How "Special" Are Your Events?

May 19, 2016




    by Beverly Grant, Chief Development Officer of Interfaith Dental Clinic


Picture it – before 1990. There were no Tennessee Titans or Nashville Predators, no exploding city growth. Fundraising events ruled the social calendar.  Agencies had their traditional dates that no one else dared to double book. There were no online, city-wide calendars to help us plan. We had the amazing Sally Levine and her magic paper calendar. You called her up, she knew when everyone was having their fundraising events and you simply scheduled around it.

Flash forward to 2016 and there is next to no elbow room for scheduling a fundraising event, established or new, that doesn’t conflict with another major event in town. The crowded field includes sporting events, concerts, award ceremonies and conventions that split the potential guest pool and reduce event revenue. One example of a crowded environment is walks and runs. Many are for charity and others are just for fun. Unfortunately, even the most philanthropic and dedicated athlete couldn’t possibly support them all. 

Fundraising events should remain in your overall development plan for many reasons. The percentage of how much events should take in your overall development plan is up to you and the resources you have available. Events are still one of the best ways to get to know donors and thank them for their dedication and support. They create connections between donors and the people who benefit from their support. They offer mission education and create new friends. 

Events should not be your only resource for outside funding. In fact, it’s best to gradually move them to the “wow, that’s extra revenue” category. That approach makes it easier to accept when you find out your event conflicts with a Justin Bieber concert or your attendance and silent auction tanks because of an ice storm.

As you begin to think about next year’s budget, take the time to analyze each event.  Ask yourself four questions.

  • Is this event truly “special” or are we doing the same thing we’ve done for the last 5-10 years because it’s always been done that way?
  • Are we creating events to avoid annual fundraising and major gift campaigns?
  • How much staff time does it really take to make each event happen?  If you add in their salaries to the expense line, did you reach your revenue goal?

If you are comfortable with the answers to these questions, then confidently move forward with tradition. If not, then be brave, ask questions and adjust your sails. It is possible to keep traditions while making slight adjustments to fit the current competitive environment and audience you want to cultivate. Need ideas?

  • Ask your youngest donors - your future major gift prospects. Without their input, you may be missing a great opportunity to create a mission driven and revenue building event that will stand out in the crowded field.
  • Ask your sponsors. Ask them to custom design their sponsorship and see if you can deliver it. They might like to add volunteer opportunities or recognition throughout the year on your website instead of a table for ten that they can’t fill. If that’s too scary, list a multitude of options for sponsorship benefits and let them choose (i.e. choose all options for title sponsorship of $25,000, choose 10 options for presenting sponsorship of $10,000). It may require more work from your staff, but your chances for a larger gift and a long term relationship with that sponsor increases - and isn’t that the point?
  • Ask your peers. You aren’t the only agency that has this challenge. Network with your peers to find out what other people are thinking. What are other cities doing and what trends fit your donor base?
  • Ask your board. Ask them what they’d be willing to do instead of a large event. Would they invite their friends to their home for a smaller gathering to ask them for support? Can they commit to going with the development team on one or two major gift visits in the next year? If you didn’t have the event, can their personal gift be stretched to make up the difference in revenue? 

Rome wasn’t built in a day, so make your adjustments slowly. Being open to change is the key. Making everyone involved feel comfortable with change will take patience and time. Just keep reminding them that everyone wants the same thing - memorable events that raise money to support the people your mission serves.

Want to learn more? Beverly is leading "You're Invited: The Art of Event Planning" on May 25 from 8:30 am - noon. Click here to register.

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