By Elizabeth Oropallo
Bar crawls, scavenger hunts and concerts are just a few events held by the Stay Classy organization and they all have one thing in common – the money made benefits San Diego charities.
It all started five years ago when Pat Walsh and Scott Chisholm, best friends and founders of Stay Classy, thought it would be fun to put together a bar crawl to benefit the American Cancer Society. Chisholm had personal experience with cancer – his mother battled breast cancer and at 18, he saw his best friend lose his father to the disease. That first event drew more than 100 people who came together, made T-shirts and raised money; it was a huge success.
“The turnout was great,” Walsh said. “Everybody loved it.”
So they decided to keep throwing fun events that benefit charitable organizations.
In 2006, the Stay Classy Foundation was established as a non-profit organization, allowing the two friends to host more and more events.
The goal of Stay Classy is to get more young professionals involved in the San Diego community. Their main demographic is between the ages of 21 and 25, according to Walsh.
“We have very unique events, but that’s our draw in order to get young professionals engaged and draw out a fun environment for them,” Walsh said. “They go to bars. They go to concerts; they go to fun events and that’s what we specialize in.”
Stay Classy has been establishing a strong identity in San Diego and in the past two years alone, their membership has grown to more than 10,000 people, with 400 new members in March of 2009.
Walsh and Chisholm have constructed a Web site for members to sign up, learn about the next events, donate money and volunteer.
“Eventually, and there is already proof of this concept locally, we want anyone, anywhere in the world, to be able to conceptualize, plan, market and execute their own fundraising event through our website just as we have done for the past five years,” Chisholm said. “Our mission is to revolutionize philanthropy as most know it.”
In the beginning, Stay Classy did not host its own events. Instead, Walsh and Chisholm formed partnerships with existing charities and encouraged members to get involved with ongoing missions. Then, in 2008, the foundation established its own mission: the environment.
“We partnered with Surfrider and Coast Keeper on cleaning beaches; we partnered with Urban Corp San Diego to plant trees,” Walsh said. “We ended up coordinating 2,500 volunteer hours. We planted over 400 trees and we picked up over 2,000 pounds of trash from the beaches.”
As 2009 approached, Stay Classy made an organizational decision to focus on another issue in the community – homeless youth.
“One of our members actually recommended us to look into homeless youth here in San Diego and so we started digging and digging and learning more about the size of the issue,” Chisholm said.
The founders of the Stay Classy foundation learned that more than 2,000 youths under the age of 24 do not have a place to sleep at night in San Diego. Noting that, currently, San Diego does not have a youth-specific homeless shelter, the organization partnered with San Diego Youth Services in its Campaign for Abandoned Youth.
“Our goal is to raise $500,000 to build a shelter for 18 to 24 year olds here in San Diego,” Walsh said. “There’s no such shelter in our community and … it’s a shelter that’s really needed.”
Stay Classy started the campaign in February and through small events they were able to raise almost $30,000 by May. Their largest fundraiser is called the “Elemental Experience,” an art and music festival held in Mission Bay Park.
“We’re hoping that it’s going to significantly drive the funding for this campaign,” Chisholm said.
Leading up to the Elemental Experience, Stay Classy has hosted at least one awareness event every week. The organization is hoping these fund-raising opportunities will build awareness about the campaign and drive people to get involved.
They even created a Stay Classy menu with local restaurants and bars as a way to raise money.
“The idea behind it is each restaurant, or bar, designates a food and drink special that they want featured in the menu and then proceeds generated through sales of those featured items are donated to the campaign for abandoned youth,” Walsh said.
Other events held by Stay Classy include:
• San Diego County Young Democrats Kickball tournament
• Taste of North County
• Rock the Beach Scavenger hunt
• 5th Annual Stay Classy PB Bar Crawl
Stay Classy operates with a full-time staff of three people and four part-time staffers. They usually have a range of six to seven interns, but volunteers provide the bulk of the manpower behind the organization.
The Stay Classy Foundation is only one side of their two-part organization. Stay Classy productions was also created as a regular running business. The production side still puts on events for other charities, making it possible for Stay Classy employees to make a living by helping to provide for others. But the owners agree – the volunteers are the ones keeping the philanthropy going.
“We would not be who we are today without our volunteers and that’s really the identity behind Stay Classy,” Walsh said.