Partying with a Purpose
Yan Pu, 26, is a Minnesota native now working full-time for a venture capital firm who really, really enjoys going out, Pu is the co-president of the San Francisco chapter of Philanthro Productions, a non-profit group started in Los Angeles in 2007. The organization throws events after choosing another non-profit to partner with through a rigorous screening process. They market their events, which are aimed a younger crowd, similar to nightclub promoters.
“Philanthro helps to eliminate the trade-offs between spending time with your friends while contributing to a good cause,” says Pu.
Co-founder, Andrew Geisse, says he’d like to see that number tripled. “More qualitatively, I hope we are able to expand into more cities, but we are very cautious about this process,” says Geisse. “The purpose is to keep improving on our ability to deliver our mission. I’d like to see each city throw an event that the original founders never thought Philanthro would be able to do.”
Geisse’s wishes have come true in some sense. On November 13, Philanthro Productions participated in a multi-city event benefiting Pencils of Promise, an international non-profit that focuses on building and supporting schools in developing countries.
It is through these sort of large-scale events that Geisse truly feels Philanthro’s impact. “One of our first events in L.A. was for Susan G. Komen,” Geisse says. “They’re a huge organization and the money that Philanthro raises out of a single event is a drop in the bucket of their operating expenses. But, we got over 800 out to our event, educated them about breast cancer and used the event as a platform to build our own Race for the Cure team, which ended up being over 100 people.”
The San Francisco Bay Area is a city where many non-profits begin as it is a welcoming platform to try new ideas. Another fairly new-comer to the philanthropy scene is Reason to Party, based out of San Francisco.
Reason to Party often holds events at beautiful venues like the St. Regis Hotel. They recently held a benefit party for We Players, a theatrical group that performs on Alcatraz, at Medjool Restaurant.
Under his pristine Dolce & Gabbana sneakers and well-manicured outfit, hides an incredibly excited and exuberant young man named Arsen “Ari” Kalfayan, the co-founder of Reason to Party. Kalfayaen comes from a financial background as a former account executive for Fisher Investments. The UC Davis graduate is also part of the CrowdFlower team. Kalfayan’s typical day includes servicing Fortune 100 Companies and creating new opportunities within that space.
While working at CrowdFlower, Kalfayan wanted to create something for twenty to forty-something-year-olds to do that was productive, fun and beneficial. Perhaps this inspiration came from his mother who is known for helping others; Kalfayan has a history of being involved with his community and political scene since middle school.
“They are getting something they’d already want to do, and giving back,” Kalfayan says about people that attend Reason to Party events.
Walking up the first flight of stairs at Medjool, Kalfayan is stopped at least three times by guests of the We Players benefit party. Kalfayan is certainly the man of the hour, if not the night.
Events like these make anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 a night. Although the events are successful, Reason to Party cannot expand until it receives its official non-profit status–the organization plans to go after corporate sponsorships.
“We’ve already had meetings at Wells Fargo, Google and Genetech,” Kalfayan rattles off a few big names. “The concept really sells itself. People want to give back; they just need that extra push.”
Social networking sites play a big role in marketing for both organizations. Reason to Party is fueled 100 percent by social media and grass roots efforts. “It’s totally viral,” says Kalfayan.
Philanthro Productions also utilizes Facebook, GoogleBuzz and Twitter several times a week. The San Francisco Chapter currently has 825 “likes” on Facebook. They keep people interested by posting videos of musical artists performing at the events as well as photos from all the events.
Pu has not heard of Reason to Party. While she acknowledges that there are many other non-profits in existence with a similar business model, she believes Philanthro’s ability to generate the most return on their events makes them a stand-out organization.
“For every dollar spent throwing an event, we are able to generate $14 in contribution to our partner non-profit,” says Pu. “We try to stay efficient in our spending so that approximately ninety percent of proceeds go straight to the non-profit. We also pride ourselves on educating the patrons at our events with creative production elements.”
The Pencils of Promise event will do just that, says Pu. One way is through decorations, the event will have napkins with facts about Pencils of Promise and the places it will affect. A live stream of all the parties will also be featured using Justin.tv. “We want [the guests] to know why they are here and where their money is going.”
Laos is one of the places attendees’ money will go to for this particular event. Philanthro Productions teamed up with Pencils of Promise (PoP), based out of New York City, to create a nationwide party to benefit building a school and supporting the SHINE program. SHINE stands for Sanitation, Hygiene, Identity, Nutrition and Environment, and it will be implemented into the schools built in Laos, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
Mimi Nguyen, 26, remembers her first trip to Laos during the rainy season to help build another school in 2009. “You know, most of the time you are campaigning and you’re not on the ground putting the hammer to the nail. But, the moment you do, you realize the fruits of your labor,” says Nguyen.
On August 15, Nguyen decided to make the move to be a full-time member of the PoP movement as Director of Development.
“It was very difficult not to think about Pencils of Promise every single hour,” says Nguyen.
Both Nguyen and Pu agree that working in the non-profit world gives more than a good feeling at the end of the day. A new skill set is something that both women agree is gained.
“Externally, you can inspire others to get involved,” says Pu. “But, internally we help develop volunteers. You can learn different skills that you couldn’t necessarily learn at your daytime job. You can take a leadership role in a pressure-free setting and make contacts with people in the fields you are interested in.”
Nguyen gushes about the ability to meet many people in different industries and the opportunity to learn from them. But she also
appreciates the intrinsic value she feels with her team members. “It’s almost like going back to school,” Nguyen says. “As if there is a project you’re insanely excited to work on in a team setting and you know that no one has any other desire than to meet this mission.”
The hard work put in by PoP and Philanthro is apparent on Saturday night as people line up around the corner at Azul Bar & Lounge in Union Square for the multi-city challenge; the doors have only been open for thirty minutes. Passers stop inquisitively asking what is going on and some even end up joining and buy their tickets at the door.
Two rows of Christmas lights are strung atop the alleyway where several informational tables are set-up. Every guest is given a pencil with a dollar amount attached to it and some have a chance to win a drink ticket. He or she must go to one of the tables and figure out how much that amount can do for a child. Ten dollars supports thirty-one days of education and $250 provides a teacher’s salary for one year.
Geisse stands amazed with fellow Philanthro members admiring the crowd composed of people in their mid-twenties and early thirties. The Pencil of Promise event is a culmination of all the knowledge gained since Philanthro’s birth, says Geisse.
“We didn’t know anything about how to throw an event at a club in the beginning,” says Geisse. “It feels great to see this. Everybody who put together this event did this on their nights and weekends or they are trying to sneak out for a call during the day.”
Inside Azul, people are buzzing with excitement around the bar and cozy dance floor. The music is pumping and the guests are excited about Ashkon Davaran, Internet celebrity–thanks to YouTube–and the Giants fans, who will be performing. Adam London, 27, the other co-president, introduces the surprise performer before stepping away.
In 2009, London became involved with Philanthro when a college fraternity brother introduced him to the non-profit to help run development sponsorships. “I was passionate about raising as much money as possible,” says London. The Pencils of Promise event raised over $7,500, which very close to London’s hope of hitting the $10K mark for a night.
London also hopes to “coolify” Philanthro and volunteering in general. He believes San Francisco’s eclectic culture will make this possible and London is excited for coming year to say the least. “I love that we have a consistent following, but my style is more to push the limits and try new things,” says London. “We can’t always throw club events. Some people would rather go to an art auction or a wine tasting.”
London encourages college students to get involved with a cause they believe in and suggests some local programs such as Habitat for Humanity, Greater San Francisco, Real Option for City Kids (ROCK SF) or the soup kitchen at Glide Memorial.
“Pick a program or non-profit that aims to fix a problem you think needs fixing and volunteer your time,” says London. “You’ll be amazed how good you feel after.”