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.

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