Fundraising events: love ’em or leave ’em?
I just read Nell Edgington’s excellent piece.
(You should read it now. I’ll wait.)
Nell refutes most of the usual arguments for holding these events. She points to their real costs – costs we don’t often consider. And I think she’s absolutely correct.
Conversations with colleagues followed: if not galas, what then?
Could we give up place settings and table charts for something better?
Can we take the energy we put into events and use that to really raise money?
Because there has to be a better way.
I’ve worked on many fundraising events over more than 25 years of fundraising. And I’ll be honest: I love some parts of the process. And I really hate others.
Schedules, scripts, table set up, sponsor listings, meal orders, napkin colors… Let’s face it, it takes a special person to love that.
But I love the committees and volunteers. Working with them is a great way to get to know the organization’s most dedicated supporters.
Besides, most of them are fun.
And of course, event volunteers are the key to good attendance. It’s their friends who will buy the tickets. No committee, no success at all.
Regardless of how we’re fundraising, we need to reach beyond our staff and boards to succeed.
But why do we save the big involvement push for events?
Yes, we send appeals and we ask people to give money.
But maybe we should also ask for their time and attention?
What if we spent staff time bringing people to the scene of our work?
Why not plan informal lunch meetings, followed by a site visit and maybe some hands-on work?
What if board members felt more comfortable asking friends for some time than for money?
I’ve got to fill a table for our gala. Please come! I know it’s $150 each, but you know I’ll help you fill your table next month.
We’re spending a few hours putting together backpacks for the kids. Then we’re going to deliver them. It’s going to be great – and you’ll see first-hand why this cause means so much to me. I’m asking 3 friends to join me. It’ll be fun! Can you come?
I can invite 3 friends to lunch with the executive director. We’re going to hear from a speaker who’s worked on this issue for ages and really gets it. I’d love to have you there – no charge – because I want you to see why I’m so committed.
Who is more likely to become involved – the gala ticket-buyer or the person with a front row seat to why you matter?
But what about corporate dollars?
Yes, sponsorships are usually the way these events net any money at all.
Let’s dig a little deeper, though. Why do corporations sponsor galas? Do they really believe “exposure” to your attendees will improve business? I doubt it.
They sponsor the event because they’ve got an executive on your board. Because their CEO is the event chairman. Because their “in-kind” donation costs them little or nothing. Or maybe because they believe in your mission and like to be associated with it.
But does their gala involvement do anything beyond the bucks? Probably not.
I suspect the companies that sponsor galas rather than funding programs directly do so because it’s easier.
They don’t need staff to vet your programs’ impact. They don’t have to study your budget. They just write a (smaller) check and it’s done.
Wouldn’t you rather have corporate partners who are excited about their participation? Who bring you new volunteers and board members? Who help you do your work better by suggesting ways to measure your impact or deliver your services? Those are the partners who are likely to move bigger grants your way.
Fundraising events are a bad habit for many organizations.
And if we’re going to break out of the rut, it’s up to us to get creative.
One of my favorite events was to celebrate long-term donors. This organization had recognized loyalty for years. But we decided to kick it up a notch.
It was a fundraising event because the fundraising staff put it together. But we charged nothing. In fact, we gave attendees a gift on their way out.
Did we raise money that night? No, not really. (Actually, a couple of donors mentioned that a gift would be coming.) But dollars weren’t the point that night. Donors were.
We need to find new ways to widen our circles and raise more money.
We need to be serious about volunteers. We need to invite people to see our work up close.
We’re nonprofit people – we have to be creative to get through the day. We can do this better!
What do you think?
My friend Gayle Gifford responded to Nell’s original piece. She brings up good points, too. Chief for me is the reminder that organizations are unique and what works well for one could be a disaster for another. So your mileage may vary – take that into consideration.
Nell then responded to the conversation with a new post. I love the smart conversations about how we can fundraise smarter.
What about you – do you have ideas for doing this better?
Photo credit: By DVernon at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons