Dunk tanks, dance competitions, and obstacle courses are all fun ways to celebrate the United Way of Central Iowa campaign season. These events are not just ways to connect wtih co-workers or show off hidden talents; they also engage people in making a difference for our community. 

Jon Huntington, who served as an employee campaign chair (ECC) at Mercer for 7 years, has some tips for planning an event that will go down in history. 

10 Tips for an Unforgettable Event:

1. Think outside the box. 
Jon draws inspiration from everyday life, including TV shows, songs, and cultural phenomena. Some of his past events and employee competitions at Mercer include:

  • Humans vs. Zombies
  • Amazing Race: Sleepy Hollow (complete with pumpkin heads and live horses)
  • Fear Factor
  • Life-sized chess
  • Lip-sync competition
  • Zoo demonstrations with snakes and baby alligators

2. Start small. Although some of Jon’s events have had 90 percent participation and raised thousands of dollars, they didn’t start out that way. In fact, his run of party-planning began with his daughters’ birthday parties. Jon advises first-time ECCs to start with small events and modest goals. You can always ramp up next year.

3. Work with your facilities teamThese are your on-the-ground experts who know the possibilities and limits of your office—and they always think safety first. Include them on your planning—and get management approval.

4. Match the event to the campaign’s theme or your company’s brand. As crazy as your theme might get, there is always a way to bring it back to United Way and your company’s commitment to helping the community.

5. Plan ahead. This is an obvious one, but Jon has to remind himself to focus on the nitty-gritty details. It’s tempting to think you can wing it when you get there, but planning is your best bet.

6. Find a good team. You can’t throw a great campaign event on your own, so recruit a group of co-workers to support you. With luck, you can find a core group who will work on the campaign for years.

7. Be fair. Especially when running competitions, it’s important to prevent cheating and avoid even a whiff of favoritism. People won’t participate if they think it’s rigged.

8. Use puzzles and riddles. People like to use their brains. A chance to get creative and exercise their minds will attract participants—and bring in more money for the cause.

9. Mix up teams. Jon prefers teams that represent many departments and blend people who have never worked together. One couple thanked him after they met at a campaign event and started dating.

10. Don’t overshadow the pledge process. It’s important to have fun and get people involved, but don’t give the impression that the event is the extent of the campaign. At the event, reinforce the importance of making a weekly or monthly pledge to United Way. It’s an ongoing investment that makes a much bigger impact than a one-off event.

Jon is proud of the money he has helped raise for United Way over the years. He believes it’s a responsibility to help others in the community, especially those not as fortunate as he is.

“At a campaign event, we make a bright shining moment—and it’s all for people we don’t even know, people who need our help.”

To learn more about United Way and where the dollars from these events go, visit: 


Julie Matternas

About The Author: Julie Matternas

Julie Matternas is the former corporate engagement officer for United Way of Central Iowa.