Another Gala? Things to consider when planning your next fundraiser

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toasting_champagne copyFundraisers, 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.

Photo: Waldoj

Hey, did anyone remember to bring a camera?

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IWCF_party.The importance of images in all forms of marketing has never been more pronounced than it is right now. Images in social media get more attention than copy alone. Images on the page and on the screen can do wonders to break up monotonous copy and keep the reader engaged.

At the same time, I’m the worst at remembering to take photos to use in my blog posts and in social media.

I’m marketing chair for a local membership organization. Every quarter we churn out a newsletter for our membership filled with great content about our work and that of our grantees. And for every newsletter, I wish desperately for more eye catching photos. Read More

Social Media Success: make friends, be consistent

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facebook_128Today’s post is from my friend Michael Sieler, who commented recently on a post I shared about nonprofits and social media nearly four years ago. In the post, I noted that nonprofits had been slow to adopt social media and were largely falling behind in putting valuable, often free, tools to work for their organizations.

Unfortunately, while nonprofits have made some strides since I wrote that post, there are still those that have been slow to get in the game. With this in mind, I asked Michael to share a post with some tips and resources.

Social media: ignore it at your peril, even for the nonprofit sector. Traditional media is becoming less prominent as a resource for information and tools for communication, as social media gains even more of a foothold. Unfortunately, nonprofits remain largely out of the loop where social media is concerned, and continually make common mistakes. They end up wondering why they fail to make the gains they expected.

Before covering the top two mistakes organizations make in utilizing social media, let’s get some things straight:

Social media is not just a fad.
The number of users on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn is increasing daily.  According to the Pew Research Institute, 73%, or over 225 million Americans, are now using social media. Worldwide that number is reaching close to a billion.

This is fantastic news because it means your nonprofit has the opportunity to engage current and future supporters in a fresh and effective way. Also, many social media platforms have built-in ways to measure exactly how your audience is engaging with your message. You can’t get that information from a radio or newspaper ad.

Social media is not just another marketing tool.
Traditional marketing and advertising methods are direct, one-way forms of communication, or a “push” approach.

Social media is almost the opposite.  It promotes relationship-building, conversation, and transparency in a more intimate, two-way format. This is both “push and pull.”  It is interactive, very similar to a conversation with a good friend.

Social media isn’t the magic bullet that will solve all problems. 
Sorry, but if an organization has problems, social media won’t solve them. It may magnify them. If a product fails to perform adequately, dissatisfied customers can spread complaints quickly using social media itself!

Now that you understand these basic concepts concerning social media, here are the two most common mistakes organizations make in social media:

Posting inconsistently
Social media users often check their accounts several times a day. Twice a day multiplied by seven days equals 14 chances to engage one user. Only posting twice a week? Your posts may not be seen, or get lost in the sheer volume of content available, and people may forget about your cause or that you even exist.

Regularly post helpful, interesting, and relevant content. Balance content by 5 to 1: post five items not directly related to your organization or cause to each post about it.  Post at least once a day on Facebook and multiple times a day on Twitter. Tools like TweetDeck or HootSuite will schedule posts automatically so you don’t have to do it every day.

If you want a return on investment with social media, be consistent.  Formalize a strategy about your daily social media presence, and then give your experiments 3 to 6 months before analyzing whether this is a good use of your time.

Not Building Relationships
Simply having a social media account is not enough.  People use social media to connect and build relationships. They want to know that the organization they support is filled with people with beating hearts.

Whatever you do in the real world, do it on social media. If you gave a speech at a fundraising event for your organization and someone said, “That was so inspiring!  I had no idea about the amazing impact on the lives of those Guatemalan families. How can I get involved?” You wouldn’t ignore that person and not answer them for a week. You would immediately start a conversation. The same goes for social media.

If someone comments, likes, or shares your content, follow up and thank them. Reach out to partner organizations and share their content to your supporters. This is a great way to promote “cross-pollination of community.”  The more you give, the more you get. Simply put, to get a “friend” you have to be a “friend”.

Now that you understand that social media requires consistency and is about building relationships, the next part step is to take action. Start simply. Choose one platform first, then branch out to others. Create a strategy about the content you want to share.  Follow-up with people.

Remember that building relationships in the real world or on social media takes time and effort. Give this new plan three to six months for relationships to blossom and bear fruit.

If you want to learn more about social media marketing, I highly recommend these two websites:

  • Copyblogger is one of the best resources for learning about internet and social media marketing.
  • Seth Godin is a master of marketing. His blog posts are short, to the point, and always pack a practical punch.

Michael J. Sieler is a business student in Portland, Oregon. He works for social media agency WePost Media. He can be found on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Confessions of a Control Freak

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Not every fundraising effort is a smashing success. There can be any number of reasons an initiative or campaign doesn’t meet its goal; from a message that isn’t compelling enough, to unfocused leadership, to poor management. One major handicap for any fundraising effort is having too few members on the team.

Edward was not a fan, but that shouldn't stop you.

I’ll admit, when I was a Development Director on staff for a mid-size regional nonprofit, I was frequently caught trying to do everything myself. I wanted to deliver the right message and the right materials to the right prospective donor at the right time. The prospect of managing a big group meant that anyone could be out there saying something that was slightly wrong, requiring follow up I didn’t have time for. I didn’t want to delegate.

There’s a problem with this kind of approach within the context of almost any fundraising effort, and it’s more than just the truth behind the old standard: “many hands make light work.” There are many reasons to work with a team:

  1. The larger the group, the more legitimate the cause in the eyes of some of your prospective donors. More people want to back a winning horse, be part of the “in” crowd, than want to be the early adopters with all the risks that come with that.
  2. The bigger the mass the larger the pull of gravity, and the bigger the pool of people, the more you’ll garner enthusiasm, social media “buzz” and people wanting to get in on the action.
  3. A dream that belongs to just one or a small group lacks opportunities for buy in. A dream that encourages feedback and the exchange of ideas encourages action, and ownership.  Engaged members of your campaign team are some of your first and most enthusiastic donors.
  4. Each member of a team brings a different skill set to the project, and each can be of some help at some time or another.  Think about how much your board treasure likes explaining a P&L report, or how well your fundraising chair can get in to see almost anyone when the need arises.  A diverse team of volunteers can accomplish more when each is given a set of tasks appropriate to their skills.

The word “campaign” means a series of operations undertaken with one objective in mind.  I have come to realize that one can more readily predict the likely success of a nonprofit marketing or fundraising campaign or project based upon the amount of focused activity that is going on.  If only one or two people are making calls on prospective donors, very few calls will be made and donations will be few and far between. Momentum won’t build. Ripples won’t spread.

If you are a control freak, gathering a cadre of excited volunteers is a terrifying prospect.  What if someone says the wrong thing, or talks to a reporter? What if more than one person approaches a prospective donor? What if things get out of control?

But the result of only one person or a small group of people working on a project is that multiple tasks will wait for someone’s attention, missing important deadlines or windows of opportunity.

If you share my control-freak tendencies, consider:

  1. Remember the KISS principle and keep it simple. Create job descriptions for all volunteers that include five or fewer bullet points. Then work with the individual to carve out specific additional duties and tasks appropriate to that person.
  2. Let go, a little bit, of the message.  Everyone has a slightly different way of telling the story of why your organization is important. You can’t control everything they’re going to say when they’re in public, just make sure they know one or two key points to hit while they’re telling their story.
  3. Keep in touch, or enlist a committee to do so. Have them call and or email volunteers regularly. If someone is not accomplishing what they’ve told you they would, gently suggest going another route.  Keep short intervals between check in times, and meet with your core group often to keep tabs on the momentum.

Remember that ultimately there is very little to be gained – except possibly a significant therapy bill – by trying to manage everything yourself to the tiniest detail. Share, delegate and collaborate and you’ll ultimately be more likely to celebrate success.