Practical Planning Strategies for Marketing Your Fundraising Events
The biggest key to holding successful fundraising events is planning for success.
In practice, however, the seniority and experience of event planners vary widely. Many work from event to event, a veritable Groundhog Day. Some fundraising events require their full attention for weeks, and the number of events they handle varies greatly. Circumstances, such as the lack of a committed honoree or event underwriter, can easily derail schedules. Strategic planning is often forsaken in the name of the pragmatic “must-do’s” that eclipse other priorities.
This myopic approach actually leads to more work than if you started with a strategic plan. Once the initial plan is developed, modifying it across multiple events and into new fiscal years requires little additional time. In the end, taking the time to organize and plan actually saves time and maximizes the opportunity to raise more money.
Assess communication needs
To begin, develop your list of communications vehicles for you event. For a major dinner gala or benefit luncheon, this list might include (in no particular order):
- Invitation/RSVP cards
- Save-the-date postcard
- Sponsor Letter (new sponsors)
- Sponsor letter (renewal sponsors)
- Honoree requests
- In-kind vendor requests
- Auction/raffle letters
- Event website
- Online registration capabilities
- Journal (printed or digital/Web-based)
- Program book/menu cards
- Donor cards/ texting program for event
- Post-event tax letters/thank-yous
- E-mail messaging
- Event or honoree video
- Social-media pages
- Press releases
- Media interviews
Event planning calendar
Enter the planning calendar. An effectively planned marketing effort works backward based on the event date. All key dates should be added to the calendar in a color-coded format, and each task or deliverable should have clearly defined and assigned steps. Your planning calendar should be accessible to all team members (for example, in a Google Doc), so information required for its completion is always available.
Some tips on creating an effective planning calendar:
- Start from the event date, and count backward to calculate when the invitation should be received. Then mark this on the calendar.
- Block out labeling and mailing time, and mark that date.
- Block out design and approval time, allowing an extra week or two for vacations and business engagements by decision makers. Do this for each item.
- Plan multiple letters and e-mails to create a campaign. Repetition of message is essential. Be sure to add e-mail communications beginning at least five months in advance of the date to create growing awareness and excitement as the event approaches and the invitations arrive.
Managing the calendar gets interesting when additional events are added, but doing the above for each will make everything less overwhelming. Inevitably, project schedules for save-the-date designs, invitation layouts, event websites and Web pages will overlap considerably.
Opportunities for cross-marketing of events by promoting upcoming dates and distributing literature to attendees at earlier events will become apparent. In some cases, donors will receive intermittent communications for more than one event. This should not be a concern … they will pay attention to what interests them and possibly be drawn into a higher level of involvement and contribution. In other cases, by having materials earlier, you’ll reach potential corporate sponsors at more advantageous times in their budget cycles (in fact, this should be on the planning calendar as well). An event is much more likely to be included in a sponsor’s budget if compelling materials are submitted when it allocates its charitable dollars rather than when you get around to sending the packet.
It’s very likely that there will be times when two events require simultaneous promotion. Stick to the plan! Do not miss the opportunity to market a golf outing or fashion show just because it’s six weeks until your gala. Because you’ve carefully planned out the communications for the first event, there shouldn’t be any scrambling to begin arrangements for what’s next.
Again, depending on the dedication and sophistication of the planning team, event calendar scheduling or flow charting as I’ve described may not be a new concept. However, planning out every detail of each calendar item, developing and adhering to an optimal time frame, and layering calendar tasks for multiple events will help avoid missed opportunities and ensure best results.