Inspired! Art Gumbo Dubuque

I volunteered at something incredibly inspiring the other night. I just cleared away some dishes and greeted people that showed up, but what was going on here was much larger than the dishes or the greeting. They called it “Art Gumbo.” It's a simple fundraising idea that is easily replicated anywhere in the world. There is element of surprise, competition, community and cash prizes. Honestly, what more could you ask for?

Here's how it works. People come together to eat donated soup. Each person gives $10 to eat the soup. They vote on a handful of community projects, and the winner of the votes gets all the money that people gave to eat the soup. Thus far they have raised over $10,000 for the realization of community projects.

As we know, in addition to amazing projects and non-profits around the world, I am endlessly fascinated by what I have been calling DIY Volunteer Projects. This is just that, and thus I have written about it, in this deceivingly simple step by step guide.

Step 1: Collect In-Kind Donations

You'll need a space to host the event, food donations & drink donations. The particular on that I attended was located at the Voice Warehouse Gallery in the Millwork District of Downtown Dubuque, Iowa.

The soup, a delectable veggie chili, was provided by The Food Store & the bread was donated by individuals that had been working with the Gumbo for a few years now. Both were incredibly delicious and there was plenty for everyone.

Step 2: Call for Submission!

The application is simple. It asks you to describe our project, how you will present at the Art Gumbo & how you will use the money if you win. These submissions were limited to art groups looking to support the Dubuque community, but other soup projects around the world have different criteria ranging from art projects to environmental actions.

Art Gumbo includes a word limit on the answers which made it easier for participants to read their project synopsis while mingling and souping.

If you'd like an example you can check out their most recent application.

Step 3: Invite all the Guests

You guessed it, you're going to need an on-line presence and a way to get to people that would think this is a radical amazing idea and convince them to come.You'll want posters to put around the local community, perhaps even tiny flyers. It's a party, sell it as such, the more buzz the better

Step 4: Do it! To it!

Host the event. Show up early. Decorate, which may be as easy as napkins and spoons on a paper table cloth on card tables, and wait for guests to arrive.

This particular event had three submissions ranging from a production company hoping to put on their next play to a group that makes amazing things out of non-recycleable trash type things. They did a great job presenting their projects to everyone.

Once the groups present their projects have everyone vote.

In a secret room, away from the prying eyes of all present count the votes and the money. Then comes the fun part, you get to announce the amount of money raiser & award the MONEY! Art Gumbo Awards 70% of the door fee to the winner and 30% to the runner up. On this particular evening they raised $670 for the projects!

Step 5: Establish a Legacy

Previous Winner & Next Winner pose for a photo op

At the each event for the Art Gumbo the previous Gumbo's winner presents what they have done with the money. I would like to see these presentations go first to lay the groundwork for what is possible with a small donation, and encourage people to donate more.

They also ask that previous winners return and provide volunteer support. They helped work the door, cleaned up soup bowls and wshed dishes after all was said and done.

The final job of the previous winners is to present the money and a small gift to the next winner. This was definitely a great touch; they remind us that this is an ongoing community event of which each dinner attendee is a member.


I would suggest adding a donation bin & an information/Q&A table for each of the applicants, that way, even if a submission doesn't win, they would have the opportunity to pull some heart strings and raise donations on their own, and since the initial donation is essentially buying dinner there is room for a little free range donating as well.

It seems like having a cash bar for alcohol is quite acceptable, but imagine what you could do it you had a drink sponsor AND a cash bar.

Oh yes, make sure to provide extensive free advertising & press for all your sponsors and thank them at every possible moment…same for all your volunteers, of course. :)

Art Gumbo is not alone.

There is a wordwide network for these kind of events. It is called The Sunday Soup Network: Food-based Micro-Granting Projects Around the World. You can find your local Soup Night there, register your own or get more ideas about how to get one going in your area.

Know of another Art Gumbo? Let me know! I wanna see! Email: