In this video, I’m joined by D'Arcy Drollinger, the owner of the legendary SOMA nightclub and cabaret, Oasis. For the past six years, Oasis has been home to queer performers both locally and nationally, as well as a clubhouse for the local community. They’ve worked to rise above the situation, but after a year of not being able to fully operate due to the pandemic, Oasis was facing financial collapse. That’s when nearly 3,000 supporters rallied around to raise $270,000 to save the beloved nightclub. Follow along as D'Arcy provides a front-row seat to the making of this incredibly successful fundraiser. You’ll learn:
- What made them turn to Givebutter
- How they made this fundraiser so impactful (Hint: donor recognition and powerful storytelling!)
- Tips, tricks, and lessons learned for being vulnerable in your donation appeals to take fundraising to new heights
“We chose to go with Givebutter because we could have that live stream right there on the donation page. You're seeing it, there's the comments, and you're able to call and actually interact with someone. There were a lot of ways to really participate with us. A lot of people became team members. They wanted to bring in people and help us get support, which I think was a very great tool… [Givebutter] really was such a great platform to do it. You really have put the best of everything together, so thank you. It was a game changer.”
Campaign at a glance
Full video script
Rachel: What's up, everyone? Rachel here with Givebutter! Thanks for joining for another Success Story from the Givebutter community. Today, we are featuring Oasis. Recently, this iconic nightclub’s 12-hour live stream telethon raised over $270,000—yes, you heard me right—on Givebutter, which was backed by more than 2,600 supporters. If you are raising funds for a nightclub, a restaurant, or another small business, I think this one is going to be really, really helpful for you. I have D'Arcy here with me to share how this event became such a success, as well as tips, tricks, and lessons learned. Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your story.
D'Arcy: Thank you for having me! Yeah, it is quite a story. It really was a surprise for me, and I think a surprise for the community. But, it really showed what can happen when everyone rallies to make it happen. We did it in such a short amount of time, I had to spend a couple of days afterwards reminding myself that it was true.
Rachel: It was real!
D'Arcy: Yeah! That we pulled it off.
Rachel: How long did it take you to pull it off?
D'Arcy: Well, that's a tricky question because we did it in nine days. We set it up. We had nine days lead time—which is insane—but we were so broke, and it was really the come-to-Jesus moment. We had to do something right then. I just pushed through, and all my staff thought I was crazy. A couple of them were pissed at me for having to scramble so hard, but I think afterwards, when they saw the success, everybody was blown away. But, having said that, we had been—since the pandemic had hit—we had been working on a lot of virtual events and virtual shows. We were equipped to do a three-camera, live, switching stream.
Rachel: You got some practice.
D'Arcy: Yeah, we had a lot of practice, and we had people that had been practicing. We had a setup already there that could lend itself. So, we did have that. I think for some people, if they thought that we pulled everything off in nine days, I think that would have been inhuman. I was grateful that we had been doing that work earlier.
Rachel: Incredible! Okay, I have so many questions. This is a campaign our team has just loved following along. Before we dive in, can you tell people a little bit more, if they're not familiar with, who you are and a little bit about Oasis?
D'Arcy: Well, my name is D'Arcy Drollinger. I am the owner of Oasis. Oasis a drag cabaret theater and nightclub in San Francisco. It's also the largest drag club in the U.S.
Rachel: Oh, wow!
D'Arcy: I’m very proud of what we do, and my goal has always been to be more of a clubhouse for people. We host a lot of fundraisers and charity events. We've got big drag queen and king pageants, but we're also a cabaret spot. We've got a Steinway baby grand and our roster is full of all of the touring drag performers—the RuPaul girls, but also the more downtown cabaret artists that I think is important to have those people at a place where the price point is. We can keep the price point low enough, so we're able to be accessible by a wider audience. That's what we do and we've been opened...this is our seventh year.
Rachel: Wow, that's incredible! And yet, over a year ago when the pandemic hit, it hit Oasis hard. Can you tell people a little bit about that? What's been going on the last year?
D'Arcy: Well, it was really rough. It happened over just a couple of days. We thought it was—like everybody else—we thought it wasn't going to last very long. But, it did. For us, it was very hard. My whole career and how I make money is bringing people together. It was really hard to suddenly not be able to do that anymore. It’s also a very expensive thing to do. It's a large space. It's got high overhead, and that doesn't go away. You still got to pay your electricity and your Internet and your garbage bills and your rent. It started to be more than we could do. We were able to build a park, and we have a roof deck. We were able to do some outdoor, but I did that more for my staff so they could have some income. But, we’d lose money at it. After a while, I couldn't lose any more money. I kept waiting for assistance and it kept not coming. It was getting harder and harder. Once you're over three months behind on your rent and once you've maxed all the credit cards and your personal savings, it gets to the point I kept sort of dancing as fast as I could really hoping that something would come show itself and save us and it didn't. Then finally I had to admit to everyone that we can't survive if we don't have some money. It was hard, but it was also a relief to finally admit that. It’s been such a home for so many people in their careers and cutting their teeth for the first time on a stage. For so many, it's got a very much of a Cheers element there—where everyone knows each other and there's a real community, not just on stage, but in the audience. I think the thought of losing this after we've lost so many spaces—and especially so many queer and gay and lesbian spaces specifically in San Francisco—the thought of losing something that is such an anchor was terrifying to people.
Rachel: Yeah, and there were so many in your community. Over 2,000—almost 3,000!—people who rallied to say, “Let's save Oasis.” So you pulled off this 12-hour telethon. Can you tell everybody a little bit about that? Behind the scenes. How did you make this so successful?
D'Arcy: First of all, I was obsessed with having a phone bank of drag queens.
Rachel: Yeah, absolutely!
D'Arcy: I had grown up watching the Jerry Lewis Telethon and the PBS Drives and stuff. For nothing else, I’ve got to have this phone bank. People tried to talk me out of it all the time, and I was like, “No! It’s important.” I felt like I have enough people—enough performers—both locally and from around the country that would show up for this. I thought we can give it the same feel as those old school telethons. Some people, like my younger staff, never saw a telethon before. They sort of knew what they were but not really. I think there was sort of a fun excitement around, “Okay. We're going to raise money, but we're going to raise money in a way that is very interactive and give back.” We're going to have performances. We're going to have testimonials both live and digital. We were trying to still maintain some sort of a safe space there, so we didn't want to have the dressing room filled with performers. We were like, “Okay, we can have three an hour.” We thought, ”Okay. We'll do a combination of digital numbers that are sent in and we’ll have a combination of live performers and testimonials that people can send in.” I think the testimonials did a lot to really hear people. A lot of people really came through, like Alaska from Drag Race and Justin Bond and Jane Weidlin from the Go-Go’s and John Cameron Mitchell of Hedwig.
D'Arcy: All these people really showing up made a difference. What we did is—and I gotta say we raised $270,000. We did not raise that all in those 12 hours. Because I wasn't sure who was going to be able to watch the telethon, I wanted to give people a chance to be part of this and to help us even if they were busy on that day. We started a week early and I was so impressed on how quickly...the fear of losing something to people, if it's important to them, they'll show up. In three or four days, we made $50,000. We started the telethon having reached our initial goal, which was $100,000. Then it felt, at that point, like “Wow, this is great!” Someone had asked me, “What do you need to really get yourself completely out of the hole?” This was just to be able to pay our rent and not fully drown.
D'Arcy: Then, someone said “What do you really need?” I said, “Well, I need like $250k–$280k, something around that, to get us through the end of the year or at least until things can open up.” I didn't think in my wildest dreams it would happen, and then it did! When we started the telethon, we started and then we raised it to $150k—that became our goal. Then suddenly, we had made that goal. Then we were at $200k. Then we were like, “Well, if we’re at $200k, then we’ve got to go for $250k.”
Rachel: That's right. Yes!
D'Arcy: You could feel it in the room—it was this energy that kept building and building. We're like, “Oh my gosh, we're actually going to make this big number that was just a total fantasy.” So, again, I feel very lucky that so many people love the space and were willing to donate their time and their energy to do it. It was great I think also—and why we chose to go with Givebutter—because we could have that live stream right there on the donation page. You're seeing it, there's the comments, and you're able to call and actually interact with someone. There were a lot of ways to really participate with us. A lot of people became team members. They wanted to bring in people and help us get support, which I think was a very great tool. They just chose to do it themselves, and that wasn't even something that we pushed.
D'Arcy: These were just random people that wanted to get involved, and I love that.
D'Arcy: I do know some of them, obviously.
Rachel: But it wasn't your strategy going in. You weren’t like, “This is a peer-to-peer fundraiser.” It just kind of organically happened for you.
D'Arcy: Yeah, purely organic. That was something that they found on their own.
Rachel: Yes. For everyone who's following along, obviously we're going to link this below so that you're able to take a look, watch the format, check out some of these team pages. If you are looking for a how-do-I-start-my-story course, here is a free lesson from D'Arcy. Just read the story! Amazing! It's so heartfelt and well written, easy to follow and understand. Obviously, thousands of people rallied around this story and message. I’m just wondering as we're looking at your fundraising page, any other tips, tricks, or lessons learned? This was your first time using Givebutter—anything that stands out to you that you think could help someone else who's listening right now?
D'Arcy: I think that having the testimonials that we had people do were really, really good drivers in terms of tugging on people's heart a little bit—hearing from somebody else the importance of what it is that we're doing. We showed those during the telethon but then we also put them up. The video of the testimonials came later, as far as what video we had on Givebutter. I do think the testimonials were really important because it gave you an outside perspective that wasn't just the voice of the people that are asking for your help. I think that was something that really worked for us. It was hard because they were coming in so fast, but liking and trying to respond to some of the comments as they came in and really seeing that interactivity. We actually, when we were done, we spent some of the money that we made and we had really beautiful thank-you cards created.
Rachel: Oh, nice!
D'Arcy: Anyone that gave us their address, we mailed them a card afterwards. The amount of feedback we got on that, I think those people would donate again in a heartbeat. A lot of people, when they would donate in real time—and they would donate above $500—we would give them shout outs on the telethon. But the truth is, if people donated $5 we still sent them a thank-you card or an email if we only had their email address. I think recognizing your donors is huge, and it's classy. They feel like, “Okay, my money went to a good cause, but also they care about their donors.” I think, by doing that, you really ensure people being there for the next thing—whatever it is. If it's another fundraiser, if it's a show where they're going to buy a ticket—whatever it is, I think any way to connect with them and to thank them is huge.
Rachel: 100 percent! Donor recognition goes so far. I'm wondering, just as we close here, for other small business owners who might be watching right now and feeling really inspired and are terrified to start their fundraiser—let's be honest. What would be your word of advice or encouragement to them as they are about to get started on their fundraiser?
D'Arcy: Don't be afraid. Talk to your community; reach out to your community. I think those are two very important things. There's people out there that want to help you. Find those people and hone in on your community. We were a good story that the media picked up, so reach out to your news stations. We were on every news outlet doing live interviews.
Rachel: You were!
D'Arcy: That was super helpful in reaching, again, a larger audience that didn't know our story. Be heartfelt in your story and don't be afraid to be vulnerable. I didn't like saying that we're going to close. If you're too casual about it and you're like, “Oh, we need some money.” They're not going to be there. But, you need to be realistic with what the stakes are. In that respect, I think it's important to let people know how important their donation is in keeping what you have going. Being a business owner—and if i'm speaking to other business owners, they probably know it—I'm very aware right now in my life that you need to put money into things that you want to exist around you. Especially at this time. All these people, they haven't been going out. They haven't been coming, paying for tickets, paying for drinks. They've got the money to support something that they want to sustain.
Rachel: That's a great point. So many excellent words of wisdom and advice for other small business owners who are watching. D'Arcy, thank you so much for joining us today. I'm so glad that your community rallied around to save Oasis. What an important, iconic clubhouse as you said. Thank you for using Givebutter to raise these funds and again for inspiring all of us today with your story.
D'Arcy: You're more than welcome. I'm happy to do it, and it really was such a great platform to do it. You really have put the best of everything together, so thank you. It was a game changer.
Rachel: Amazing! And thank you for following along this story with us today, everyone else. Please join us again next week for another Success Story. Don't forget to like, share, and subscribe to Givebutter’s YouTube channel. Until then, happy fundraising! Bye everyone.
View campaign: Save Oasis
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.