Gratefull is a free, city-wide Thanksgiving potluck that takes place at one long table in the middle of a public street. The event, formerly known as One Table, was started by Causeway in 2014 because we believe that to build a city that is an honest reflection of its residents, everyone should be invited to the table. There is no fee, no expectations, and no agenda—just an open invitation. Gratefull is now an annual event in Chattanooga and has been replicated in six cities across the southeast.
We are inviting any other city to set the table for their residents to connect in a new way. The name, brand, and this replication guide are free to use.
How To Use This Guide
When we started Gratefull, we never expected the event to grow in the way that it did. The first year 700 people showed up to what everyone thought would be a one-time event. Because the city embraced it so much, it has since become a beloved tradition. Each year, it grew in numbers and heart, now averaging around 2000 people coming together to share a meal.
After a few years, other cities began reaching out with a desire to bring their neighbors together at their very own Gratefull. We created this guide in response to a growing demand for cities that wanted to share in the tradition. The beautiful thing about Gratefull is that it is totally scalable. Causeway planned the first event in a little over four weeks, with a $2500 budget. You could host Gratefull in your city right now with some borrowed tables, donated food, and a quick email to your network. The more local restaurants, volunteers, and sponsors you can get on board, the bigger and better it can be.
We've taken care of all the nitty-gritty details so that you can focus on making it happen. As you scroll through the guide, you’ll find each section has links to helpful open-source resources that are free for you to copy and make your own. Read through the guide once over and then start pulling together your team. You can also download our print optimized version and save all that precious ink.
Do you want to host Gratefull in your city?
You can do it! Gratefull has been hosted by nonprofits, businesses, volunteer committees, city governments, and individuals. If you are inspired to bring this event to your community, we are here to help you make it happen. Start by joining our Gratefull City Hosts Facebook Group and have the support of community leaders just like you.
Gratefull has been hosted by nonprofits, businesses, volunteer committees, city governments, and individuals. No matter what your starting point is, the team you need falls into two categories: a planning committee and day-of volunteers.
The planning committee should meet several times in the months leading up to the event and have clearly defined roles. We’ve included a list of our Gratefull Team Roles. If you want to have a diverse group of people at your event, your committee should reflect that. Be sure that you invite people to be on it who can help you reach different communities.
You will need a lot of extra hands on the day of the event. You should loosely plan to have one volunteer for every 10-20 people you expect to attend. Everything you need to know about recruiting and managing volunteers is in our Volunteer Management Guide. We have never done a Gratefull without a volunteer coordinator to manage volunteers on the day of the event. Make sure to find your point person for this role. We also give everyone on staff groups of volunteers to manage throughout the day. This helps your whole event run smoothly.
The spirit of Gratefull requires that it is free and open to everyone. Any fundraising should be done through corporate sponsors, community partners, and optional individual donations, rather than mandatory ticket sales.
Gratefull can certainly be done with a few community partners and volunteers, but having some additional money definitely makes things easier. In our experience, the community is eager to help in any way they can. With a little work, Gratefull can not only cover costs but can be turned into a fundraiser to support an organization in your community that is doing good work year-round. In 2014, we hosted the event for $2500 with the help of lots of volunteers and in-kind donations. Since then, our audience, our costs, and our fundraising efforts have all grown. Gratefull can scale with the needs of your event.
Note: Causeway is a 501c3 nonprofit, which impacts the way we communicate with donors. You do not have to be a nonprofit to host Gratefull, though it can be helpful to get a nonprofit partner on board if you want to be able to give people and businesses tax receipts for their donations.
Gather Your List
Start by making a list of people in your community that you can ask to sponsor Gratefull. Use this Sponsor Management Template to stay organized. Be sure to share it with your team so they can add their connections and help you make your list as big as possible.
If there is one thing you need, it’s food. Reach out to local restaurants asking them to bring a large catering dish to share in exchange for sponsorship recognition. Local churches, schools, or community centers with large kitchens could also sponsor food dishes.
You can get the vast majority of the supplies and services donated in exchange for sponsorship. Tables and chairs, photographers, music, decorations? Ask for donations and highlight them as event sponsors.
Having some cash on hand is really helpful to cover some of the unforeseen costs. Get some local businesses on board as cash sponsors to help you throw the best event possible. We usually end up spending money on things like vinyl banners, plates and utensils, breakfast for volunteers, extra food, tape, trash bags, etc.
You will notice that especially after a successful first year, individual community members will want to donate to the event. In the weeks leading up to Gratefull, we launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise additional funds.
Make the Ask
There are lots of ways to go about asking an organization or company to sponsor your event. In-person meetings are great, but an email is usually a good place to start. Use these custom Fundraising Email Templates to craft a great email for whichever audience you’re looking to reach. Copy and paste directly or personalize and make them your own. Also, include this Sponsorship Packet to help you make the ask!
Every year we launch a crowdfunding campaign using the platform Classy. We encourage people to donate what they would usually spend on lunch that day, or they can choose to sponsor a chair or table in memory or honor of someone. Crowdfunding is a great way to spread the word about the event while also raising money from individual donors. Check out one of Causeway’s Campaigns as an example and also use our Crowdfunding Toolkit, for tips and advice on how to launch a successful crowdfunding campaign.
Use this Gratefull Email Invite Template to send an invitation to get your personal network involved with Gratefull, whether it be through a donation, volunteering, or just showing up!
Keep Track of Sponsors
As you start hearing back from prospective sponsors, remember to stay organized with the Sponsor Management Sheet you started in the beginning so that nothing falls through the cracks. As you hear back from people, mark their status on the spreadsheet.
When you get a “YES” from a sponsor – be sure to properly follow through with them. Use these Invoicing and Receipting Templates to help you follow up every step of the way.
Note: Tax receipts can only come from a 501c3 organization. If you are not a 501c3 but are raising money on behalf of a nonprofit, make sure checks, invoices, and tax receipts are going through them.
Promote and Recognize
It can be tricky to give your sponsors the recognition they deserve without making the event feel overrun with ads. We like to get creative with the ways we promote our sponsors and we encourage you to do the same.
We recognize every sponsor on our social media platforms. You can use this Sponsorship Graphic Template and add your sponsors’ logos to it.
Table Runner and Banners
In years past, we’ve had our sponsors' logos custom printed on butcher paper that we use as a table runner. We also use vinyl banners. We place banners listing all the sponsors at the entrances, and recognize the presenting sponsor in a large banner over the table. One of our sponsors every year is a production company that donates the scaffolding for the main banner. You can find all of our banner templates and ordering instructions for the table runner and banners in the Signage and Banner Checklist.
Chair and Table Sponsors
As a part of our crowdfunding campaign, we give people the opportunity to sponsor a table or chair in honor or memory of someone. The week before the event, we print out the sponsorships on cardstock and adhere them to the tables and chairs on the day of the event. More instructions can be found in the Master Supplies Checklist.
Pro tip: sometimes it’s a windy day, so table tents are not advised.
Causeway as a Sponsor
If you would like to acknowledge Causeway as a sponsor of your event, that would mean a lot to us! You can download and use our logo.
Thank Your Donors
And of course, don’t forget to thank your donors and try to make it special. Next year when you go to ask them to support you again, they’ll remember your appreciation! Here are a few ideas:
- Send a handwritten thank you card with a printed photo from the event.
- Send an email to all of your sponsors and donors sharing stats, quotes, and photos from the event.
- Go old school and pick up the phone to say thank you.
- Send your big sponsors and donors something special from the event like a custom Gratefull t-shirt or apron you had made, or any other swag from the event.
The Gratefull brand is free and open for anyone to use. You can use it the way that we use it, or make it your own.
In our Design Toolkit, you can download a ready-to-use Gratefull logo. If you have someone on your team who can use Adobe Illustrator, we also have a template that allows you to add your city's name underneath the logo.
You can see the CMYK, RGB, and HEX values in our Color Guide, or for Adobe software.
What's ours is yours. If you have a designer on your team, they are welcome to use any of our InDesign Templates for things like posters, Facebook event photos, sponsorship graphics, billboards, and stickers.
If you build it, will they come? Yes and no. People get excited about Gratefull and it is not hard to get a crowd there. But ensuring that people from all neighborhoods, races, income levels, and backgrounds know that they are welcome is not something that happens without work and intentionality.
Because Gratefull is an annual event and people know to expect it, these days we usually start advertising on November 1st, after Halloween. But, if you are hosting Gratefull for the first time, you might want to start as early as August or September. Here is an example of our Communications Plan. There are several ways that we get the word out.
A Web Presence
There needs to be one consistent place online that people can go to get all of the information that they need. There are several options for this though. You can build a stand-alone webpage for the event, have a page dedicated to Gratefull on the website of the host organization, or simply start a Facebook event that can serve as the go-to place for information. There is no right answer, and you can choose what works for your team and your community. This Gratefull Website Copy can be a good starting place.
If you take one of these sections to heart, let it be this one. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in years of community engagement work – it's that nothing can compare to a personal invitation. This does not mean sending one mass email. Have everyone on your committee reflect on who they want to be there from their social groups, write a general template, then take the time to add one personal detail to everyone that they send it to so that they know it was written especially for them.
This process can be used for people you know, but it can also be helpful reaching people you do not know personally. We recommend doing some research and writing personal emails to local businesses, faith communities, homeless shelters, young professionals groups, universities, schools, nonprofits, social services organizations, neighborhood associations, the city government, and civic engagement clubs.
We heavily rely on social media to get the word out about Gratefull. We usually make the announcement every year by launching a Facebook Event. This can help you roughly gauge the numbers to expect, but note that in years past, the number of people who have responded that they are coming on Facebook is often half the total number we see because we do outreach through several channels.
We’ve made some Social Media Templates that you can use to help promote your event.
Here are a few things we’ve learned throughout the years:
- On the day the Facebook event launches, have everyone on your committee invite as many people as they can to help the event gain momentum. Facebook will stop allowing you to invite people after you hit 500. Make it a competition to see who can reach that point.
- Encourage the committee to post about the event in Facebook groups they are a part of since those members will get a notification directly.
- Encourage people to tag someone they want to see there
- If you choose to make your event a potluck (more on that in the logistics section) then remind people repeatedly to bring a dish to share.
- We usually post a Facebook event, but not an Eventbrite because that can confuse people to think they need a ticket to attend.
- By November 1st, we are usually doing one or two posts a day about Gratefull, including posting all of the sponsorship recognition posts.
- Facebook ads can be an inexpensive, yet targeted way to reach people. Consider investing some of your sponsorship dollars into a few ads.
- Use the hashtag #iamgratefull to be included in a national stream of images, but you should also make a local version for your event like #gratefullcha.
Traditional media appearances are a great way to reach a lot of people for FREE. You can use this Press Release Template as a guide. Nominate the most charismatic speaker from your committee and have them appear on local news stations and radio shows to spread the word.
Printed Materials and Advertising
We usually design and print (thanks to a print sponsor) posters and postcards advertising the event. While these are great to put up in local restaurants and cafes, they are really valuable to reach audiences who might not hear about the event otherwise. We usually distribute our printed materials in public parks, at the homeless shelter, the food bank, and in surrounding neighborhoods and low-income housing units who have residents that we want to make sure know they are invited to the event. You can use our Gratefull Poster Template.
A few years in, we started buying two billboards a year to advertise Gratefull. Based on the zip code data we gathered in years past, we purchased billboards in neighborhoods that we knew we were not already reaching. This is totally optional, but if you have sponsorship money to spare, it is a great way to reach more people. You can use our Billboard Design Template.
Gratefull has lots of moving parts. The tools we’ve included in this guide will hopefully help you pull it off and make it look easy. In this section, you'll notice some overlap with topics we’ve covered in other parts of the guide. Logistics are all about bringing it all together in a seamless way and making sure everyone on the team is working toward a common goal. For the Gratefull project manager, this section should be your north star — use it to make sure everything for the event is heading in the right direction, and hopefully, the event will go off without a hitch.
Planning the Event
The very first Gratefull we planned in a little over a month. It can be done. However, giving yourself a little more leeway time will make your life easier. We start our planning around mid-July. That’s when we host our first committee meeting for Gratefull and try to accomplish the basics like finding a venue, setting a date, and putting together the budget.
Use the Gratefull Logistics Checklist for a full list of all the things you’ll need to accomplish in order to be ready for the event.
To Potluck or not to Potluck
We are in the south here, y’all. The original Gratefull in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was founded as a community potluck and still operates that way every year. We purchase the turkey and dressing (at cost, thanks to a local caterer). Local restaurants cover some other basics like mashed potatoes, rolls, green beans, and mac and cheese. We give individuals and businesses the option to sponsor a dish for $50, which we then use to buy extra side dishes from minority-owned or smaller restaurants in town. After that, it is up to individuals to bring a dish to share. But we get it. Food allergies are real, and some people are just totally freaked out by the idea of eating food prepared by a stranger.
We separate the food, so the first few tables in line are full of restaurant food, and the last few tables are a potluck free-for-all. Some people dive right in. Some people only take restaurant food and avoid the rest.
It is totally up to you as the organizers to decide how you want to handle this at your local event. Maybe you only get churches, schools, and organizations with commercial kitchens to participate in the potluck. Maybe you cover the basics and invite everyone to bring a dessert. Maybe it’s open for whoever to bring whatever. The feeling of a community meal can be achieved in many ways—it’s up to you!
If you do go the potluck route, we recommend asking people to bring a dish that does not need to be heated up, and to use a disposable container.
Depending on the size of your budget and how many people you think will show up – the supplies needed will vary. We’ve included everything we purchase for Gratefull for around 1500 - 2000 attendees. We also try to get as much donated in-kind as we can or borrowed to help us keep the cost low.
Order and gather all the supplies you need for the event
We have a Master Supplies Checklist that we use for our event. This is a comprehensive list of all the supplies we either purchase or borrow for Gratefull. While there are some basic things everyone will need to host the event, much of the supplies and items will vary based on the size and setup for your event. Use this checklist as a starting point.
Services to purchase, rent, or get donated
There are a handful of things we try to get donated in-kind or borrow from a local venue to help us lower the cost of the event, especially if it is something you are only going to need once. Especially, if it is something you’re only going to need once. For a complete list of the services that you’ll need to either purchase or borrow, refer to the Gratefull Logistics Checklist.
Get People Talking
In our experience, a lot of people come to Gratefull because they are interested in sharing a meal with people who they might not normally interact with. Sometimes the desire is there, but striking up a conversation with a stranger can be intimidating. To break the ice, we came up with a little activity. In each roll of silverware there is a colored sticker (We use all six Gratefull colors!) and a slip of paper with instructions saying to find someone who has the same color sticker as you and ask them to take a photo with you in the photobooth. In our surveys every year 96-100% of people say that they had a conversation with someone they did not know before.
For the photo booth, we usually have a company sponsor it, and order a backdrop with their logo included. Then we use Simple Booth on an iPad. There is a small one-time fee, and the app allows people to take the photos themselves, and email or text it to themselves, while also retaining an album of all the photos taken that day.
Manage Your Team Day-Of
The Run of Show is our playbook for the day and helps our team know exactly where they need to be and when they need to be there. It keeps everyone on track! We print off a copy for each person on our team to have with them throughout the day. Each team member's copy has their specific tasks highlighted. We have a team huddle the week before the event and run through the day using the Run of Show, so everyone knows what to expect. If you want the event to go off without a hitch – this is the winning formula.
You can do this!
The tools in this guide are designed to make your life easier. If you feel like something we’ve provided isn't working for you, then just disregard it. Do whatever makes this process work best for you. Our goal is to make hosting Gratefull in your city possible, and whatever you need to do to make that happen, we're on board!
Several cities across the southeast have replicated Gratefull using this guide. Everything you need is right here. We wish you luck, and we are so thankful that you want to bring your city together in this way.