, demurred: “It’s not a com­pe­ti­tion.” But his arched eye­brow and the smile in his voice said, yeah, it might be a bit of a com­pe­ti­tion. Through­out the week­end there are plen­ty of heart­felt thank-yous to the “Big Slick fam­i­ly,” includ­ing celebri­ty par­tic­i­pants, ben­e­fi­cia­ries, vol­un­teers, spon­sors, donors and attendees.

Les­son: For any event, it’s all about the team you assem­ble. Enlist capa­ble col­leagues and make sure the right peo­ple with the right skills are in the right seats. Express grat­i­tude for everyone’s con­tri­bu­tions. And do every­thing you can to make it an event peo­ple want to come back to (and work on) year after year.

Acces­si­bil­i­ty. As high-pro­file as Big Slick is, there are plen­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ties for com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers to par­tic­i­pate. Peo­ple can be a part of the event for just the cost of the low­est-tier tick­et to a Kansas City Roy­als game. The celebri­ty soft­ball game that kicks off the week­end is a hoot, and has fea­tured giant names like Will Fer­rell, Sele­na Gomez and Al Roker – a lot of enter­tain­ment for a lit­tle dona­tion. Before the pan­dem­ic, there was a free com­mu­ni­ty red-car­pet event, where hun­dreds of peo­ple turned out to greet the celebs as they arrived at a bowl­ing alley to knock down some pins with the kids. The tick­ets to the big par­ty start at $75 and go up to six-fig­ure cor­po­rate spon­sor­ships. Fun mer­chan­dise – from $2.50 decals to $5 can cool­ers to $100 lim­it­ed-edi­tion shirts – goes on sale for weeks lead­ing up to the event, and text-to-donate info makes donat­ing any amount a breeze.

Les­son: Even the most high-end fundrais­ers can broad­en their reach – and impact – by pro­vid­ing ways for peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate at many levels.

People pose for a photo with a hild in a wheelchair before throwing out the first pitch at a Royals gameSto­ry­telling. Sure, the celebri­ties get peo­ple and media into the tent, but the emo­tion­al, com­pelling sto­ries of the work that Children’s Mer­cy does – and the chil­dren and fam­i­lies it impacts – spark dona­tions. Through­out the week­end, Big Slick shines a spot­light on the kids who are or have under­gone treat­ment at the hos­pi­tal, and the med­ical providers who work with them. They’ve walked the red car­pet, par­tic­i­pat­ed in the soft­ball game, and are fea­tured – through emo­tion­al videos and in per­son – at the event. In addi­tion, the brand­ing – from the logo and col­or scheme to the atti­tude of the copy and merch – is all con­sis­tent, mak­ing it instant­ly rec­og­niz­able and easy to con­nect with.

Les­son: Nev­er for­get that the peo­ple who ben­e­fit from the cause are your strongest asset; tell com­pelling sto­ries about the impact donors’ con­tri­bu­tions have made and will make in the future.

Exe­cu­tion. Ulti­mate­ly, the plan­ning is vital­ly impor­tant, but the exe­cu­tion is where the rub­ber hits the road. When Big Slick week­end kicks off, it’s a sym­pho­ny of fast-turn details and deci­sions that brings togeth­er all of the stake­hold­ers into some­thing greater than the sum of its parts. And some­times last-minute hur­dles pop up. This year, for the first time, Jason Sudeikis couldn’t make it to the event “because of work” – he was shoot­ing in the UK. To make up for his absence, he enlist­ed his “Ted Las­so” cast­mates to record rol­lick­ing – and in-char­ac­ter – video mes­sages. He also donat­ed two auc­tion items that includ­ed a trip to Lon­don and walk-on role on the show that went for a record $100 thou­sand each. Not a bad pivot.

Les­son: You’ve like­ly pre­pared for your event for months. When the doors open, work the plan you’ve cre­at­ed, and remain flex­i­ble to prob­lem solve the obsta­cles that will inevitably arise.

So what actu­al­ly hap­pens when Ted Las­so, Ant-Man, Cam from “Mod­ern Fam­i­ly” and their big-heart­ed friends walk into a hospital?

They raise mil­lions of dol­lars, strength­en a com­mu­ni­ty and change people’s lives.

And that’s no joke.

Leave a Reply

People First: Bellmont Partners Named to Inc.’s Best Workplaces List
June 18, 2024
A reporter and camera person in a flower greenhouse
Using Storytelling to Elevate Your Business and Brand
June 6, 2024
Sara snaps a selfie with decorations at a business conference
Marketers Are Humans, Too: 7 Tips for People-First Communications
June 4, 2024
Hyedi Nelson stands in front of a branded sign at the American Urological Association Annual Meeting in San Antonio, Spring 2024.
Attending Conferences with Thought Leadership in Mind
May 31, 2024
Andrew Fritz meets with the team to share office technology updates
Office Evolution: Q&A With Andrew Fritz on BP’s Reimagined Office
May 23, 2024
Bellmont Partners team poses in Target Field after a Twins game during wellness week
Wellness Week at Bellmont Partners
May 17, 2024