Events that Make a Difference

Early September until Thanksgiving is the fall event season that many nonprofits depend on for a good portion of their annual funding. In many organizations it is “all hands on deck,” commanding lots of staff time and financial resources all in the hope that they will raise far more money than they spent.

Despite how important these gatherings are, too often nonprofits miss the basics while preoccupied with the centerpieces or dessert. To help keep you focused let’s review a few fundamentals:

  • Your event has TWO goals.  To educate and inspire your donors and to get them to give.  Getting a gift often depends on how well you present your work and your needs. Donors want to see and hear from those whose lives are changed by your work. Do report. Tell inspiring stories.  Introduce your audience to real people. Prove that your organization really has the pulse of those it is designed to serve.
  • Fill the seats. Great audience development covers a multitude of mistakes and impacts what you can earn. First and foremost, get people to attend. Having table hosts is the most reliable method because those hosts take responsibility for 8-10 ticket sales and will personally invite their friends and family. Your regulars might respond to your fancy invitations, but newcomers also need to be personally invited. And, don’t forget: a filled room will generate more enthusiasm for giving than an empty one.
  • Price it Right. If you are selling tickets be sensitive to the abilities of your target demographic. Just because the art museum charges $500 per ticket does not mean you can. Are you a Nordstorm nonprofit or a Target nonprofit? In some cases you can have two tier ticket pricing offering a premium ticket for better seating or special pre or after party.
  • Get sponsorships and underwriting. The rule of thumb is to have your expenses paid before people enter the room. Then whatever is earned through fund-a-need, auction, raffle is all profit. Getting businesses or individuals to sponsor is a good way to subsidize ticket sales. Offer admission to the event for a small group as one sponsor benefit.
  • Make it FUN! For most attendees, this is date night. A chance to dress up, go out, see people, and do something fun. Never let your event become an obligatory thing for your supporters. Change it up. Find ways for people to laugh and be amused. Serve tasty food and drink. Welcome everyone at the door. Make sure your guests meet other guests. Spend some money on quality entertainment. Keep your event moving and lively; no long boring speeches from your board chair or CEO. You want your guests to leave having enjoyed themselves and looking forward to coming back next year.
  • Give people time to socialize. It’s about your guests.  Start with a social 45 minutes before the event. If people are seated for dinner, give them time to talk at their table before you start the program. Invent activities where people can socialize a bit more once the event is over, if they want to hang around. If your guests have fun, they will remember and think fondly of your organization.
  • Be mindful of the amenities. Your guests might have to fight traffic or weather to get there. Once they arrive, treat them all like VIP’s. Easy parking. Maybe even valet. A warm welcome. Simple and fast check-in with short lines. A waiting beverage. Make it easy to find their table, and let them know the order and timing of the event elements. Make the space warm, comfortable, and beautiful. Think of pleasing all the five senses. Try and have some surprises. Put flowers in the restroom. Have your staff well dressed. Identify your board members so people know they are your leaders. Serve good quality chocolate. You can work within a budget and still make things special.  Be creative and make use of your eager volunteers.
  • Have a tight program. There is no better way to say it than “keep it tight and moving.” Openings, greetings, sponsor acknowledgements, and thank you’s all are necessary, but no one really enjoys them. So be succinct. Focus your audience on the reason for the event from your first words through every element of the program. You are preparing them for the ASK toward the end. Control your speakers. Have your entire program scripted and timed. Use media as much as possible.
  • Thank people for coming. Within a few days send people a note thanking them for attending, letting them know how much you raised and how it will make a difference.  Reinforce their charitable interest.

There is nothing more fulfilling than to create a party that a lot of people really enjoy. It does not guarantee that you will raise a lot of money, but it sure increases your chances.  Now—go out and knock their socks off!

Michael Friedline
Sparrow Solutions Group

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