SantaCon serves as a successful example of non-traditional fundraising

When it comes to fundraising, especially around the holidays, the needs of the many organizations seeking support can sometimes become a white noise of sorts and be lost in the shuffle.

Non-traditional fundraisers that go above and beyond the more traditional dinner parties and mailed-in donations are picking up steam for both bringing in funds to support local non-profits and raising awareness of the organizations themselves.

Some examples include The Salvation Army in Springfield, which hosts a virtual Kettle Wars (formerly in-person) where volunteers “battle” against one another in a bid for the highest donation amount to their virtual Red Kettles, and The Barrett Strong Foundation’s live online dessert auction, which features baked goods from dozens of local donors and raised about $16,000 in its first year.

The upcoming SantaCon is no exception. The event, which supports United Way of Clark, Champaign and Madison Counties, launched in 2019 and became an instant success, with hundreds of people flocking to Mother Stewart’s Brewing Company to join in the holiday merriment and see what it was all about.

“The first year we had it, we hoped it would be a big success, and it was bigger than any of us imagined,” says Kerry Pedraza, executive director of the local United Way. “Yes, the fundraising is important, but if people don’t know who you are or what your mission is – if they can’t take a second to know what you do – you’ve completely lost their vote.

“So for us, SantaCon is as much a ‘friendraiser’ as it is a fundraiser.”

The idea for Springfield’s SantaCon initially came to be after Springfield resident Greg Rogers and his wife Kathryn went on a trip to New York City.

During the trip, the couple participated in a SantaCon, which included thousands of people dressed in Santa Claus costumes making their way throughout the city’s restaurants and bars.

“So, my wife and I - being huge Christmas lovers - said, ‘We have to bring this to Springfield!’” says Rogers, an agent with Springfield's Link-Hellmuth Insurance. “The size of the town doesn’t matter. We knew there were others out there who shared a love for the nostalgia of Christmas, and we wanted to celebrate that in Springfield.”

The couple decided to start planning a SantaCon in Springfield to benefit United Way.

“Launching and hosting this event at Mother Stewart’s was a match made in heaven,” Rogers says. “It’s an indoor/outdoor venue that provides the perfect atmosphere for SantaCon in sharing a passion for Downtown Springfield, United Way and, of course, the nostalgia of celebrating Christmas.”

SantaCon benefits United Way through sales of what have become sought-after annual T-shirts, direct donations during the event, and donations made through games and contests attendees can participate in during the event.

And Pedraza says the opportunity to connect with people who attend SantaCon and help them learn about the wide variety of ways United Way supports Springfield throughout the year is incredibly valuable.

“United Way is for everyone. It helps not just with crisis services, but it does a lot of really proactive things in our community,” she says, adding that Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and fitness programming in New Carlisle are just a couple of ongoing programs supported by United Way.

Following the successful inaugural event, SantaCon took pause in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and gathering restrictions. Instead of the full event, organizers stuck to selling a 2020 version of the iconic T-shirts and a promise to be back bigger and better.

This year’s event will be from 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11. The family-friendly event will include live music, a festive photo booth, DJ Chill, and the annual costume contest.

Performances include Arlo Larson, Patrick Dawson, and Jah Soul.

“Our mission is to come together with friends and strangers to celebrate the fellowship and nostalgia of the holiday season, to raise money for your United Way and, of course, to drink and be merry,” Rogers says.

Though there’s no dress code, attendees are encouraged to wear festive attire, including Santa suits, ugly Christmas sweaters, elf tights, or whatever holiday-wear fits their fancy.

First, second and third place prizes will be awarded to winners in both Best Santa and Best Holiday Outfit categories. Attendees will vote for a winner, Rogers says, by making donations in favor of the contestant of their choice, all of which will go directly to United Way.

New this year will be games, live ice sculpting and a hot bar, which will include a variety of specialty warm, seasonal cocktails.

For collectors and newcomers, SantaCon’s annual T-shirts will be on sale at the event.

“Of course (SantaCon) is a fundraiser, but there are hundreds of fundraisers. We work hard so that our event is different,” Rogers says. “We want people to come and have a heck of a time celebrating the season, and once they’re here, be like, ‘Hey, wow, I had no idea this was a United Way event. I’m having an awesome time with friends and strangers celebrating the holiday seasons, and – boom – it also benefits my local United Way – so cool!’”

Rogers says he’s also excited about how the shift of this year’s Holiday In the City celebration from a one-day event to a weeks-long event means that SantaCon can be included in the line-up of festivities.

“SantaCon fits so-cozy in with all the other festivities going on Downtown during those five weeks,” Rogers says. “The Holiday In The City Committee, along with all of the Downtown business owners have really invested their time, money, and efforts into making this five weeks a winter wonderland-type of city.

“It’s an amazing asset to the community and something very much to be proud of.”

Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.

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