I’m not a big fan of large events that are intended to raise money. That’s because they are often costly, time-consuming, and over time become stale for all involved. More importantly, the financial return is often far less than all that investment of staff time and ministry money. If your staff dreads your “big event” or is exhausted from the number of events, then something’s got to change and if an event is an absolute necessity, then here are some tips to help make it pay off.
Count the Cost and Be Honest:
- It has the potential to attract a different demographic from your typical financial supporters, like younger prospective givers.
- It does not add yet another obligation to partners who already give to you in multiple ways, avoiding the risk of over-solicitation, which can make them stop giving entirely.
- It does not run the risk of “downgrading” gifts from your current large-dollar contributors. For example, if a donor attends your event for a ticket price of $100 and gives another $1,000 at the event, will they say they’ve already given when you approach them later in the year for a $10,000 gift, which prospect research tells you they are capable of giving?
- It genuinely affords volunteers an opportunity to be involved in a rewarding fundraising experience. By rewarding, I mean that it helps galvanize their love for one another and builds their confidence which, in turn, makes them willing to get involved in more demanding ways, like opening doors with new prospective financial partners.
- The event has the potential for long-term sustainability. No event remains popular forever, but an event done once and never again is a waste of time, resources and volunteer goodwill.
- The event is not weather-dependent or extraordinarily high risk in some other way. If it is weather-dependent, there is a Plan B that can be quickly moved into place.
- The not-for-profit is not dependent upon the profit from this event the first time it is run. This requires a very strategic Board to take this into account. Usually, the reason why an untried event is on the table for discussion is that there is an anticipated shortfall. A first-time event should have a budget and the Board should be willing to lose money in order to test the concept for its appeal and future ability to earn ever-increasing NET revenue.
Give people a reason to come back to your fundraising event! I’ve found that executive directors can become too caught up in the plea for help and forget to think about growing their fundraisers each year. Here are a few “keys to growth” that should be a part of all of your fundraising events:
- Make it enjoyable – Anyone who takes a few hours out of their evening to learn about your ministry had better find it enjoyable. A boring speaker or a never-ending “hard sell” all night long is a great way to lose attendance the following year. What’s more, who would want to invite their friends to that again?
- Food Better be Good – I understand why struggling ministries want to cut corners on food cost. Hosting a dinner in the church fellowship hall and letting your volunteers serve spaghetti is a great way to raise money for the youth mission trip. But if the food is bad, no one (except relatives) will want to come back next year. However, when you get the hotel or country club ballroom donated and the food is exceptional, you will see growth. And yes, I know that paying $25-$35 per head for food cuts into the bottom line. But from my experience, you’ll see growth in attendance and giving over the years if you go the nicer route. Besides, your wealthiest donors expect to eat well when they attend an event. So make sure they do.
- Build a Great Reputation – I think fundraisers should be one of the best experience an attendee has all year. Which means you need some element that gets everyone talking about it. Be known for the surprise guest, the celebrity appearance, the hilarious monologue, the great hands-on activity, the best parting gifts, the fun photo opp, etc.
- Avoid Guilt – Guilt only motivates people to give one time. They feel trapped and pressured to give, so they cut a check. However, after a person gives from guilt, they run away. They don’t want to be reminded of that feeling so they won’t return to your fundraiser or greet you on the street. Instead of guilt, allow the power of the opportunity to pave the way for long-term giving. I’d rather have a donor who gives $35 per month for life than one who throws me $100 one time out of guilt.
- Follow Up – Everyone wants to feel appreciated. Take time to have someone call or connect in some way with everyone who attended your fundraiser. Everyone should get a note / thank you and everyone should get at least a call. Otherwise, the next time they hear from you, you’re asking them to do you another favor. And that’s not cool.