How Events Can Ruin a Major-Gifts Program
It's not surprising to me that many major donors do not give as they could to the causes they love. The primary reason they don't is because major-gifts officers (MGOs) don't ask them to. And one of the reasons that doesn't happen is because they invite their major donors to an event instead.
Here's how it works. The MGO has a cluster of very good donors on his caseload. Rather than do the hard work of identifying each donor's interests and passions and creating an ask that is tailored to each of them, he decides that the best way to "get major donors involved" is to invite them to an event.
So a great deal of time and money is spent organizing an event (remember, as an MGO you don't have much time, so this takes away from your care of caseload donors) to which a certain number of major donors are invited.
A very nice program is delivered along with an activity and/or snacks or a nice meal; an inspirational talk is given by a program person or the leader, and the event comes off flawlessly with a net economic result that either just covers cost (hard costs, not all the labor, which is also a problem, by the way) or gets some return in the range of an ROI of 1:2.
In the meantime, the major donor goes home, and nothing much has changed in the relationship between her and the organization. I agree, some stewardship has happened but not much more.
I, generally, don't like events in major-gifts work because:
- They are organized more for donor cultivation and stewardship vs. real fundraising. The proof is the financial result. I know, if the event is used as part of a longer-term strategy this statement may not be true. But then show me an event that is part of a longer-term strategy vs. just a one-time event.
- The content of most events is geared toward the event vs. the cause. It is about golf, or the run, or something. And the donor comes to it focused on the event, not the cause. Plus, the event is geared to a one-time, small transaction at the event vs. a larger ask.
- Major donors are more likely to give less at an event than they would if they were approached by the organization in a one-on-one setting. Why? Because the group dynamic of an event diminishes the energy of the individual's relationship with the cause. In a group, an individual major donor often thinks, "Goodness, with all these other people addressing this issue, I really don't need to engage at a high level." I know, the reverse of this can also be true, i.e. "Wow, with so many jumping on board with this, I think it's a good idea for me to participate." But, this one point can swing very easily the wrong way because of how the event is organized.
At this point you might ask: "Richard, are you just plain against all events?"
But I think they need to be more strategic.
The key objective of any event planning must be to deliver content that matches the donor's passions and interests and moves him toward the individual financial objective you have set. Note I said the individual financial objective you have set. You have to keep your eye on the individual as you enter the group dynamic.
What all of this means is that you are proactive in assuring that the program content and the ask result in a dynamic that is no different than if you had met with the major donor privately. Specifically, this means:
- You have created a program theme that matches the interests and passions of all the donors present.
- You have created an ask that is large enough to accommodate the sum of all the individual asks you would have made privately to each major donor present. It doesn't make sense to present a $100,000 need at your event when the sum of what the major donors present could give is $250,000.
- You deliver the ask in the program in a manner where point No. 2 above is clearly understood by the major donor.
In our opinion, every event should have the following three strategic objectives:
- Effectively selling qualified major donors on the event and why they should come. This means making it cause-oriented vs. event-oriented.
- Effectively selling the cause at the event. This means the theme matches the interests and passions of the donors present.
- Effectively asking. This means matching the ask amount to the sum of the capability of the major donors present and then asking in a manner that results in each major donor giving at the level he would have given had you interacted with him privately.
All of these objectives are connected and inter-related. They can't be planned for or considered separately. They are synergistically linked. If you can't deliver on these three objectives, then you shouldn't have the event.
No, I am not against events. Put simply, I am against anything that gets you off of that very special, and rather mystical, thing that happens when you have connected with a major donor; you have discovered her passion and interest, and you have the opportunity to fulfill that passion and interest through her giving to your good cause.
I'm for serving donors outrageously.
If you’re hanging with Richard it won’t be long before you’ll be laughing.
He always finds something funny in everything. But when the conversation is about people, their money and giving, you’ll find a deeply caring counselor who helps donors fulfill their passions and interests. Richard believes that successful major-gift fundraising is not fundamentally about securing revenue for good causes. Instead it is about helping donors express who they are through their giving. The Connections blog will provide practical information on how to do this successfully. Richard has more than 30 years of nonprofit leadership and fundraising experience, and is founding partner of the Veritus Group.