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We’ve come a long way from where we started. Eight years ago we held our inaugural Casino Night benefitting Junior Achievement (JA) of Central Ohio. I think approximately 50 people showed up that first year, and we raised $15,000. We were thrilled to announce that this year nearly 225 people attended, and we raised enough money to provide more than 2,600 students access to JA’s programs this coming school year.

What does it take to pull off this kind of event and grow it year after year? Of course, there’s the obvious checklist – the venue, food, gaming company, donations, signage and marketing. The checklist seems to grow every year with the event.

While hard work is needed to pull off a successful event, that’s not what sustains it year after year.  An event like this has to be backed by caring people and a genuine passion for the cause we serve. Here are some tips we’ve learned over the past eight years that help keep the momentum going.

Choose an organization that aligns with your own values.

When I made the decision to get involved with JA in Ohio, I had volunteered with the organization in Chicago so I was already familiar with it. I like that it aligns with a need in our own industry - workforce development. I also have several teachers in my own family so it represented a personal interest. Finally, JA’s mission is a cause that everyone in our company can get behind.

Set a goal that seems just out of reach and keep raising it.

Each year we set a goal, and I’ve wondered how we will end up. I thought this year’s goal was a stretch, and yet we surpassed it. I’m already nervous about what it will take to reach next year’s goal!

Don’t underestimate the amount of planning it takes.

We start planning five or six months out. There are regular internal meetings to plan the event and manage donation requests, in addition to the coordination meetings with JA’s staff and volunteers to oversee silent auction items and track donations as they come in.

Keep the focus on the cause.

Fundraising isn’t easy; it can be hard to “make the ask.” JA’s staff helped train our people on what to say and how to say it. They reminded us that we weren’t asking people to donate to or sponsor Pepper. The event was about JA, the students and our future workforce.

Find ways to keep it interesting.

For us, we tapped into the competitive nature of our team and held a friendly competition around securing donations. The results were very positive!

Always be gracious.

Thank you cards, emails and phone calls are part of our checklist after the event. It’s important to show appreciation for all those that donated and participated.

JA uses a model of experiential learning focused on financial literacy, entrepreneurial skills and workplace readiness to build confidence and inspire students so they not only envision what their future looks like, but gain the skills necessary to achieve that vision. Last year, their programs grew more than 15.3 percent to serve more than 25,000 elementary, middle and high school students across central Ohio. Instead of “letting the chips fall where they may,” JA is giving these youth control of their future, setting them on a path to control their destiny and giving them an opportunity to succeed.

About the Author

Paul Francis Pepper Construction Ohio

Paul FrancoisPresident, Pepper Construction, Ohio

Paul is responsible for overseeing the financial and operational success of Pepper Ohio. He began his career with Pepper serving in project management, after earning his Bachelor of Science in Construction Engineering from Iowa State University. He gained a broad range of project experience, from healthcare to industrial projects, and with specializations in commercial interior and institutional projects, where he worked with some of Pepper's most established clients. He also demonstrated a keen understanding of business acumen and company leadership that made him a natural fit to assume the role of president in 2006.

Paul is active in industry organizations, currently serving as a board member and the chair of the facilities committee for Junior Achievement of Central Ohio and as an Industry Advisory Council board member at Iowa State University. A strong advocate for community involvement, Paul also invests his time with several central Ohio charities and educational programs, such as the Mid-Ohio Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, Junior Achievement and the Little Miami River Clean-Up.