6 Steps to Reimagine a Traditional Donor Engagement Event
As a nonprofit administrator, have you ever inherited a process, a way of doing things or a fundraising special event? Is this event still working for your audience, your organization and your team? Post-pandemic fundraising is a good time to reset, strategize and start new traditions for stakeholders. Keeping mission in mind, this can include re-establishing or reimagining traditional donor engagement events.
At Walnut Street Theatre, my team and I inherited two traditional annual special events. We are a new development team — all having joined the organization post-pandemic. Traditionally, the organization’s two annual fundraising events have been a gala in the spring and an auction in the fall. Both events benefit the same mission: the organization’s arts education programming for young learners in the city of Philadelphia.
With strategy and planning, we successfully reimagined the auction, while keeping the mission in mind. Most of the auction has been combined with the gala; in the fall of 2022, we completely changed the nonprofit’s traditional auction event to an exclusive cocktail party at a lower price point and with a revised guest list. As you know, change is hard, and we had some uncertainty from various stakeholders going into the new event. However, with plenty of time to plan, and an anticipatory strategy, the results were even better than we had planned.
How did we do it, and how can you apply the strategy and tactics for your organization? Try these six steps to successfully reimagine your traditional special event.
1. Evaluate Where You Are Now
What does your current event schedule look like? Does your organization have any traditional annual events? Are these events giving the results you want while helping to achieve the organization’s mission? Take a look at your team of employees, how the post-pandemic climate of fundraising has affected your bottom line, and your audience’s past interest. Now might be a good time for a change.
2. Establish Your Goals
Nonprofit special events can serve many purposes. For your special event, does your organization want to raise money, promote awareness, or bring in new supporters? It could be a combination of all of these, each at varying levels. Decide if you are going to engage supporters who have previously attended events. How will you measure these goals? Set concrete ideas for those goals such as attendance, funds raised and subsequent donation support. If attendance is a goal, are you looking at raw numbers or certain demographics as they relate to your organization?
3. Investigate Your Resources
What is the event budget and who is available to help with the new event? Do you need a volunteer event committee? Who has helped in the past, and are they a good fit for the new event? Will the event require volunteers for day-of execution? By seeing what you have available, you can better plan the new event.
4. Secure Buy-In From Relevant Stakeholders
This step is really important. Prepare a proposal that outlines the purpose, goals, budget and timeline for your new event. Who is the decision-maker at your organization? Make sure to share this proposal early on with the decision-maker. Once the new event is approved, speak with board members, internal management, previous event committee members, and selected influential prior attendees to explain the new event and how it will benefit the organization’s mission. Be prepared to answer questions and anticipate uncertainty about the new direction.
5. Plan and Execute the Event
This is the fun part. Go back to step No. 1. Why did you decide to make a new event? If you are looking to engage new supporters, what barriers have prevented those folks from past participation? It could be interest, location or financial accessibility. Try a new tactic such as making tickets available at a price point that is accessible to new supporters. Offer a new, exciting experience. While you are running the event, be sure that you are tracking the metrics aligned with your event goals.
6. Measure and Share the Results
Share the results with the board, internal management, event volunteers and donors/supporters. Did you achieve the goals you established in step No. 2?
After our event, we were thrilled to report that more than half of the event attendees were not current donors. About 29% of event guests were non-donors, having never made a gift to the organization, and 23% were lapsed donors who had not made a gift in the last four fiscal years. Additionally, we exceeded our financial goal by 33%. Another metric we are currently tracking in the months following the event is how many of the guests who were not current donors have made a gift since the event — because one of our goals was engagement and reengagement.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Joy A. Karsner, CFRE, is assistant director of development at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. Joy has worked in nonprofit administration since 2013, focusing on development, marketing and communications.
Joy serves as a volunteer member of the board of directors for the Delaware County Literacy Council. Joy holds a Master of Business Administration from Villanova University and a Master of Public Administration in nonprofit administration from West Chester University. Joy is also a CFRE.