The Genesis of Atascadero: Dancing with Our Stars
By Eileen O'Grady

DWOS 2010 winner

2010 Champions - Jim & Debi Lewis

In the summer of 2009, the fundraising campaign for the Atascadero Library had just begun its work. As coordinator of the campaign, I was considering a variety of options to jump-start our campaign. The economy was deep into the Great Recession, and many funding sources had evaporated. One approach would be to create an event that would raise both funds and awareness.

A friend of mine was visiting that summer, and she told me about an event in Kansas City that was modeled on the "Dancing with the Stars" TV program. It was held at a large hotel, and local celebrities were recruited to dance with professional instructors. People voted for their favorites with cash donations at $10/voteā€”and all the money raised supported a local non-profit. The winner was not necessarily the best dancer; rather it was the person who had received the most votes by raising the most money. She emphasized how much fun the event was, how much money was raised, and how unique it was, compared to the ubiquitous auction fundraisers.

DWOS 2011 winner

2011 Champions - Bill White & Sharon Davis

Since I had taken dance lessons locally, I had some contacts in the dance community. I first approached a good friend, Judie Magonacelaya, to see if she was interested in the idea. When she agreed to help, I then asked ballroom dance instructors Dan and Sharon Davis. They each agreed to volunteer their time to teach and perform with two local celebrities. At that point I knew we could construct a successful event. We recruited other dance instructors who would volunteer 6-8 hours of dance instruction, and I contacted the event coordinator in Kansas City. She generously shared some of her organizational materials.

I adapted the materials I had received to our needs, forming a small committee that would oversee the event and report to the fundraising committee. That committee consisted of Judie (dance program coordinator and choreographer/instructor), Dan and Sharon (graphic design, trophy construction, and instruction/choreography), Sue Sly (food, facility and decorations) and Leigh Livick (ticket sales and voting). Essentially the team worked as a unit to achieve consensus about the focus of the event (on the dance program), solicit wine donations, and tackle all the other jobs essential to creating a unique event. During the second year Christina Lefevre Latner joined the team and later Jeanne Robbins assisted us.

DWOS 2012 winner

2012 Champions - Jeannie Malik & Jim Patterson

Some of the critical decisions that were made that first year impacted the fundraising potential of the event. We decided to request donations of most goods and services and minimize expenses. In addition, since the number of guests we could accommodate at the Pavilion and the ticket prices we could charge were limited, compared to a large city, I suggested that we offer half-price votes at $5 each until shortly before the event. This strategy allowed people who could not attend (and even those that did) to participate ahead of time.

Dancers were given donation jars to solicit votes during the months before the event. Some even planned pre-event parties to enhance voting. In retrospect, pre-event voting was one of our most effective strategies, yielding a third of the revenue generated the first year and a majority of funds in subsequent years. Our celebrities became competing fundraisers for the library. They allowed us to reach people who would not have donated otherwise.

DWOS 2013 winner

2013 Champions - Dan & Eileen O'Grady

It was also essential to select local celebrities carefully, so that the library effort would include a broad cross-section of the community. We were fortunate that first year to recruit our county supervisor, Jim Patterson, as one of the dancers. Jim had been a stalwart supporter of the library expansion and was instrumental in shaping the agreement with the county to build a new library. In addition, Jim Lewis, our assistant city manager, and Joanne Main, our Chamber of Commerce CEO, agreed to dance. Several other prominent business leaders and the high school principal also participated. With the support of Atascadero Kiwanis, Jim Lewis was crowned the winner.

The first year's program yielded a net profit of $25,000, far more than we anticipated, and the event helped to draw attention to the fundraising campaign for the library. The next year $50,000 was netted, and more than $75,000 the following year. It was clear from the rapid ticket sales and the increasing profit margins that we had developed a winning event. With a team of talented and hard-working volunteers, we had created a powerful and enjoyable fundraising mechanism.

In the context of the overall fundraising campaign, other factors, such as outreach to large donors, the success of the campaign to develop a large number of Founders ($1000 donors), and smaller events also played important roles. But even today, under the current direction of Jeannie Malik and Frank Sanchez, Atascadero: Dancing with Our Stars remains a popular event in our community.

In 2013 Friends of the Atascadero Library was selected for a $1000 grant and a national award from the Baker-Taylor Foundation to recognize our outstanding achievement in fundraising. By this time the remaining funds needed for construction had been raised, and a new library was under construction.