Get Out and Give Back: Soaring with Luke’s Wings

by WL Author

The Veterans’ Day gala raised funds to bring military families together over the holidays.
By Jane Hess Collins

Lindsay Kin, Miss Maryland 2011 Nana Meriwether, Fletcher Gill, Mackenzie Miles (photo courtesy of Gedalia Vera)

The thought of asking anyone for money–aside from my parents when I was 11 years old–has always terrified me. What better way to address that fear head-on than to help with the Luke’s Wings Second Annual Homecoming Gala on, of course, Veterans’ Day?

Luke’s Wings dreams big and executes bigger. It’s an anti- bureaucratic, all-volunteer nonprofit that provides military families with the funds or transportation to visit and support a service member who is hospitalized or in rehabilitation.

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With their new initiative, “No Soldier Spends Christmas Alone,” they plan to raise $100,000 to allow over 32,000 wounded warriors to spend the holidays with their families.

When Lindsay Kin, Luke’s Wings’ executive director of business development, sent out the all-hands email for volunteers in September, it seemed like a great way to stick my toe in the fundraising water. I offered to watch over the silent auction table, and coerced my friend Sandye Blalock (an Air Force colonel, no less) to join me. We had been silent auction divas at a fundraiser five years ago, and with that pedigree on our resumes, we were accepted.

As the event grew nearer, Lindsay emailed us again, asking each volunteer to sell five tickets and bring one silent auction item.

Well, it was a fundraiser after all, so it didn’t seem like such an unusual request. I emailed the flyer to my military and retired military friends and made two timid attempts to get donations-a jewelry designer (no response) and a restaurant (no thank you, we’re done donating for the year).

Photo courtesy of Brian Rayford

On Veterans’ Day Sandye and I drove to the Historic Terminal A at Reagan National Airport and took our places. Seventeen items were up for auction, ranging from auto detailing to an original bronze sculpture by Laran Ghiglieri that retailed at $27,000.

Two hundred people in glittery dresses and black suits mingled and chatted. The Radio King Orchestra played Big Band music while professional dance instructors from All2Dance glided across the floor. Miss Maryland 2011, Nana Meriwether, showed up in her sash and crown and added an extra bit of glamour to an already-glitzy evening.

A party is only as good as the food and the Luke’s Wings spread hit just the right note of patriotic and comfort food. An American flag, comprised entirely of red, white and blue-frosted cupcakes was displayed just left of the entrance and stayed intact most of the evening.

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Two stations offered nibbles, with one dedicated solely to mashed potatoes (greatest use of a martini glass ever).

The silent auction part of the event was intentionally low-key. Fletcher Gill, board chair, CEO and co-founder of Luke’s Wings, said later that he preferred to de-emphasize the bidding-war mentality of most silent auctions, and  instead wanted to offer auction items a lowered cost as a “thank you” to the attendees and sponsor who had already bought a ticket.

I didn’t realize that at the time, and fifteen minutes before the gala ended, I demanded that the silent auction come to a close and the winners be announced over the microphone. Both Lindsay and Fletcher looked at me like I’d lost my mind, and then decided that a calm, rational answer might be the best response to a crazy woman, especially one who was holding the bid sheets.

Most of the bidders of the high-ticket items had already left, and in the next five minutes I cycled through all five stages of grief, wondering how to deliver the bad news to Fletcher. He, thankfully, wasn’t nearly as upset and said he would call them and settle the following week.

Crisis averted.

For the fundraising impaired, I offer three lessons learned from volunteering with Luke’s Wings:

1. Fundraising is a not actually a gene, but it feels like you are either born with it or you are not. Since Luke’s Wings focuses on building long-term, strong relationships donors rather than a silent auction frenzy, they are a great nonprofit with which to start building that fundraising muscle.

2. Not all silent auctions are created equally. Silent auctions are the key money maker in most fundraisers, where the emcee frenetically encourages guests to bid and bid higher.  They are loads of fun and I’ve loved hovering over a bid sheet or two, adding $5 to a competitor’s bid up until closing time. Then again, having fewer auction items in the background without the high pressure to buy makes for a much more relaxed evening. Both are good.

3. Fundraisers can be costly. The money raised isn’t the money gained. Facilities, food, entertainment and even some auction items come at a cost, although they might be discounted if you are lucky.

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After an unscientific Google search, I found that if you can donate 50% of your receipts you have done well.

With the gala and a recent appearance on Fox News promoting “No Soldier Spends Christmas Alone,” Luke’s Wings is about halfway toward their goal. Or, over 16,000 service members can count on spending the holidays with their families.

Glad tidings to all!

Jane Hess Collins helps and encourages people to give back through her volunteering, writing, speaking, coaching and workshops. You can follow her other Get Out and Give Back volunteer stories on Facebook, Twitter and her website. If you’d like her to volunteer with your organization, contact her here.

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