Mary O’Neill founded Get Your Bingo On! For the Cause in May 2019 to help local nonprofits raise funds in a new way. She spoke with Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price about how she developed the business idea and what she hopes to accomplish.
NAN PRICE: How did you come up with this business concept?
MARY O’NEILL: A friend and I had gone to a designer purse bingo Project Graduation fundraising event. While we were there, I noticed the room was full and people were having fun. Later, I found out the fundraiser had raised more than $12,000.
I’ve helped organize Project Graduation events over the years, so I knew there was a lot of complicated work involved and usually only a few people putting in all the hours that make up a successful event.
I started thinking: What if I did all that heavy lift—getting the prizes, setting up the game, providing staff. I wondered if I could sit down with a nonprofit and map out how much they would like to make during the event. Then figure out how many people they needed to attend and how to make that happen.
The more I thought about it, the more I started to like the business idea. It appeals to me because I love helping people and bringing people together.
With this idea in mind, as I interacted with some nonprofits in my current full-time position, I would ask for their feedback about the idea.
NAN: So, you were testing the business assumption.
MARY: Exactly. I went out to the folks who would be my market. I’m fortunate that I meet a lot of nonprofits through my current job and through a lot of the networking I do.
NAN: You were already immersed in your target market.
MARY: Yes. Absolutely. And I can talk to a lot of people. I was also volunteering for a nonprofit. So, I talked to them about my business concept. They thought it would be great. Several wanted to book an event and asked: When can you do it?
It was funny because I didn’t have the business yet! It was all in my head—what it would take, approximately how much it would cost, what I would need to launch the business, how the actual game would run, how I wanted to run the business.
At one point, I was talking with my accountant about it. She said: Come speak to me when you’re ready, make sure you get your books in order, and by the way, you should probably really write something down!
NAN: And did you write a business plan?
MARY: I did. I went online to find a template. I have some startup experience, too. The company where I am currently working full-time was a startup, so I know what it takes.
NAN: You’ve had some conversations with local nonprofits. How are you starting to create clientele?
MARY: I’m networked very well. That’s given me head out of the gates. I’ve already had some events at the YMCA in Glastonbury, the Polish National Home in Hartford, and the Chowder Pot in Branford, which has rebooked for another event.
With the events Get Your Bingo On organizes, all the nonprofit has to do is decide on a venue and invite their audience. I invite my entire network to every event. Plus, I’m developing an email list of attendees.
I see the business developing not only word-of-mouth—but getting the message out that I can help nonprofits with this entire process.
NAN: Tell us a little more about that. What makes a client want to hire your business?
MARY: My services offer a few things. I already mentioned the heavy lift. I also offer fundraisers a unique way to do something different to raise funds aside from hosting a big gala event, which is a lot of work and it’s expensive.
Get Your Bingo On is a game. We can switch it up. My fee varies based on how many games are played and how many prizes I bring versus how many prizes the nonprofit supplies. So, I’m flexible with my fees.
I’m there to help the nonprofit make money and raise funds. But I know I have to be flexible and I have to listen to what is really good for the nonprofit.
Non-profits are often drawing from the same pool of people who give. So, they have to have some fresh new offerings and some fun stuff. That’s what I can bring. It’s just a different modality.
NAN: Do you work with all Connecticut-based nonprofits or do you see expanding?
MARY: I see expanding into western Massachusetts. I’ve had reach outs from New York. I’m not sure how far I want to travel. I want to start by helping the nonprofits in my backyard here in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts. I want to get the word out to let them know I’m here and I can help them.
Learn more about Get Your Bingo On! For the Cause