A reason to celebrate:

Cinco de Mayo a key day for nonprofit fundraising

By Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

For years, the Leadership Sandpoint class has owned local Cinco de Mayo festivities. This year doesn’t look to be an exception.

The popular Mexican holiday and celebration of Mexican-American culture has taken on an additional significance in Sandpoint as a day to support worthy local nonprofits. That’s thanks largely to the Leadership Sandpoint class, a long-running Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce program for community members to improve their networking and leadership skills. For the better part of a decade, Cinco de Mayo has served as one of the group’s most successful fundraisers. For yet another year, Trinity at City Beach hosts an evening full of games, food drinks and more starting 4:30 p.m. Friday, May 5.

According to class member Tamara Cornwall, this year’s class chose to focus on nonprofits that benefit children. To that end, the May 5 festivities will support the work of Kaniksu Land Trust, which hosts many outdoor recreational activities for kids, and Food For Our Children, which fights against child hunger in Bonner County.

“We wanted to get more bang more our buck [with our nonprofit selections,]” said Cornwall.

It’s that kind of worthwhile cause that makes an enjoyable occasion even better. And there’s plenty of fun to be had this year, with a taco bar, drink specials and a special Trinity menu adding to the spirit of the Cinco de Mayo occasion. Panhandle Cone and Coffee is also contributing its signature homemade ice cream for the event. Raffles and silent auctions will boost the fundraising effort, while local musicians Brian Jacobs and Chris Lynch will keep the atmosphere energized with live music. This year, families are also welcome to bring the youngsters along, a fitting touch given the organizations being supported. According to Cornwall, the event will maintain a family-friendly atmosphere and feature games to keep the kids entertained.

Planners also made a point of reaching out to city officials for the occasion. Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad will be the event emcee. And in a demonstration sure to provide both entertainment and a cautionary message, Sandpoint Police Chief Corey Coon will be on hand with his beer goggles—that is, a literal pair of goggles that affect hand-eye coordination to simulate inebriation. Attendees will be able to undertake a series of challenges that will test their abilities while reminding everyone that dangerous tasks like driving are best done sober.

As with previous years, the Cinco de Mayo fundraiser party is the result of the skills and talents unique to each Leadership Sandpoint class. Program participants quickly learn how to delegate responsibilities to those best suited to the role. For example, Olivia Morlen, executive director for the Bonner County History Museum, used her administrative skills to plan the fundraiser logistics.

“Our goal was to have a well-rounded event with activities and attractions for everyone, and every age, while at the same time raising monies for Kaniksu Land Trust and Food for our Children,” Morlen said.  “I am looking forward to seeing the community come out in support of these wonderful organizations and seeing the hard work of the Leadership Sandpoint class come to fruition.”

Leadership Sandpoint has raised thousands of dollars to benefit nonprofits over the decades the program has been in place. According to former participant and Trinity owner Justin Dick, his class first struck upon the idea of using Cinco de Mayo as an effective fundraising day.

“The crazy thing was that no one was doing anything on that day,” he said.

Since his 2010 class had ambitions of upping the ante for fundraising expectations, members saw the wisdom in dovetailing with an established and popular holiday. It proved the key to dramatically increasing Leadership Sandpoint’s fundraising potential, Dick said.

“If you really want to hope for some money, you want to put together something bigger,” he added.

Since then, Cinco de Mayo has become a centerpiece for the nonprofits the Leadership Sandpoint class has chosen to support. Those nonprofits are selected after class members receive a crash course of presentations, where representatives of the dozens of local organizations introduce their focuses and goals. It’s as much as tool for class members to learn Sandpoint’s dizzying array of charitable organizations as it is a means to build class consensus on the nonprofits to support.

According to Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce President Kate McAlister, this year’s class tackled the selection in a systematized way she had never quite seen before. They collected all the relevant data about nonprofits, arranged it according to their priorities and soon arrived at their decision: Food For Our Children and Kaniksu Land Trust.

“They were very good at nailing down what they wanted to do,” McAlister said.

The group quickly figured out how to best utilize their unique strengths, and according to McAlister, that’s largely the point of Leadership Sandpoint. Oftentimes, participants find that while they may not be good at, say, asking for money, they have a knack for organization or event planning. Learning how to find individual roles within the context of Sandpoint’s leadership network is vital to creating a legacy of invested community members, McAlister said.

“I learned organization skills I still use today,” added Dick.

The class is also essential in educating its students on Sandpoint’s needs and resources. According to McAlister, many students are surprised at the number of worthy Sandpoint organizations that depend on community support. The goal is to create a self-perpetuating cycle of experienced leaders creating new leaders who can keep those lines of support open.

“Once you realize the need out there, it becomes a choice,” McAlister said. “You’re either going to deal with it, or you ignore it.”

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