How to Throw a Party Everyone Wants to Attend


One of my favorite holiday traditions is a really big family party. I mean a big one.

How to throw a party

Happy guests make a happy party!

Last night I had about 150 people at my house, (can you imagine!) and it was a blast.

Somehow over the years, this party has become an institution.

My friends tell me that they actually schedule their holiday travel around the date of this party.

They say it’s the party of the season for them. I have some ideas why this event is such a favorite.

So today, while I’m in post-party recovery mode, I want to share the things I try to do to make this party so very special to so many people.

Remember, as a fundraiser, you are in a social business.

Like it or not. So much of fundraising happens in social situations.

I have long recommended that every nonprofit should aim to throw the best party in town. Because if you do, you’ll raise TONS more money.

See if you can turn your fundraising event into a fabulous party.

The difference between an event and a party?

At an event, you put people in a room, give them something to eat and drink, and hope they survive.

At a party, you put people in a room, give them something to eat and drink, and actually CARE about the experience they are having.

How to throw a party

Raleigh’s top fundraisers: Hope Hancock of the SPCA and Kathryn Yandell of the NC Museum of Art

Secrets to Throwing a Fabulous Party

1. Have interesting guests.

It’s NOT about the food, drink, house, location, flowers, etc.

It’s about the people in the room.  I’m picky about my guests. I like to have interesting people who are doing interesting things.

People all say that my crowd is eclectic.

There are bankers, lawyers, soccer moms, lots of nonprofit leaders, education leaders, real estate folks, artists, elected officials, tech gurus, college kids, 20 and 30 somethings. It’s not just one social group – which makes it more interesting.

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My friends tell me that they meet so many interesting people at my parties. And I love that. I love introducing people to each other who would enjoy meeting.

It’s like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. You never know what you’ll get when you introduce two folks – invariably they  find common ground and become friendly.

2. Actively introduce people to each other.

I absolutely will not abide people standing by themselves looking and feeling awkward.

So I go all out to make introductions all over the place. I am playing “hostesss” much more than worrying about the food or the napkins.

If I see a guest standing alone, I’ll grab whoever is standing close to me and say, ” Tom doesn’t know anybody here, can you please go over and talk to him. He is the new director of the Opera.”

And it’s funny, but when someone gets an assignment like that – they are off and running to meet and greet that person. It’s a happy thing to watch.

People at your party have feelings. Help them have a wonderful experience. They will appreciate you forever.

3. Be casual, not prissy.

A quirky centerpiece sets a fun tone.

Be informal, not formal.

Formality is boring. It’s stiff, unpleasant, and can make you feel trapped.

Informality is welcoming. It’s easy. It’s happy.

Prissiness is never welcome in my house – or with my clients.

I am always trying to get people to loosen up and relax. I try to make people feel comfortable and welcome. When they relax, they can have a lovely time.

4. Welcome guests like they are your long-lost brother.

How you welcome people has a lot to do with their experience.

I will greet someone: “I”m SO GLAD you could come! It’s GREAT to see you!” And of course I mean it!

And when I am staffing or hosting a fundraising event for a cause, I greet people the exact same way.

And if someone arrives who’s not invited, welcome them as graciously as anyone else.

5. Welcome guests of all ages.

I was raised in the rural south, where we all socialized together from age 9 to 99.

LOVE it when the young folks come!

I was used to attending parties with the old and the young, and becoming friends with them all.

So when I moved to Raleigh and started having this party, it was my girls and me. All three of us were the hostesses.

We had an “all-family party.” And we do it every single year.

My daughters’ friends have been coming to this same party for 15 years. They look forward to it as much as the older folks. Now that they are all in their 20s and scattered around, it’s sort of a reunion for them.

6. Abundant food and drink.

I never want it to be said that I ran out of anything at my parties. I like a sense of abundance.

But I can’t afford to cater a party for that many people, so I hit Costco hard. I also buy barbecue and food from various places and set it out myself. It’s more work but it’s much less expensive.

I don’t have fancy food – but I do have a lot of it.

Last night I splurged on oysters. We FRIED several gallons of oysters on the back deck. Wow they were good!

Bartender Anthony Quiller, the life of any party!

We always put the beer in my downstairs bathtub. I always enjoy saying “the beer’s in the bathtub!” It just sounds fun.

I have the world’s most wonderful bartender, Anthony Quiller, who has such an inner spirit of joy that he shares with the guests.

Sometimes when I invite people, they say, “Will your bartender Anthony be there?”

Bottom Line:

Make your parties – and your fundraising events – all focused on your guests.

Make them happy and comfortable. You’ll have more fun – and you’ll raise LOTS more money!

Wishing you lots of joy and happiness – and some fun parties – in this special season!