Keeping It Special
Special events have an important place in a good overall fundraising program. One or maybe two well-done events can generate publicity for your organization in addition to raising money. Events can also give you a way to cultivate relationships.
The problem is that many small nonprofits get stuck on the "special event hamster wheel." It's the only kind of fundraising they really know, and they wind up holding too many events during the year, which keeps them from focusing on developing their individual-donor programs (which is a MUST to move from being a "small" nonprofit to playing with the big ones)!
As you try to decide which one or two events to focus on, keep in mind what your organization is getting out of the event. The return on investment that the event brings must be greater than the resources of time, energy and money you put into it. Make sure you get at least one of these from your event:
- Money. Events are usually meant to be fundraisers, so be sure you generate as much as you can from them. Corporate sponsors, silent auctions and VIP extras can add to your bottom line.
- Awareness. Events can raise awareness for your cause in the community, drawing much-needed attention to your work.
- New or deeper relationships. Some events lend themselves very well to bringing new supporters into your organization's family or getting to know current supporters better.
- Other resources. If there's something that your event is bringing your organization (like large donations of food or clothing, etc.), it may be very worthwhile to hold the event.
Once you decide which event you plan to hold, use these tips to maximize your efforts and get the greatest possible return on investment.
1. Clearly define each event you hold
Is the event a friendraiser or fundraiser? Are you having the event to raise awareness? Knowing your purpose helps you set the direction and expectations for the event. It also helps you narrow down the list of donors or potential donors you invite so you are getting the people who will help you meet your expectations and goals.
2. Know how many events you can handle
Be careful not to overload your staff and volunteers. You want your events to be well-planned and effective. One or two big events that are broad-reaching into the community are much better than lots of little ones that use up all your time and energy. Make sure that the events you do are a big deal to your staff, volunteers, donors and the community.
3. Use special events to involve businesses
Event sponsorships are a great way to involve local businesses and corporations in your organization. If your event garners publicity, particularly through the media, you can probably secure at least one corporate sponsor. Good candidates for sponsors are banks, communications companies and other businesses that have broad target audiences.
4. Use a planning timeline
Once you set the date, use a timeline to back up from the event to plan all the details. You can include things like sending a press release to the local media a week before the event, confirming with a caterer two days before and so forth. This great planning tool can help you keep track of all the details and avoid letting things fall between the cracks.
5. Use volunteers to plan the event
You can get help pulling the event off, and you will probably get some good ideas, too. It's much easier tending to all the details with extra hands. Plus, involving volunteers in the work is a great way to get to know them and build a relationship. After all, it's all about relationships!
6. Learn from your mistakes
After the event, have a "lessons learned" session. Talk about what went well and what didn't. Make notes about each item you discuss, and save the notes for your first planning meeting next year. Then next year, you'll have something to start from to avoid making the same mistakes twice.