Photograph by Audree Notoras

A crowd gathers in front of the stage at Rhino's April 18. Seven locations around town participated in this year's Live From Bloomington Club Night in support of the Hoosier Hill's Food Bank.

Jordan Bleckner leans back in his office chair and looks over paperwork at his desk. The phone rings, and he swivels in his chair to pick it up. The 21-year-old IU junior from Woodcliff Lake, N.J., is the 2008 Union Board Live From Bloomington (LFB) director.

Bleckner's job this day in April was to ensure everything was ready for this year's LFB Club Night, an annual fundraiser for the Hoosier Hills Food Bank (HHFB).

Club Night is one of many charity events for local organizations that add a touch of creativity. These types of fundraising events have been around for decades, like LFB's 22-year run, offering residents chances to help out in ways other than the typical walk-a-thons and marathons.

"I just wanted to be in charge of doing something good for Bloomington because I just love this town so much," Bleckner said. "Whether it be big programs or little ones, they're still great for students and the community."

Collaboration between organizations, such as LFB's with Hoosier Hills, has allowed these out-of-the-ordinary events to grow in number and variety.

"There is always community involvement," Bleckner said. "Everyone always tries to help out everyone else as much as possible."

Hoosier Hills Executive Director Julio Alonso agreed.

"I think, in Bloomington, you can almost always find at least a couple of things going on at one time, whether it's a small concert of some sort or a big fancy dinner," he said. "There are multiple events going on most of the time."

One organization's experience

Alonso usually leads the food bank's fundraising events, but he does not create them all. Often someone from the community approaches the HHFB with an idea, by either coming up with it on their own or hearing about something similar in other towns, and then the food bank provides whatever support it can, he said.


Photograph by Audree Notoras

Rachel Elman (right) and Andrew Dahlan (left) take time out of their night to ride in the fundraising event, No Spandex Required. Stationary bikes were set up around campus on April 9 to get students to help ride the number of miles between Bloomington and Uganda.

One of Hoosier Hill's biggest fundraisers -- the Soup Bowl Benefit -- got its start this way. Musicians Carrie Newcomer and Robert Meitus brought the idea to HHFB 12 years ago, according to the Soup Bowl Benefit's Web site.

With the purchase of their tickets, participants receive handmade bowls, donated by local potters. They can also eat as much soup, donated by local restaurants, as they wish, and enjoy a variety of entertainment.

This yearly event gives the HHFB the largest single contribution in its annual operating budget. In 2007, the Soup Bowl Benefit raised nearly $70,000 for Hoosier Hills, according to the Soup Bowl's Web site. HHFB's Annual Report 2007 says fundraising accounted for $174,408 of its $588,004 in revenue.

Another key fundraising event for HHFB is Live from Bloomington Club Night. Since 1986, Club Night showcased the town's up-and-coming musicians and bands, while raising food and money for the HHFB.

"Live From Bloomington has been collaborating with Hoosier Hills Food Bank for 22 years now," Bleckner said. "What we do is give them the donations that they desperately need. ... We do that by creating the Live From Bloomington CD, which features the best bands in Bloomington and their best songs. We also have Club Night, where every band from the CD plays live. All of the profits go to the Hoosier Hills Food Bank."

A new organization in town

Rachel Elman peddles fast on the night of Wednesday, April 9, keeping her eyes straight ahead. Sitting upright, she takes her hands off the bicycle's handlebars, let's out a sigh and steps off.

Elman is one of many students who participated in the first No Spandex Required fundraising event for Building Tomorrow, a non-profit organization that raises money to build schools in Kampala, Uganda.

"No Spandex Required is an attempt for us to ride the distance between Bloomington and Kampala -- 7,710 miles," co-founder and Co-President Maria Srour said. "We had stationary bikes set up around campus and essentially tried to get people to help us ride the miles while donating a minimum of $2 per mile."

In its first year, No Spandex Required raised approximately $2,500 for Building Tomorrow.

Srour believes the creative aspect of the event helped it attract contributors. She hopes that, with its connection to IU's Little 500 week, the fundraiser will establish itself as a staple in the week's annual events.

"Philanthropy at IU is definitely a saturated market, so anything you can do to separate yourself from other charities is really important," Srour said.

Why creative fundraisers work

Every fundraiser strives for success and the opportunity to help the cause it works for. Across the country, a larger number of organizations are adding creativity into their events to draw in bigger crowds.

"People need more incentive to go out and do something to help other people," Srour said.

Alonso thinks the Bloomington community responds well to creative fundraisers. And while the competition between community organizations is friendly, each wants to stand out.

"Because there are so many of us working for so many different causes, the more creative you can be the more attention you're likely to get for your particular event," he said. "I think you're seeing more and more organizations try to be creative and unique in what they're doing to attract more attention."

Audree Notoras can be reached at anotoras@indiana.edu.