Most nonprofits and community benefit organizations have one annual signature event or host several events throughout the year. While they are an important part of their fundraising plan for both revenue and awareness, a big fundraising event should not be an end in and of itself.
Events hold the potential to significantly expand an organization’s traditional fundraising pipelines, and a carefully planned strategic approach can convert event donors into annual fund, major, and even planned gift donors.
The Upside of Events
We all know successful events can bring in much-needed money and support a nonprofit’s need to grow its organization. They’re also great for building awareness of your mission by engaging with potentially new groups of people and bringing the community together to support a common cause. This is event fundraising 101!
The Downside of Events
Special events do tend to have a higher cost to them, and often provide a much lower return on investment. Conventional wisdom says that it will typically cost you $.50 to raise just one dollar in a fundraising event!
Because of the time, effort and energy that go into these events, volunteers and staff can burn out quickly. This leads to higher turnover and less enthusiasm for participation in future events.
Events can also be risky, unpredictable, and don’t always make money at first. For instance, if you’re doing an outdoor event, the weather can be unpredictable. Consider what would happen if your fundraising event was rained out? What would your backup plan be next? Along that same vein, what if you invest a lot of resources into putting on an auction and it garners very little activity?
Event Donors vs. Organizational Donors
As you begin thinking about and planning for your next fundraising event, your strategy should be focused around bringing as many organizational donors to the event as possible. These are the diehards that support your organization, and will continue to contribute and support you long after the event has passed. This is in stark contrast to those event donors who were likely invited to the event by a friend — those who reluctantly donate out of obligation as a one-time thing. More on these two types of donors can be found here.
Leveraging Events into Larger Gifts
OK, so how can you use your event to get people to give in the future? Below are seven quick ideas to get you started.
- Collect as much data as possible – use every opportunity you can to gather the basics, like: first and last names, email addresses, and mailing addresses. You can do this by having cards available for people to fill out, or even a simple email address sign-up sheet available at the event check-in. This is a big missed opportunity if you’re not having this as an option for your event participants.
- Educate participants – be sure to do all you can about giving people as much information as possible about your mission and the work you do.
- Choose the right fundraiser – pick an event that has more opportunity to engage potential donors at a deeper level. Don’t just pick an event because it’s fun and it will draw crowds. You don’t want people going there because it’s casino-themed, do you? They might just play and leave and not learn anything about your organization. Seek intimacy and engagement when you plan your event.
- Find ways to get your current donors more involved – as they get more involved, they’ll be more inclined to support your organization down the road. Put them on committees to plan the event, or make them volunteers as table hosts or sponsors.
- Publicly recognize donors – as you recognize key donors at your event, you’ll be surprised how many people will look to that and get excited about giving. Treat your donors well, and they’ll give more!
- Say thanks – this is a no brainer. You can never thank too much. Thank everyone from the volunteers and vendors to the participants and donors. Let them know you appreciate them.
- Follow up after your event – sharing the results with a great video like this is a fantastic way to spread the word and hopefully gain new interest in your mission.
- Embrace and utilize technology – ask people to give through an app of yours, subscribe to your website’s newsletter, or get them to follow you on social media.
Your event should not just be an event. It’s an opportunity to move donors along a relationship continuum. Give them a “what’s next” opportunity as it relates to their involvement with your organization. If you do this, you could see them contributing to your organization for years down the road!
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