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Event Marketing with Derby, Donuts and Doggos

We only had three weeks to plan the event.

I sent dozens of emails out and made innumerable calls. The initial rejection made it feel foolish to even continue.

A half-baked idea I sprouted over beers one evening had suddenly turned into something real. And I was in over my head.


In spring of 2019, I was fundraising with a team for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Kentucky & Southern Indiana. My team was considering putting on an event to help us raise money for our cause. And while small charity events are not always the most effective way to bring in charitable donations, they can be useful marketing tools for awareness.

Brands understand the power of event sponsorships. Red Bull sponsors countless extreme sport events they know their key audience will attend. Numerous companies host events and conferences that promote their product and cement their relationship with their customers.

One night, my fundraising team gathered for drinks. As we hurriedly tapped ideas into our iPhone notes, I made a small, but important, realization: I was looking for joy. I wanted an event that sparked joy.*

*It was 2019, so it’s possible Marie Kondo (and my newly organized closet) influenced this idea.

Most small-scale charity events are created thinking about how get donations, with the attendees’ enjoyment secondary. I wanted the opposite. I was thinking about experience.

Here’s the thinking that lead us to the event we decided on:

It was spring, nearly time for the Kentucky Derby, when Louisville goes nuts for a few weeks.

I know one thing from living in a foodie city like Louisville: People love trendy desserts. And there is one truly universal love for people of all ages and backgrounds: cute dogs.

The idea was born: “Derby, Donuts & Doggos.”

 And this is where the three weeks to plan the event happened.

We immediately began to speak with a few restaurants and, thankfully, quickly found one that loved the idea. Garage Bar, located right off downtown Louisville, even donated additional funds to LLS. Kentucky dessert chain North Lime Donuts agreed to set up a pop-up booth and donate funds as well. Many other vendors who participated generously did the same.

I did some unscientific polling among friends and this idea caught fire. Next, I wanted to put some money behind the Facebook event and see what response it got.

In conjunction with the paid campaign, we saw a huge interest right away. And we could tell the audience skewed heavily toward a younger, more female audience.



I chose the name knowing it was both memorable and unique. I would not have to compete with other events of the same name when I created a hashtag.

Furthermore, the idea and name were evergreen. It could be hosted every year before the Kentucky Derby and not tied to any one restaurant or vendor.

I asked a photographer friend, Taris Smith, to assist in creating content at the event – both to promote this event and to promote any future repetitions. She generously made an in-kind contribution of her time to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.


Online Presence

We created the hashtag: #DerbyDonutsAndDoggos

And a Facebook event. And an Instagram profile.


How the Event Went / Info on Replication Next Year:

With only a few weeks of planning, Derby, Donuts & Doggos was ultimately a success! We raised upwards of $1000 for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and created dozens of fans of the concept, many of whom donated online after the event.

We had numerous people donate to our cause who were just at the restaurant to hang out. Dog lovers were intrigued by the idea.


A week after the event, we started planning how we could do it again.

For a successful 2020 event, we needed more time to prepare. We needed to compile contact data gathered and start targeting this audience again. And we needed to spark joy above all else.

However, like so many other events right now, COVID-19 dashed our plans. For the safety of our community, the event has been postponed until further notice.

I’ve used the last few months to prepare a sponsorship packet, put together new creative and create a plan for communication when we are able to host this event again.

What can you takeaway from this (nearly disastrous) event that we pulled off?

1.     Plan a marketing strategy and get to know your audience. Thanks to our first event, I know a lot more about what the audience looks like for my event moving forward – and how to get in touch with them.

2.     Gather data. Create email lists, use social media, use website forms and even bring clipboards to your events. That data will make future iterations of the event even more successful as previous attendees are much more likely to show up again and help spread the world.

3.     More than anything else, make sure your idea excites people. This one is personal to me. I love dogs, desserts and the Kentucky Derby. And I knew this idea would catch fire if people found out about it.

Photography featured is property of Taris Smith, via tarissmith.com. See Taris’ work here.

And see all photos from Derby, Donuts & Doggos 2019 here.