Focus On: Special Events: Well, Isn't That Special?
Peter Knockstead is the managing director of the special events department at the National Office of the American Diabetes Association. Here, he offers some insights into the sometimes tricky world of special-events fundraising. For more on the topic, see our story “Well, Isn’t That Special” in the upcoming September issue of FundRaising Success.
FundRaising Success: What place do special events have in the fundraising sector?
Peter Knockstead: Special-event fundraising — both mass market (i.e., walks, cycling, run events) and big ticket (i.e., galas) events play an integral role to an organization’s well-being. Not only do they help in raising money for an organization, but they feed the donor and volunteer pipeline and help the organization deliver key messages. Special events are a great way to raise awareness about a cause at the community level and can help serve as a rallying point for constituents. It’s a “win-win” and organizationally smart to look at all of the benefits of conducting events — what I would call the halo effect of doing an event. How much PR can you receive? What new players can you bring to the table? What mission-related messages can you deliver at your event?
FS: Do you have to be a big organization to hold a special event?
PK: No, but you do have to have BIG ideas and you do have to have a game plan and know what you are trying to achieve. If you are a small organization, ask yourself, “Do I have the human (i.e. volunteer and staff) and financial resources to invest in an event that will be safe, well managed and profitable?” You also need to survey the landscape to determine what works or won’t work in your market … will the target market support what we’re doing? I would recommend finding a niche, something to distinguish yourself.
FS: Are there any types of special events that are better suited for certain missions?
PK: It might be more difficult to create large-scale fundraising events for organizations that have limited outreach, community appeal, people affected by the mission. For the American Diabetes Association, there are millions of people affected by diabetes. While that is unfortunate, it helps for us to make our case for support and to get a large response from communities across the country
FS: How easy/difficult is it to retain donors who first gave as the result of a special event?
PK: Again, if you have an organizational strategy for your special-event participants, your reward will be greater. Break down silos that may internally exist between events, departments or other organizational activities. It’s about the donors and their interest and needs. You can never go wrong by educating your participants about all of your organization activities — fund raising or otherwise. Listen to their needs and make sure you are meeting them to the best of your ability.
At the ADA, we always try to “connect the dots” with people that are involved in mission. For example, we might be introduced to an individual because he participated in our walk, but we also make sure he knows about other opportunities to make a difference for people with diabetes. That way, we can direct them to other activities within the ADA resulting in expanded and/or upgraded gifts and further commitment to our mission.
FS: How is the Internet changing special-events fundraising?
PK: We have been very successful using our Web site to increase special-event donations. Participants in our America’s Walk for Diabetes and Tour de Cure cycling event can create their own fundraising Web page, post messages and pictures and solicit donations online — all with the click of a few key strokes. Recently we just finished our Tour de Cure season, and I am happy to report that online donations were up over 60 percent from the prior year. As we head into the final weeks of America’s Walk for Diabetes, check us out at diabetes.org/walk. The one word of caution, however, is not to let the Internet replace the face-to-face contact. The Internet is meant to be an extension of the fundraising effort, not a replacement for it.
FS: Is an organization has never held a special event before, where does it start?
PK: Create a plan with a detailed budget and time line. Writing it down will help you to create and execute it. Get to know other special-event fund raising professionals in your community, and don’t be shy about asking questions and revealing what you don’t know. Learn from the collective experiences of others. Attend other events like the one you are interested in conducting and determine what worked or didn’t work. Determine all the human and financial resources necessary and plan, plan, plan — then execute the plan.
FS: What are the Top 5 things an organization needs to have/know to make its events successful?
- Volunteers to plan, recruit and execute.
- Event business and work plan (time line, budget, etc.).
- Good staff who understand both fundraising and logistics of an event.
- Good luck (i.e. no rain on walk day).
- Good mission/cause.
FS: What are five surefire ways to produce a flop?
- No volunteers or staff.
- No plan.
- Unrealistic expectations.
- No passion and no fun.
- No worthy mission.
FS: What are some of the unexpected things that can happen, and how can an organization prepare for them?
- Day of event, always carry a list of essential contacts.
- Collect money before the event in case of “no shows.”
- Goals are high, budget is more conservative. Always reward for achieved goals.
FS: The event is over, now what?
PK: For the participant:
- Send a thank you follow-up explaining where the money went (mission activities).
- Determine the next steps for interaction.
- Re-recruit by inviting participants to next event and other appropriate events.
For the organization:
- Create a “brag book” or file of all brochures, posters, list of sponsors, income (gross and net) press clippings, media coverage etc . — everything that provides evidence on what occurred. This will help your planning in subsequent years.
- Thank volunteers, sponsors and other supporters.
- Reconcile your budget, pay and record your expenses, collect uncollected sponsorship or participant donations.
- Take a moment — celebrate, exhale, get ready for the next event.