This soiree promises to be the most forgettable event of the season.
Since the coronavirus pandemic has effectively canceled its fundraisers this year, the Bartow Education Foundation is fighting back by planning an event no one would want to attend — the 2020 Possum Ball.
Unlike most fundraising galas, this event doesn’t feature evening wear, pricy tickets, a fancy dinner or any of the other trappings that are the hallmark of most balls.
Instead, the invitation reads:
When: Anytime between now and Dec. 31, 2020
Place: Wherever you are the happiest
Time: Anytime that suits you
RSVP: A donation amount of your choosing to the Bartow Education Foundation.
Therefore, the twist for this gala is the host organization doesn’t want people’s presence; it only wants their money.
"So if a person gets an invitation in the mail, that doesn't mean they have to come anywhere or go anywhere or do anything except send us some money,” BEF Executive Director Dot Frasier said. "It's called the Possum Ball, and this is going to be the most forgettable event of this season. It's just a delightful benefit that you will attend. The secret is you don't have to come. It's the money that you send.
“You don't have to bake cookies. You don't have to rummage up and dig up anything, and you don't have to even worry about what you're going to wear. You won't be driving or parking. Your dinner will be whatever you want your spouse to make or for you to make for her. So you and your family will have answered the call to the Possum Ball by just sending in your money."
Ms. Frasier said one of the foundation’s directors, Melissa Bell, has a friend in Arkansas who had done this fundraiser there and “just raised a ton of money.”
“So she brought it up, and she said, 'I think this would just do well because we've never had anything like this, and I think Bartow County people will catch on to it,'” she said. “I was a little leery. I don't jump for the first new person that comes in the room, but after I study them and I know them, then I decide that I'm going to keep them or let them go. So the more I heard about this, I thought, well, you know, let's just try this.”
Bell, whose friend did a Possum Ball for his local humane society about 30 years ago, said she felt this was a good alternative for raising money under the current conditions.
“Since COVID hit, and we couldn’t really do any of our fundraisers, I thought, oh my gosh, it’s time for the Possum Ball,” she said.
She then shared her idea with Ms. Frasier.
“If everybody will work together, and we can put it on social media and really run with it and get some challenges going, I think we can do this, and it’ll help us to really raise some money during a time that we’re all down,” Bell said.
She also said she and her daughter “tweaked” the idea and came up with a poem and the “funny little levels” of giving for the invitations as well as the T-shirts and possum ball recipe that donors will receive.
“We’re trying to make it fun and get people’s attention and go ‘What is that?’” she said.
The organizing committee, chaired by Bell and Janet Queen, decided to print 1,000 invitations and distribute them to BEF's 20 directors to send to people they know.
"All of our money we raise goes to the [education] foundation so I've got to find a donor [to pay for printing], and I did,” Ms. Frasier said. “That night, somebody volunteered to pay."
Bell said the committee “probably undershot” the number of invitations that were mailed out at the beginning of September.
“I wish we had gotten a couple of thousand or even more, but we’ve never done [the event before],” she said.
The invitation describes four donation levels.
The Trashy But Sassy level is $1,000 or more and includes a “special invitation to play possum and skip next year’s ball” as well as four Possum Ball T-shirts and name recognition at all events and in all advertising, Ms. Frasier said.
"For some of our friends, we're going to expect $1,000,” she said. “So if you want to be trashy and sassy and show how much support you're going to give to Bartow County schools, you send a $1,000 check, and you'll be in that level."
Donors also have the option of having their name attached to one or more $500 classroom grants that their donation has funded.
"If you have a particular teacher, and you want her to get a grant, you put her name on there or his name on there, and we'll make sure they get your $500 if they send in a grant, and I hope they will," Ms. Frasier said.
Below Trashy But Sassy is the Road Kill level at $500 to $999.
"You may hibernate the whole evening, eating possum balls,” Ms. Frasier said. “We're going to send you a secret recipe to make those possum balls. We're going to have Possum Ball T-shirts and recognitions on social media so you won't have to come.”
The donor's name also will be attached to a $500 grant.
Next is the Garbage Can Delight level from $200 to $499.
“That permits you to play possum, skip the ball or just lounge around in your favorite sweatpants, and you’ll receive one Possum Ball T-shirt, and you’ll have name recognition at the event, which will be on social media,” Ms. Frasier said.
The last level is Playing Possum for donations of $25 to $199.
“For that level, you don’t have to leave your house,” she said. “You can just play possum, and you will still receive recognition at the Bartow Education Foundation events.”
Playing Possum may be the lowest giving level, Ms. Frasier said, “but what if every student who has attended one of the Bartow County schools would submit $25 to go to this event, and then they just stay at home, get their wife to make them possum balls, and they don’t have to go anywhere, don’t have to do anything, don’t have to get dressed up, just stay at home in your loungewear and eat at home?”
“You don’t even have to wear a mask,” she said. “I don’t want you to go anywhere; I just need your money. Every dime of every dollar that you donate will go directly to the children.”
Funds raised by the foundation are distributed to all 20 county schools via grants that teachers write and apply for every year to pay for projects they want to do in their classrooms.
BEF has disbursed more than $100,000 in grants every year since 2015.
“Several people have said it takes a village to raise a child so we consider our school system part of that village, but in that village, we want to invite all the parents, the grandparents, the neighbors, all the people who are associated with the 20 Bartow County schools – and that’s a lot of folks – if we could get all those folks behind us, what would we be able to do?” Ms. Frasier said. “We’d be able to meet the needs of our children in this crazy year of 2020.”
And what happens to those individuals who get an invitation but don’t make a donation?
“Well, I just go see them,” Ms. Frasier said. “So I go knock on their door, and it might be after-hours. So I just make a home visit to those folks and see what’s going on, see if they’re in the hospital, on vacation, and then if they’re not at home, I’ll go back again. So don’t think they’ll get out of it.”
Bell said she hopes to exceed the amount raised from the clay shoot the foundation usually sponsors every year.
“I would love to raise $10,000,” she said. “I was trying to think of what could we realistically do. If we could get $10,000, that would be great. That would help tremendously.”
But Ms. Frasier knows there are people in the community with some deep pockets.
“I want everybody to participate, whether it’s $25 or a $1,000 or some of you rich folks out there that I know and I love and you love me, you could do $10,000 or $5,000,” she said.
Now that the invitations have been out for a couple of weeks and two digital billboards are advertising the event, Bell said she is “starting to hit social media” with posts and has created the Possum Ball 2020 Facebook page.
The ball also has two hashtags, #befpossumball2020 and #itsallaboutthechildren.
Tax-deductible donations should be mailed to Bartow Education Foundation, 65 Gilreath Road, Cartersville, GA 30121.
“And put down there [on the ‘For’ line] ‘For the kids’ because that’s where it’s all going,” Ms. Frasier said.
Donors also can use PayPal – PossumBall2020@gmail.com.
Those who didn’t receive an invitation but would like to make a donation can send a check along with their name, address, email address and T-shirt size to the same address.
Whether the ball becomes an annual event depends on “how well we do,” Bell said.
“If we could do well with it and people begin to know about it – they don’t have to dress up, don’t have to send anything, just have to donate their money – then hopefully we can keep it rolling,” she said.