This is a guest post from Everybody's Invited contributor, Celeste Hamilton Dennis. When she's not creating rad muppet-themed Save the Date videos, she's organizing "cash mobs" for local businesses. We think you'll find this pretty inspiring.
This past June, I organized a cash mob—where people flood a local store and pledge to buy stuff—for a good friend named Avi who owns a stationery store in my hometown of Levittown, New York.
From the minute my husband Craig had the idea, I knew it was something we wanted to do for Avi. His was a good story. Originally from India, Avi had been in Levittown for the past ten years and was an essential part of the community. Generous and charismatic, his position behind the counter often went beyond cashier to good friend—and even, sometimes, to therapist. I knew this firsthand.
But like many small businesses on Long Island and across the U.S., he’d come up on hard times and was likely going to shut the store down. So we saw this as an opportunity to show just how loved and supported he was in Levittown and in the process, hopefully give him some extra cash.
The result was renewed hope for Avi, and this short documentary.
My not-so-secret goal of organizing the cash mob was it would also inspire others to do the same. So if you’re keen on organizing a cash mob for a beloved local store owner you know, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Make sure a cash mob is something they’d be comfortable with.
I didn’t know if Avi would hate or love it, or if there were cultural mores I should be aware of. The last thing I wanted to do was embarrass him or make him mad. So I made sure to get the go ahead from his wife first before doing anything.
2. Start outreach at least one month out…
The success of this event depended entirely on people showing up. Since it was summer and people have lots of plans, I wanted to make sure people could pencil the date in. The very first thing I did was create a Facebook page where I could post updates and reminders.
3…and be comprehensive.
Via the Facebook page, I invited everyone I’d ever known in Levittown and asked (read: begged) friends and family to share it with their networks. The invite list instantly tripled.
I then reached out to the local paper, The Levittown Tribune, to place a mysterious ad and also contacted someone at the Levittown Historical Society I knew to send an email to various groups and associations around town.
Avi also helped with getting the word out. Under the guise of me wanting to interview his elderly customers for a book about Levittown, he unwittingly got me their phone numbers. Two weeks prior, I sent them a flyer via snail mail. I also had a friend deliver that same flyer to the houses immediately surrounding the store.
4. Don’t be shy about enlisting the help of family and friends.
I found people were more than willing to be a part of such a happy, community-oriented event if you only asked.
I had an editor friend proofread my copy for both Facebook and emails, the good people here at Everybody’s Invited! help me talk through logistics and decorations, a web designer friend create the flyer, video producer friends document the whole story, etc.
5. Add a personal touch.
I wanted to make this extra special. So I had a “Levittown Loves Avi” sign made in the NY font from Etsy, provided food from a well-known and loved deli next store as a thank you for the people who participated, and asked my uncle to bring flowers for Bharati from his florist shop.
6. Have a plan, but roll with it.
We wrote out a cue-to-cue, a method stolen from the theatre world, that gave a minute by minute run down of the day of and who was doing what. Of course, it didn’t go exactly as planned. (The bright sun shining down on a table full of deli meat could only end badly for everyone, for example.) But nothing was too difficult and we adjusted as necessary.
7. Think beyond the day.
Encouraged by our video producers, we set up an “Everyone Loves Avi” Fundly account (also our hashtag for the day) so we could keep the momentum up long after the event ended.
The goal of this was to buy Avi some more time, help offset some of the costs of the event, and spark the idea that this was possible for small businesses anywhere.
Because we know that wherever you may be in the world, there’s a good chance that there’s someone you interact with on a daily basis who goes above and beyond - whether they’re the guy who knows your coffee order the second you walk in the door, or the saleswoman who always gives you an extra big smile when you’re checking out.
Who’s your Avi?
For more detail and my do-differently’s, check out a longer version of this post on Cash Mob for Avi. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions: firstname.lastname@example.org.