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When The Lights Go Down

Congratulations! You’ve finished a major fundraising event and are looking forward to celebrating, relaxing, and recovering after so much hard work. Before you take your well-deserved break, make sure you've taken care of critical wrap-up elements. Remember that an event is not a standalone fundraising strategy – you need to ensure your event donors are tied in to your ongoing strategy!

I’m a firm believer that every event needs a wrap-up plan in place well ahead of the event. If your committee or board expects work to be done the night of the event, it will be almost impossible to garner the support you need to finish well. Clarify expectations about what is needed the day or week after the event, and make specific assignments ahead of time. Here’s a sample plan:

Within 48 hours

  • Make calls to all donors who gave a first-time or significant gift at the event. Talk to the board ahead of time, preparing them with a suggested script and scheduling 30 minutes in their calendar to make the calls. All available data shows that a quick, personal appreciation plays a major role in donor retention (some sources show up to 400% increase). An added bonus is having your board members ask donors why they chose to give, which helps energize the board as well as gathering important donor information.

  • Send preliminary event totals (probably gross $ raised) to organization leadership. This should be a simple report to pull if you’re using software to track all sales.

  • Know and follow your organization's cash-handling procedures to ensure everything is tracked, handled, and deposited appropriately after the event.

Within one week

  • Call major sponsors. Thank them and ask for feedback on their experience as a sponsor.

  • Send out a press release and make an announcement on your website and social media channels. This is a great opportunity to publicly recognize major sponsors, key speakers, etc.

  • Send gift acknowledgement letters (make sure you review these IRS guidelines) to sponsors, in-kind donors, ticket buyers, etc. These tend to be impersonal, so I also recommend personal thank you notes (or space to write a note on the letters) where appropriate. The more appreciation, the better!

  • Thank your committee and staff who helped make the event happen. Personal, heartfelt recognition of someone’s hard work is critical for those who spent so much time and effort making this happen.

  • Survey attendees. This can be a questionnaire sent to all attendees, or a few questions posed to a diverse group of representative attendees. Find the format that fits your event and crowd, and make sure to capture and keep that information.

  • Ensure you’ve handled any required reporting – this could include a raffle report, sales tax, in-kind donation list to your CPA, etc. Set reminders of any required reporting as you fill out permits and applications along the way.

Within two weeks

  • Ensure all data from the event is saved and stored appropriately. Transfer donor/attendee data into any other CRM systems you use.

  • Have remaining auction items delivered or picked up. Send important contact information or certificates to winning bidders.

  • Pay all outstanding invoices. Thank vendors.

  • Debrief with your committee. Focus on successes, challenges, and new ideas for future events. Set your first meeting to plan the next year's event (after a little break if you can).

  • Send a report to major sponsors with relevant data (attendees, media impressions, digital reach) and photos (signage at the event, etc).

  • Wrap up your budget with final numbers for the year and share as appropriate.

Don’t forget

  • Share event photos with attendees, and on social media if possible. This energizes your supporters and helps others see themselves at the event next year.

  • Update your website. Change any mentions of “save the date” or “join us at…” to pages that celebrate what you did together and recognize sponsors.

This is a great starting point to build your own event- and organization- specific checklist for wrapping up well. Make a plan early, and communicate well with your committee and staff to set expectations. And when it's time, be sure to celebrate and relax wholeheartedly!

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