Fundraising is Fun: With KC Designer Lisa Schmitz

When it comes to ensuring the success of a Design For A Difference project, it’s important to strategize early on the nuts and bolts of how the makeover will get funded. Some projects come to fruition through grants. Others receive funds from corporations or product from industry partners. But most makeovers require a little teamwork in planning a fundraiser, which, if approached with a minimalistic mindset like Design For A Difference ambassador Lisa Schmitz (LS), is an opportunity to get creative, build the team, build awareness, and most importantly, have fun while raising money for a great cause.

Not long ago, Lisa and her team hosted a concert in the backyard of her sweet downtown bungalow that captured the easy going feel of Kansas City living at its core. Imagine the likes of about 200 people, settled on lawn chairs and picnic blankets at dusk, enjoying cocktails, good company, and a local band. All under the glow of colored Christmas bulbs strung overhead and a view of the perfect backdrop: The Schmitz family Airstream.

Today, we’re talking to Lisa to see what’s new in her world of design, camping and to get some practical advice on how to plan a successful event.


The Interview:


HG: Tell us a little about your business and your current projects.


LS: I head up a female owned firm of 5 designers, and we create what we call “luxury modern” interiors for everyday living. We have all come from the commercial side of the industry, and we take a comprehensive approach with our work. We are involved with a project from first conceptual designs with the architect all the way to the final toss pillow placed on the sofa. While we serve both commercial and residential markets, we have shifted to about 90% residential over the last two years and loving every minute of it.


HG: You’ve been involved with Design For A Difference since it rolled out in 2013. What are some recent projects that you and your team have worked on?


LS: We’ve done two projects benefitting the Rose Brooks Center, which is a shelter for adults and children who are victims of domestic violence. In total, we’ve revamped four living rooms, which were in great need of updating. The fundraiser we put together took place during our first project, and our most recent was funded by grants.


HG: So you’ve experienced it both ways… let’s talk about your event. When we heard you were hosting a fundraiser at your house, we thought you were extremely brave. How did it all come about?


LS: I know, it sounds intimidating, however this was something that we have done in the past for friends and family, and everyone has a great time. My husband Chuck plays the banjo and backyard concerts have always been magical nights. I think part of that magic is that we keep it easy- the music and good company is the focus of the night.


HG: Take us through the event. You have this beautiful autumn evening, the yard is glowing with your bulbs strung overhead, and your airstream is the backdrop for the band. Fill in the rest of the picture…


LS: We were all about keeping it as low key as possible. We sent invitations through Evite and word of mouth. Those who attended created this beautifully diverse representation of our community, as it was a mix of our friends, family, local business owners, and many from the art and architectural communities. There were only good vibes as we all came together for a higher purpose.

We charged $20 a head, and everyone just brought their own lawn chairs and picnic blankets to stay cozy. Throughout the evening we passed the hat to collect additional donations and everyone was more than generous. In the end I believe we raised about $3,000+ to benefit Rose Brooks Center, which we were really happy with.


HG: What about food and drink?


LS: We always say BYOB, provide communal tubs of ice, maybe make up some batches of lemonade and set up tables. Everyone brings coolers, whatever nibbles they like, and it all kind of takes care of itself. Our job is to get them here, sweep the patio, and set out our recycle bins. During this particular fundraiser, our main floor was completely gutted as we were in the midst of a renovation, so our countertops were plywood and I didn’t even have a fully functional kitchen.


HG: This is brilliant. Not only does it sound like an easy event to plan, but the entire low-key-come-as-you-are vibe captures the essence of how most Design For A Difference teams operate: Everyone is welcome to be a part of the party. Now the focal point of the backyard aesthetic was your Airstream. Tell us the backstory.


LS: It’s a 1959 vintage Airstream that we found locally about fifteen years ago. Our original plan was to purchase a new camper, but after touring the vintage Airstreams at rallies, we valued the idea of a rare find. So the inside is lined with the original mahogany cabinets and there is no power or water. When we bought our house, we needed to make sure we had a home for the Airstream, so we created a parking pad for it next to our garage and conveniently, the neighbor’s garage behind it is green, which makes it look like it’s meant to be a fixture in our landscape. We’ve used it almost every summer to take 3-4 week vacations out West, usually staying in national parks for rustic camping, without power or water.


HG: Such a find! You’ll need to give us a virtual tour one day. Ok, wrapping up, what advice would you give to a design team to set them up for a successful event?


LS: Keep it familiar. For us, the backyard concerts had already been established and it was easy for us to take something we were already doing and turn it into a fundraiser. If you can stick with what you know, it will not feel like work but it will be fun. In our case, it was easy to spread the word, and we just added a crowd funding page on social media to support the cause and that brought in some money as well.


HG: Practical advice from our minimalistic designer. You’re staying true to yourself there… One last question: Where will you take the Airstream in 2019?


LS: We’re headed West to the Rockies for a few weeks of fly fishing for the boys, crafting for us girls, and lots of lazy afternoons laying in our hammocks with good reads.


HG: Lisa, that sounds like a scene right out of a movie. We wish you all the best during your travels, and thank you for the “sound” advice on bringing people together in an effortless way to make a difference.


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