The Integrated Special Event
Last week, I was playing in a golf outing for my favorite charity, the Salvation Army. I was amazed at how many people worked in a variety of roles to make the event successful. Beyond the workers who dealt with registration, announcements, golf cart information and a host of other items, I focused my attention on the dinner aspect of this golf activity.
In this very large room, I watched a variety of people perform integrated functions for event success. I knew it would be successful because everyone involved with the event worked with integration goals in mind.
In one section of the room, there was a silent auction. In another area, finance volunteers were dealing with money issues. At the podium I saw a local television celebrity reviewing a script for the program. Some staffers were cultivating, stewarding and lightly soliciting donors. Other staffers were recruiting potential board members. Several volunteers were discussing marketing and branding materials, and the list goes on.
The point is that a special event is not just a simple activity that comes and then goes until next year. This event was treated as a complex endeavor that encompassed elements of annual gifts, major gifts, planned gifts and development services. The event itself had time, talent and treasure values assigned to it.
Regardless of the type of special event, you should create a variety of goals for it to achieve. Look at best-of-class examples, and give yourself enough time to plan the event. Try to make elements of the event special and educational. With advertising, seek to increase attendance by securing a loyal base of participants with new visitors each year. Update marketing materials and communicate the event using various outlets including social media. Create a checklist of steps to complete with a timetable for accountability.
From an annual-giving perspective, you are trying to acquire new donors and retain existing donors. You also want to recognize everyone associated with the event. Ask yourself as you leave the event if it was memorable and if not and what can be done to improve the activity long term.
From a major-gift and planned-gift perspective, pre-event review and strategy for the event is a must. Know who is attending the event and who will be attending with them. Focus on each contact for specific reasons such as volunteer recruitment, board position, prospect move or cultivation. In many cases, it may be the only chance for you to engage someone leading to a next step engagement in a social context.
As most of us would like additional major gifts or planned gifts, always look for opportunities within a special event for current donors to open doors with their peers. Also use a special event to invite major- and planned-gift prospects or donors to attend events to reaffirm their faith in the mission and purpose of the organization.
Going forward, as you look at special events, think in terms of integration. You need to enhance annual gifts, major gifts, planned gifts and development services in your institution. Discuss every aspect of a special event with your total staff, including goals and marketing for each event. Spend time reviewing each event after the fact in order to determine if the event exceeded time, talent and treasure goals.
Your job is to change the culture and mind-set in your organization that a special event is everyone’s responsibility. If you increase the importance of a special event in your organization, other positive results will follow!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.