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Good Question: Do Extreme Fundraisers Pay Off?

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Girl Scouts sell cookies. Many charities do fundraising galas. The local Boy Scouts council decided to dare donors to rappel off the top of a 22-story St. Paul skyscraper.

But do extreme fundraisers work?

“We get asked that question a lot,” said John Marshall, the volunteer who organized the Boy Scouts’ Double Dog Dare fundraiser.

Minnesota nonprofits raise $3 billion in contributions every year, according to the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. Nationally, a survey of nonprofit fundraising found 80 percent of nonprofits raise money using events.

“We wanted something unique, fun, adventurous, along the theme of the Boy Scouts,” Marshall said.

Anyone who raises at least $1,000 gets to rappel down the Ecolab building, which stands 300 feet tall.

“Many people are far surpassing that,” Marshall said. “We have people raising $5,000.”

But extreme fundraisers are risky, because they are very expensive to put on. The scouts hired a company called Over The Edge to set up the rappelling lines and organize the event. Over the Edge is a fully-insured, professional rappelling organization that works with various nonprofit groups throughout North America.

“There are not Boy Scouts running the harnesses,” Marshall said.

Over The Edge charged the local council $40,000 to run the event. The hope is that the scouts will bring in $85,000 in donations, netting them $45,000.

“Your average golf tournament brings in $25,000, so that’s a significant number,” Marshall said.

Top Twin Cities fundraising galas can bring in more than $1 million a night. But galas aren’t cheap either. That’s why most fundraising dollars do not come from events.

According to the Nonprofit Research Collaborative, the vast majority of dollars come through direct donations from corporations and individuals.

Jenny Hedal, the development director for Northern Star Council of Boy Scouts of America, said that doing a big-splash type event has another bonus. About 75 people raised enough money in order to rappel down the building, but those people got more than 2,000 others to donate to the cause, and almost all of which are new donors to the organization.

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