Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Fundraising Event Overload? 3 Steps to Change the Conversation

"How do I convince my Board of Directors that having a special event every month is not good fundraising?" 


An askAPB question from S.P. in Lake County, Indiana.

Thanks for your great question, S.P. Congratulations! Your Board of Directors must be pleased with your special event abilities if they want one every month. Clearly your attention to detail and your planning skills are highly valued. We just need to help your volunteers focus your skills more on building relationships with people who love your cause and less on trying to figure out 12 new time-consuming ways to attract new and different people to your cause.

Your board members really want to do the right thing. My sense is that they don’t know what else to do, and/or they are afraid that fundraising is all about asking for money. Here’s your opportunity for board education.

Board members and volunteers like special events because (1) they are defined activities—volunteer roles are clear; (2)  they succeed (or fail) immediately; and (3) they are usually fun, so asking for sponsorships and ticket sales is a win-win for your organization and their friends.

Here are three steps to start a different conversation around events:
  • Talk about the return on investment for your current events. Make sure that you include an estimate of your staff time (and associated costs) in the calculations. When you are working on an event (napkin colors, signage, menu, invitations, etc.), you are (usually) not cultivating a donor who could make major gift, which is a much more efficient use of your time. There is an opportunity cost. See this for a thorough discussion of ROI analysis.
  • Pick your 1-3 top-performing fundraising events (ROI), and make a plan to enhance the top events by cultivating deeper relationships with attendees and sponsors. (Postpone the lowest-performing events for a year.) Invite your board members to partner with you on personal visits with past event attendees. In these visits, you should listen to what your donors like and don't like about the events.
More importantly, you should find out what inspires them about your organization. Share some “behind the scenes” information, thank them for their support, follow-up with them on ways they can become more involved (volunteering, serving on a committee, etc.). Have a fun time!
  • Set goals for donor loyalty in addition to net funds raised and attendance—how can you increase the likelihood that people will keep coming back to your signature event(s)? What is your regular donor communication plan? Set goals and plans for inspiring multiple gifts from each participant. Do they come to your event AND give to your year-end appeal AND volunteer? How can you get them to do that (Answer: thank them and ASK them). Make sure you report on progress at every board meeting.

If you take these three steps in the conversation, your board will feel wise that they are being financially responsible. They will feel safe because you have given them a clear, fun task of visiting with people who already like your cause. They will understand when and what kind of results to expect (over time), and their new donor loyalty goals will change your day-to-day work. The goals will shift the focus of your planning and detail skills away from the events and toward the donors, which is where the focus needs to be.

Please let me know how it goes, S.P., and if our colleagues have ideas to help, I hope they’ll share them in the comments below. 

Readers can askAPB their burning, nagging, "I'll look into that later" questions about fundraising, philanthropy, and all the beautiful complexity of the nonprofit sector by clicking here. We'll tackle the most interesting questions once a week on this blog. 

Thanks for making the world a more compassionate place by encouraging joyful giving!

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