3 rules for great fundraising events

Great Events are FUNHey there, I know you’re busy. Me, too. So why are you asking me to attend your regular, business as usual fundraising event? Better yet, why are you even having an event? Ok . . . so that’s harsh — and Hoots and I actually do love being a part of several fundraising events each year.

But it does raise the question, should events be in your fundraising toolbox?

We all know doing a “live” event can offer a lot of excitement . . . and can offer a degree of fun danger as well. I’ve personally seen some excellent events raise a lot of money . . . and we’ve seen some poorly done ones lose money.

What hurts the most is to see a good organization try to hold a great event and still lose money.

So is this something you want to pull together? Of course, I can’t answer that question for you. But if you do I can give you our counsel on how to start and here it is:

1.  Choose your goal.  There are only three reasons to have a live event.  Get Money.  Get New Donors. Get Attention (awareness).  And let’s be real here, the only value of awareness is to push the other two!  Choose one reason.  It’s not ok to think, “I want a little of each,” because that’s precisely what you’ll get. A little. Very little. And hey, pleasing the board or the boss is important — but it’s not a goal.

2.  Choose your audience.  Who do you want to come to the event?  (Hint: everyone is not the right answer.) Is it major donors? Is it people under thirty?  Let the goal help choose your audience. Focus on the group that will meet your goal.

3.  Choose the type of event. Wait, we’ve already done that!  Ok . . . big mistake.  The best way to sabotage an event is to choose the event first, and to force your audience to fit. Let the audience help choose the event. Honestly . . . having a 5k run and focusing on your planned giving supporters does not make a good event.

4. Make it mind-blowingly memorable and contagious (I know I said “3” but this is a bonus and maybe, maybe the best one). You have to answer the question in everyone’s mind: Why do I want to come to your party?

Will what happens at your gig be better, more interesting, more engaging, more fun, more life-changing, more fascinating, more provocative than anything else happening in my life that day? 

If I’m a part of your target audience, and you can’t answer that question — and remember, you (and everyone inside your organization) will not be good judges of what pumps me up — get on the phone and ask me.  Pitch me. Pitch an outsider and watch for their eyes to light up (or glaze over). Remember you have huge competition: competition from other events, television, movies plus the competition of “negative inertia” (that, “Oh let’s just stay home tonight” thought).

If people’s eyes don’t light up, think seriously about not holding the event. Do something else instead.

And one last thing: if your goal is to raise revenue, net revenue, be sure to ask the toughest question,  “Will this event raise more total organizational revenue than without it . . . or will it simply generate substitutionary giving?  If your major donor rep can ask her donors for the same amount, why go through the extra work.

And talk to us. We’ve got some exciting ideas about the something else!

Oh, one more thing: you will incorporate a healthy dose of Social Media into your event, right? While we’re at the event. Right?

So what about you?  What’s working for you? What events do your donors enjoy? I’d love to be invited to your events.

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Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: Sukanto Debnath)

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

2 thoughts on “3 rules for great fundraising events”

  1. No beating around the bush for you Mr. Thomas. I’ve done a lot of events and it’s a lot of work by everyone! You are right – you shouldn’t hide from the most difficult questions 1) audience goal 2) net revenue goal 3) memorable experience to show people what your ministry is all about and how they (audience/partners/donors) help make your ministry apart of their personal lives. It’s hard to pick 1 and stick with it. I also think it takes a lot prayer every step of the way – what ever you choose.

    Well Mr. Thomas. & Mrs. Hoots – you have come to our events and the most important take away I gained from you was – if Mrs. Hoots is the one who wrote the check at the event – you better remember to thank her first. It was her personal selection to support the organization – not Mr. Thomas.
    Thank you Mrs. Hoots and Mr. Thomas for always zeroing in on the most important aspect of donor relations and fundraising.

  2. @Carol — Great to hear from you as always. And you have done more than few events, so you know how they work.

    Thanks for pointing out this questions about the decision-maker, check-signer and gender-thing. There are many great conversations beginning around how women influence and lead giving. This adds a layer of complexity to all of our work.

    Thanks for deepening the conversation!

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