Fundraisers, friendraisers, events, galas, tournaments, auctions, luncheons. For some organizations, special events fundraising is a pain point. Events can be expensive and time consuming, sometimes without raising very much at all for the organization.
But fundraising events done right can garner visibility, energize your supporters, reward your donors and volunteers, and promote fellowship, as well as earn valuable support for the organization.
When planning a fundraising event, consider the following:
Do you have the resources available? Once a board president wanted to organize a golf tournament on behalf of the organization she served. She knew the staff was stretched too thin to take on another event. Instead, she recruited her husband and a few of her friends with whom she golfed regularly. They had enjoyed the tournaments in which they played, and could identify what made them work. They also knew other golfers, and organizations that sponsored golf tournaments. The event was a modest success its first year, and then grew with the support of a core volunteer committee who enjoyed golf tournaments. Without their core support and knowledge, it would have been a huge drain on resources, and much less likely to be successful.
Will it energize your audience? A local ski organization produces a late fall bash and capitalizes on skier and boarder enthusiasm for the upcoming season. A food bank launches its summer backpack campaign with an event in late spring to draw attention to the needs of students who face months of food insecurity or hunger as the school year (and free and reduced lunch program) draws to a close. Plan your event around your organizational calendar to draw attention to your mission. Know what your audience is focused on for the time of year and draw from that natural enthusiasm to focus attention on your event (as well as your mission).
Can you be in this for the long game? Events can take time to build steam. After several years of producing an awards luncheon for a youth services organization, I was told by a group of ladies who had purchased a table for each of the last few years “we’re making this a regular part of our spring calendar.” Create a consistently high quality event, let your audience get used to attending it every year, and then give them opportunities to help it grow.
Can you use your existing community to build new connections? Events can be an easy way for your supporters to draw in their friends, to fill a table, or form a team. Build a coalition of team leaders or table captains and them arm them not only with tickets to sell, but with the key points their friends should know about your organization.
Can you make a big splash? In our visually oriented society, events can garner a great deal of attention. Images from amateur videographers and photographers on social media, earned media from broadcast and print news sources, all can be valuable in spreading an organization’s message. The only caveat is that care should be taken that the images and talking points are as carefully orchestrated as possible to draw the attention to the organization or cause. It’s heartbreaking to produce a stellar event only to have the general public confused about who produced it or why – or worse yet, give credit to a different organization.
Special events can be complicated and expensive. Often they fall short of revenue expectations, but there are still reasons they are an important part of the development calendar for many organizations. A careful strategy and consideration of the variables involved in creating a stellar special event will ultimately pay off.