I love fundraising events. I’ve made a career out of planning them, and in case that’s not enough, I also volunteer with a few! However, I’ll be the first person to tell you that an event is not always the best strategy for fundraising. In fact, I think nonprofits are too often hosting events when another form of fundraising would be the best fit. So how do you know if an event (new or existing) is the right strategy?
Pros to having an event:
Events are fun! They increase morale, and turn fundraising into a team sport – bringing a community of supporters together for a common cause.
Events can be good fundraisers. With thoughtful planning and top-notch execution, they do have the potential to raise major dollars for the organization.
Events help build relationships. You have new donors attending whom you might not otherwise meet and a great chance to see and talk to existing donors and supporters.
Events are not the most efficient way to raise a dollar. The cost to hold an event (both money and time/resources) is high. Events are hard on volunteers and staff. Imagine if instead of an event, you invested in hiring a professional fundraising coach for all the volunteers and staff normally working on the event, and scheduled 10 meetings per person with a potential major donor. You would save time and money, and likely increase your net revenue.
For events to help build relationships, your board and staff need to be equipped and available to be present with donors during the event. Too often these critical roles are stuck behind a registration desk or managing the silent auction and missing opportunities to build relationships.
Fundraising events are best used as part of a bigger strategy, not as a standalone outcome.
Before using an event as part of your fundraising strategy, ask:
What is our actual cost to do this event? Include staff and volunteer time as well as expenses. (Here’s my post on event budgeting to help!) What could we do with these resources if we weren’t hosting this event?
How will this event grow existing major donors? The answer should involve great connections at the event and timely, strategic follow-up afterwards.
How will this event develop new major donors? Again, this comes down to intentional interactions at the event and follow-up. It also should include asking existing donors and corporate sponsors to be purposeful in filling their tables or inviting others.
What would it take for our board/staff to have meaningful connections at the event? This likely involves researching attendees ahead of time, training your teams, and having the right people managing logistics so your board/staff can be building relationships. Call me for a consultation if you need an event manager to make this possible!
What else can we accomplish with the event? Review other major priorities to see if this event aligns. Maybe your big focus this year is increasing community awareness of your cause, finding new board members, or improving public perception. Have a purposeful plan to incorporate other goals at your event.
What is the right type of event for us? Evaluate your audience, goals, and internal resources to find the best fit. If your goals are fundraising and community awareness, with a large support base of millennials, and you have a well-known marathoner on your board, you’re more likely to be successful with a 5k run/walk instead of a formal dinner.
Events can certainly be the most fun form of fundraising for attendees and board members, so it’s no wonder that they are often suggested as the answer to all fundraising challenges by board members and staff leaders! But knowing how to work an event into a bigger fundraising plan is critical to succeed without burning out your teams or spinning your wheels. Ask the right questions before jumping into event planning, and bring in an expert if necessary to help make decisions, develop the right strategy, and execute with success.