This week marks the beginning of fall classes, but it’s also a time when several nonprofit organizations start planning major fundraising events throughout the rest of 2015 and into 2016. It was around this time five or six years ago Dana Cook, owner of Julia’s Florist, noticed a spike in phone calls.
“About three calls a day would come in just for free flowers for events,” she says. “I realized quickly that it was going to add up.”
As a businesswoman, Cook knew giving away flowers to everyone who asked wasn’t sustainable. Yet, she still hated to say no to nonprofits that benefit the greater good of the community. “But I couldn’t just give away the shop, because then no one here’s going to pay the rent,” she quips
No stranger to volunteerism (like serving as a DSS Guardian ad Litem child advocate in court), sitting on the board of the Guardian ad Litem Association and applying for grant funding, Cook had an idea: the Julia’s Florist Flower Grant.
“It was that light-bulb moment and I thought, ‘This is the answer,’” she explains.
“I’ll come up with a grant, and just like folks who give out money, I’ll give out flowers. So we came up with the concept and how we wanted it to work.”
When planning a fundraiser, Cook says, the goal is to attract as many people as possible to the event—as well as generous donors. Culling delicious food, fun beverages, great entertainment and music, and decor all add up.
“We’ve got to offer them something really special that [adds to the sometimes] $100 ticket price,” she continues. “That’s what the floral grant helps accomplish.”
With the help of Steve Bon from Bon’s Eye Marketing, it didn’t take long to spread the word throughout Port City nonprofits in need of centerpieces, boutonnieres and the like. Since the grant’s inception in 2010, thousands of dollars worth of flowers have been donated—going from about $14,000 to $16,000 last year. The costs generally depends on the number of applications and types of requests.
“We try to spread the love, so we typically don’t do the same events year after year,” Cook shares. “We fit as many people into the budget as we possibly can, and if I think I can squeeze it in, I just do—especially for people who have never applied before.”
Julia’s Florist receives about 35 to 40 grant applications annually, with past recipients including Paws Place, Cape Fear Community College, Wilmington Historic Foundation, Coastal Land Trust, and the Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry (WARM). WARM credited Cook’s flowers for marking a record turnout at its annual “Cruising to Raise the Roof” Gala last June.
“It doesn’t take long at all to reach the limit of our budget, because some are $3,000 events; three or four of those add up,” Cook says.
Event dates are considered in the decision process as well. As she and her team review applications, Cook keeps her giant wall calendar by her side—careful not to double book or commit to events she simply can’t serve.
“I’ve been requested every single year by the Heart Ball,” she shares. “I’ve never done the Heart Ball because it’s Valentine’s weekend. Another thing that happens in February is the price of flowers: wholesales go through the roof. I won’t do any flower grants in the first two weeks of May (Mother’s Day) for the same reason.”
Flower Grant applicants should note quality control and image of Julia’s Florist is important also, which is why Cook asks that her flowers be the only ones recipients use. “It’s my name and it’s a gift I want to give them,” she explains. “I need to make sure that everything on those tables represent what we have.”
Cook recommends selling the flowers if possible, as a way for the nonprofit to raise more money for their respective causes—even if it’s a mere $5 apiece. “They’re free flowers I’ve given so the nonprofit can benefit and add to their bottom line,” she notes.
Flower Grant applications are due Monday, August 31 at 5:30 p.m., and reviewed throughout the first two weeks of September. Qualified candidates must be nonprofit agencies in New Hanover and northern Brunswick counties. Grants will be awarded at a reception on Wednesday, September 30 at 6 p.m. at Julia’s Florist. Recipients will go through a “menu” of potential arrangements based on their needs.
“They choose the style they want, approximate number of pieces, what their colors are, and we schedule them in our system as we would any other event,” Cook continues.
Grant application forms and complete details are available at Julia’s Florist (900 S. Kerr Ave.), or online at www.juliasflorist.com.