Special Events Bloopers
Mistakes. They happen to the best fundraisers and nonprofit organizations. Here are some ways to avoid the Top 10 bloopers when it comes to special-event fundraising.
Blooper No. 1: Scheduling conflicts
Prior to researching venues, gather the dates of all public and private school vacations in your area. Create a master calendar by marking all dates that have potential conflicts (school vacations, holidays, World Series, etc.). Avoid nights on which competing organizations are hosting their own events. Determine which day of the week is most convenient for your guests, and be sure to consider work travel schedules, parenting responsibilities, etc.
Blooper No. 2: Event collateral oversights
Inadvertently leaving an important event sponsor off of a piece of event collateral can have serious, negative implications … for years to come! Compare your list of event donors from the previous year with your new list. If a previous donor is not included on the new list, confirm that the omission is intentional and not a mistake. If possible, have the individuals on the list sign off on the accuracy of their own listings. Designers make mistakes, too — check the accuracy of the information at every round of editing!
Blooper No. 3: Event committee misunderstandings
Set very clear roles, expectations and boundaries for your committees. Is your committee a working group or simply “name only”? Working committees should be kept to a manageable size. Will all committee members be expected to contribute financially to the event? If so, at what level?
Blooper No. 4: Not 'getting it in writing'
Without exception, every single event detail involving vendors must be in writing! Never assume that a verbal agreement is the equivalent of a formal agreement. Read the fine print, ask questions, and do not make assumptions! Be informed about all restrictions, exceptions, potential fees, and plans for worst-case scenarios.
Blooper No. 5: Seating snubs
Can you imagine what it would feel like as a donor to be seated in the first row at your event one year and then near the back of the room the very next year? Attempt to keep seating somewhat consistent from year to year. Save your seating maps and review when the time comes to do seating the following year.
Blooper No. 6: Mayhem in line
In most circumstances, it is best NOT to separate registration lines by the beginning letter of the guests’ last names. Have staff situated in the registration area to let guests know when lines open up (most guests will automatically go to the line closest to the entrance even though there might be open lines further away). Confirm that an adequate number of parking attendants will be available both before and after the event to park and retrieve cars for guests. Set up as many food and drink stations as possible throughout the space (this does not necessarily mean there will be more food and drink — you can have more stations with less at each station).
Blooper No. 7: Limited food choices
Always have at least one vegetarian option available for your guests. During certain religious holidays (e.g., Passover), offer appropriate alternatives for most of the items on your menu. Get to know your caterer immediately after signing your venue contract. Partake in a tasting. Encourage your caterer to think outside the box when creating your menu.
Blooper No. 8: Timing disasters
Work closely with your caterer to establish ideal timing of food placement and clearing of plates, as these activities can create significant noise and distraction from the speaking program. Avoid these activities particularly during the live auction and other fundraising portions of the evening. Always develop a clear contingency plan for what to do if the program runs behind schedule — will the night simply come to a close later than originally expected, or will you cut something out of the program on the spot? What can be cut if need be? Who will decide this?
Blooper No. 9: Embarrassing auction results
Command the audience’s attention before starting the program or live auction. If necessary, make use of an announcer, music, flashing lights, etc. For particularly “sensitive” auction items (e.g., a high-profile donor has donated personal artwork), arrange to have a bidder “planted” in the audience who agrees to bid a minimum amount on the item. This prevents a situation in which the item receives no bids or only extremely low bids.
Blooper No. 10: Auction package 'surprises'
Live auctions can create sensitive donor-relation issues. Make sure that the individuals who donate the items are reliable and understand the restrictions (or lack of) on the auction package. The last thing you want is for someone to spend thousands of dollars on an “unrestricted” sports package only to later be told by the donor of the package that the tickets are in fact NOT redeemable for the particular game in which the winner is interested.
Katie Skoog is the director of development for Families First Parenting Programs in Cambridge, Mass.