Night of 1,000 Dinners: Tips for a Top UNA Event from University of Iowa and Iowa UNA

When you’re a non-profit with limited resources, no matter how many years in a row you’ve held an event, it’s never really a finished product. University of Iowa and Iowa UNA have been holding Night of 1,000 Dinners for the past fourteen years now, and every year, we’re still making changes. It gets easier with time! Night of 1,000 Dinners has become the largest Women’s Day celebration in our state. In recent years, it has consistently brought in 200 guests and $2500—all in a single night!

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Events, like stories or art pieces, benefit from being workshopped. We are happy to share with you the process behind the creation of Night of 1,000 Dinners. We hope that it will be helpful to other UNAs, and that it might inspire you to share the processes behind your events as well. We can only get better and better!

Here are some of the principles underlying the organization of our large events:

Pay it forward: People are attracted to an event that makes them feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves. We truly do celebrate Women’s Day at our event. Of what’s left over from the costs of the event, half goes to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women. Guests know that their attendance is important—they have a direct impact.

Work together: We always seek about fifteen or more cosponsors, which serves to unite and showcase local businesses and organizations working together for women’s rights.

Scrounge with style. Take advantage of as many free resources as possible! The event features dinner from dozens of restaurants in our area, served buffet-style. If we didn’t scrounge, we could never afford to provide food to 200! The trick is to act official. We go to restaurants with solicitation letters, printed on our fancy letterhead, to encourage them to donate a dish to our event.

Shake it up. Besides just dinner, we always feature a keynote speaker, and we recruit world musicians and dance troupes to entertain. Diversifying an event will always bring in more people, and can also create new arenas for fundraising. We have a silent auction of art pieces, books, and gift items—all donated to us by individuals or local businesses—that is both fun and profitable!

Name it well. “Night of 1,000 Dinners” is both intriguing and informative. It was originally the name for an anti-landmine program that we used to feature here in Iowa. When that campaign ended, we adopted the name, because it already had recognition. Now, if you mention Night of 1,000 Dinners to community members, they know what you’re talking about. Yes!

Publicize, publicize. Two points: One, we issue press releases about all our events, and for really big events, we try to publish an interesting, persuasive Op-Ed in local newspapers. Two, we spread eye-catching, smart-looking posters and flyers everywhere, including online.

And lastly, spread the joy. Any model for any event can be exported, with modifications. This same event is held elsewhere in Iowa on a smaller scale within a few days of ours. You could easily adopt the Night of 1,000 Dinners model—or we could adopt the model of one of your events! When we’re all ready to help each other, the sky’s the limit. Just start something and go with it!     

In the Daily Iowan:

Find an example op-ed here:

Find an old Night of 1,000 Dinners webpage here:

Cora Metrick-Chen, UNA Iowa

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