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  • Volunteering to Host a State Society Fundraiser

    “After all we’ve been through, what’s easier than writing a check and going to a party?” — Sara Stoneburner, MD, councilor from North Carolina and fundraising powerhouse.

    Maryland had also been through a lot. During the past few sessions, the Maryland Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons (MSEPS) fought a fierce optometric scope battle and emerged from the last session with a hard won victory. The bill that did pass severely limited the broad scope expansion initially proposed. Most importantly, it prohibited optometric surgery and imposed a seven-year moratorium on future scope legislation. Dr. Stoneburner’s comment was indeed correct. Compared to everything we had been through to limit scope expansion, including testifying before hostile committees at the statehouse, going to a fundraiser seemed like a piece of cake.

    Over the past several years, I had attended numerous state and federal fundraisers, but I had never hosted one myself, prior to this fall. Hosting the event required a few steps and a lot of advice and support from colleagues. And so, on a crisp October evening, colleagues and friends gathered at my home to thank our friend, Delegate Kirill Reznik, from District 39 in Montgomery County, Md. Reznik sponsored the competing bill in Maryland last session that thwarted the aggressive optometric scope expansion supported by many of his colleagues

    The delegate arrived early, and my husband and I had the opportunity to talk with him on a more personal level. We found out we had children of similar ages and many interests in common. We learned about how he first became an elected official, and he asked us about our medical backgrounds as well. The president of the state medical society, whose fundraiser for another candidate I attended that morning, stopped by to offer his support. Once the other guests arrived, we sat together on our porch and discussed issues facing our patients and the practice of medicine, as well as broader concerns facing the state and the nation.

    With the advice and support of many friends in the state and Academy colleagues from across the nation, hosting this fundraiser was much more enjoyable and less challenging than I initially thought. Acknowledging those who provided me with invaluable advice,* here are some of the lessons I learned from my first hosting experience:

    Select a Date

    • Vet potential dates with your state eye society as well as your lobbyist and legislator, ensuring those dates are free from other conflicts.
    • Call your state medical society to ensure there are no competing events and ask for its sponsorship.

    Create a Guest List

    • Identify a monetary donation target, in collaboration with your lobbyist or state eye society political action committee (PAC).
    • Create a list of invitees and potential donors – build a coalition of nonophthalmology colleagues as well as friends and neighbors.
    • Think of other statewide (or federal if applicable) PACs that would be interested in contributing. (In Maryland, a state medical PAC consisting of orthopedic surgeons, urologists and gastroenterologists generously donated to this fundraiser.)
    • Ask your state eye society and state medical society to distribute the invitation to the fundraiser and help promote the event.
    • Personally invite leaders of other statewide subspecialty organizations and ask them to invite their membership to the fundraiser.
    • Consider asking larger ophthalmology or other group medical practices if they would make collective contributions.
    • Invest the time to make personal phone calls to invite friends and colleagues.
    • If invitees are unable to attend, ask if they would be willing to consider a donation to this important cause.

    Plan the Menu

    • Create a hassle-free menu unless you enjoy cooking, ordering trays of finger foods from a grocery store or restaurant saves energy and stress.
    • You don’t have to spend a fortune on food or drink — funds are better spent on a candidate’s campaign.
    • Often, you won’t have an accurate head count, but a list can be estimated based on the number of invitations distributed.

    During the Event

    • Introduce the candidate and give him or her the opportunity to address guests.
    • Listen to what the candidate says — there are often clues about issues that are of interest to him or her, and you can find ways to align your message with their passion.
    • Offer to be a future resource on eye or health-related issues.
    • Direct donations to a campaign staff member, who will often be present.
    • Relax and enjoy!

    After the Event

    • Keep in touch with the candidate and the staff member who helped with the fundraiser — a phone call or handwritten note offers a personal touch.
    • Write thank you notes to those who attended or donated to the campaign.
    • Donations may continue to roll in after the event — ensure these get to the candidate or his or her campaign with a letter linking the donations with your fundraiser.
    • Report back to your state eye society so it can keep track of donation efforts to support particular candidates.

    Hosting a fundraiser was much less daunting than it initially seemed. The special relationships that we foster with our elected officials through events such as these make future legislative challenges much more navigable and allow our friends in the statehouse to view us as trusted resources. With a little time, effort, and preparation, anyone can take these small steps to create a big impact. And dare I say, again in the words of Dr. Stoneburner, that fundraising is actually FUN!

    *Special thanks to the following individuals who offered invaluable advice: Cathy Cohen, MHSA, CAE; Renee Bovelle, MD; David Barañano, MD; Sonny Goel, MD; Laura Green, MD; Amalia Miranda, MD; Basil Morgan, MD; Sara Stoneburner, MD.

    Further Resources

    See the Academy’s other advocacy-related volunteer opportunities.

    Hosting a fundraiser for a congressional lawmaker