By David A. Keene, President
Nearly 20 years ago, a few NRA members in Columbia, Mo., got together to discuss ways to raise money to support the shooting sports. They put together a “Friends of NRA” dinner idea. They invited NRA members and non-members from the Columbia area for a night of fun combined with raffles offering attendees the chance to win sporting art, firearms and other items donated by local sporting goods retailers and provided to them by The NRA Foundation.
It sounded like a good idea, so a host committee got to work. The NRA Foundation quickly agreed to support their efforts and that first dinner took place without a hitch. I don’t know how many attended that first Friends dinner (also called FONRA) nor how much money they raised, but I do know that they could not have envisioned the success this program would achieve.
Since that first Friends of NRA dinner, thousands of volunteers have organized and held more than 14,000 events. They’ve been attended by more than 2.5 million NRA members, guests and family members, and raised more than $180 million that has gone directly to support the shooting sports in all 50 states.
This year, more than 180,000 people have attended more than 900 Friends of NRA events; and another 100 events will take place before the year ends. Some $18 million has been donated to The NRA Foundation, half of which will stay under The NRA Foundation control and the other half will be distributed by the state fund committee members within the community in which the funds were raised. The half distributed by the state fund committee is granted to qualifying applicants that include shooting ranges, local high school shooting teams and youth clubs to buy firearms, ammunition and uniforms, and to support the activities of young people just getting started in the shooting sports.
Our six NRA officers cannot possibly attend all of these events, but we try to attend some when we travel. It’s one of the most enjoyable things I do for the NRA. I’ve never attended one where everyone wasn’t having a great time. They are like family gatherings or reunions where NRA members, their guests and friends get together to bond and share stories about shooting, hunting and having fun. I have seen business owners, teachers, several generations of family and even two local candidates sparring to see who can contribute the most at auction time.
The more than 25,000 volunteers who donate time to the local committees that organize these events are serious about reaching their fundraising goals and they devote an inordinate amount of time and effort to ensuring a successful, fun-filled event. Many of them have worked together for a decade or more to organize local functions that attract anywhere from 100 attendees to more than a thousand.
The result is that the Friends of NRA program stands as the most successful financial undertaking of its kind. Even the hard economic times in which we now find ourselves haven’t stopped attendees from giving to support the shooting sports. This year we are projecting that more money will be raised than last year or the year before, it’s that important to the millions of NRA supporters.
I’ll never forget the first Friends dinner I attended as an NRA officer. I showed up and went to the registration desk to identify myself to the volunteer in charge. I told her that I’d been asked to say a few words at the dinner. She looked at me and said, “That’s fine, but unless you come up with forty bucks you aren’t going to get anything to eat.” Needless to say, she got my money.
But the money raised by the amazing volunteers isn’t the whole story. They are much more than simple fundraising events and far more important to the NRA family than anyone attending that first dinner could have foreseen.
If you have not yet attended a Friends of NRA event, try it for fun or even better, join a local committee. You can find a committee near you by visiting the website www.friendsofnra.org and “clicking” on your state for the dates and locations of the events near you. And when you’re traveling and have a free evening, do what I do. Attend a local event. You’ll have a great time, help us raise the money needed to promote our values, meet new friends and swap stories with folks who share your commitment to the shooting sports and the Second Amendment.
See you there!