As I’ve talked to the amazing ladies who own business, there’s a common thread that keeps popping up – and that’s the desire to give back. And what’s even cooler is that these women aren’t waiting until they reach some lofty position of wealth and security. They are either looking to create or are actively involved in creating ways to support and care for those needing a hand in some way. Today I talk to Kelly Fennelly, an entrepreneur who also founded a non-profit, The Little Black Dress Party. She tells us how it all works, and she know, because like a lot of you amazing gals, she did it all herself!
Listen to the full conversation on our Podcast.
Julie: It’s so cool that a lot of the women that we’ve been talking to with the Instagram project, have the desire is to give back, and some of them bring up the nonprofit idea, and Kelly, you ’ve done it and you’ve done an amazingly good job on it. And watching you grow has been so much fun!
I’ll just say real quick, that Kelly founded and operates a nonprofit called The Little Black Dress Party. And each year she changes the charity that gets the benefits and the proceeds from her event, which is an awesome little black dress party. She has a silent auction, a raise the paddle, then auctions off men from law enforcement and firefighters with really fun things to do on their date. And you just got done with one last week, right? And this year, who’s the beneficiary of the proceeds?
Kelly: This year, we went red dress as well as a black dress since we are giving to a firefighter fund. So this year it’s Eastside Firefighters’ Benevolent Fund, and then last year, it was law enforcement and the year before that it was a children’s organisation.
Julie: I love the way you change it up each year, and you pick such wonderful and often overlooked agencies to give to, so I think that’s really cool.
Kelly: Thanks. They’re definitely not big ones and some of them are just starting.
Julie: How do you select them?
Kelly: I usually put feelers out there to people that I know and then just talking with other people. I put it out on social media, and we might do that again this year, but I usually someone reaches out to me first.
Julie: It’s kind of an undertaking, and you’ve been doing it for seven or eight years now?
Kelly: Yes, we just finished our seventh year.
Julie: What made you decide to just put the whole thing together? Because again, it’s quite an undertaking and it takes time to get your nonprofit status. I’m hoping you can walk us through that. But what was your driving force?
Kelly: I had an ASPGE, I “another freaking personal growth experience” in my life, and so I was going through that in 2010 as a single mom to a 17-month-old and self-employed. And so I decided that this would be a kind of fun idea to put together a little event where we feature our silent auction, and raffles, and a Women in Business focus – that’s where I’m a. I had previously done work with a local nonprofit that’s quite big now, but at that time I helped them with some events. So I thought well, I know the whole background of procurement and it from the ground up, and I’m like, Oh, I can do this! So I put it together and then we launched our first event in 2012 and then 2013 we got our 501 C 3 status.
Julie: So you just fill out a form with the government?
Kelly: Yes. Well, I bootstrapped it all. I figured out how to put all my procurement and letters and also filled out the articles of incorporation with the state and the IRS forms. I had one person that gave me advice, but usually people will pay an attorney. There are people – an attorney or an accountant – that will fill it out, but I didn’t have those and couldn’t afford to pay for that. So I did it on my own.
Julie: And you do so much, you bootstrap everything. I have huge admiration for people who do that.
Kelly: This person that was helping us, he’s like “I think you can figure it out.” So I figured it out and then ran it past him. Filling out the forms and stuff, I had to figure that out. But yeah, I did it and we got our status. In the meantime, I just kept procuring stuff all year long and finding nearby venues and raising funds.
Julie: Did you have the 501 C3 status the first year?
Kelly: No, it went into effect the second year.
Julie: What I liked about it is that you focus on women in business, and it’s a women’s only event. And you get really awesome things donated. Didn’t you get a chocolate making class this year? So it’s clear you give a lot of yourself to this…how much time you think you spend putting it together?
Kelly: The week before, there’s at least 40 hours that goes into getting ready for it with our software and stuff. But yet again, I’m doing work all year long. A lot of our in-kind donors, they’ve been participating for years now, so I go to them first. They announce my event and then I start procuring in January because businesses are making their budgets then. SO I start procuring early on just to get my name in the hat of charities they will donate to in that calendar year.
Julie: Yes, that’s really good. Because when you think ahead that way, you’re more likely to avoid that last minute scramble. And then you’re also working on your bachelor candidates, aren’t you?
Kelly: Yes, I’m always recruiting. I go back to my database of past bachelors and they’re good guys, so I check with them first, but they’re not always available because they’ve been scooped up! But I go back to them and ask them for referrals too.
The really nice thing is we’ve really kind of fine tuned what ‘date’ or event each bachelor is paired with. And it’s cool because I’ve been able to get nicer and bigger things as the years have gone by.
Julie: What was the biggest one you had this year for the pairing with the bachelor?
Kelly: It was a balloon ride, it’s possibly the most expensive one and more. Because it’s an afternoon balloon ride sunset for two with appetizers and champagne.
And then we have some other ones, because I try to put as many adventures out there as possible. So as we have overflow they go into the silent auction. Everything was really great this year!
Julie: I have liked watching LBDP grow and I love seeing how you’ve pivoted whenever you need to and if it’s not working you flip it. And the other thing I want to say is it to anybody who’s thinking about doing this, especially event related, it’s just having that flexibility and ability to overcome anything that’s thrown at you.
Kelly: I think I’ll always find a way to fix it.
Julie: Let’s go into some of the bookkeeping side or the paperwork side, you got your 501 C3 status. And so now what do you have to do for the government to maintain that?
Kelly: Okay so I also bootstrap everything. There’s three different forms that I fill out and then document where we’ve donated, as well as our income and expenses. And then I also maintain my C-Corp status with the state, and then file all the paperwork for taxes.
Julie: The due date, you have to be careful, right? So anyway, with the non-profit you have to be just that more conscious of how you track things and where your money’s going, correct?
Kelly: The software that we use to put all of our silent auction, live auction at a value and run our tickets through all of our funds go through there. That does a good way of tracking. But then I also keep any other spreadsheet as well as a tracker. And I’ve been in and then over the years, been able to really the initial costs for some of the things that we already have, our office supplies, those kind of things, like I might get a ream of paper or something. But I’ve been able to dial it to where we don’t have a lot of expenses out there. Like, it’s really streamlined now. I’m grateful for that.
For example, my mom helps me a little bit each year before, and I used to buy the bid numbers and they can be kind of pricey. But they’re just printed on, so I don’t do that anymore, because it’s a waste of money and then I don’t end up getting them back. But yes, so I just get some card stock paper. I have a little paper cutter and then we just write out numbers and my mom has great handwriting.
Julie: So that’s a handmade paddle, that’s really good!
Then you’re able to keep those costs down and you’re able to give more to charity that you want to give to. So that’s the whole goal of it is to keep your expenses down and everything else so that ultimately the charity benefits and I know how grateful they are for what you do for them. I listened to the speeches and have been brought to tears by the story there. So it’s really a good thing you’re doing. What’s the most challenging, let’s say the business part of it?
Kelly: I would say, we just do annual event, so on the business side is I’m the data entry person, I’m the procuring person, sometimes doing all of it. It’s me monitoring everything because I’m overseeing that procurement, but also making sure it gets into the software, and then recording that stuff.
Julie: But you keep really good records, and you’ve got your spreadsheet and got statements and everything’s accessible. You’re not having to scramble to find it and get copies from the think of anything, so you do a really good job keeping everything where it needs to be.
So on the events side, what’s really challenging?
Kelly: I think every year it’s been something different. But I think consistently over the years, it’s been the fashion show piece because we have our own fashion show, seel auction, live auction and I can’t be in all places at the same time. And to be honest, getting people to volunteer is also not the easiest thing but I get it figured out. It’s managing that because it’s one section and this year we have three boutiques and each boutique has six models and getting those people queued up to go an making sure they’re on time…
Julie: So it’s really making a wonderful evening out for the ladies.
Kelly: Our models are our everyday gals. That’s the other piece that I like…
Julie: Yes. There’s people of all ages, women of all ages and builds and everything else. So we see a little bit of everybody in there. And everybody looks fantastic.
Kelly: Yeah, our demographic is I would say about 35 to 55 and that is the base of it. And then there’s definitely outside of that age range. So for us, we want to make sure that we represent everybody.
Julie: So if you’re going to give advice to somebody who wanted to get their 501 C3 status and create a non profit, what would that be?
Kelly: I would say, definitely get some great software, if that is from keeping great books, which is huge. I’d say definitely use QuickBooks and have someone help you set that up. And then also get a great software system for just specifically for your auction. silent auction…
Julie: What’s the name of what you’re using?
Kelly: It’s called Auctria.
Julie: That’s a good advice. Because everything else you can pull together with hard work and personality. But this kind of software, a piece of the puzzle kind of keeps you on track with the future.
Kelly: And then another thing, too, is if you do have a small team of people that you’re working with to help you doing a Trello Board. I keep a Trello Board just for project management but it’s a great place to house if people are sharing documents for procurement and different letters.
Julie: This is a great tool for when you have a team working on things and everybody can see what’s going on.
Thanks for being with me today. I appreciate it. A little black dress right? What’s your Instagram handle? And your Facebook page where people can go check it out?
Kelly: Our handles on both Instagram and Facebook are@thelittleblackdressparty.
Julie: Definitely follow them! And if you have any questions, DM me or Kelly.
Make sure you follow Kelly on Instagram and Facebook. And go over to @myownbossinc on Instagram and check out the business tips over there!