Almost every non-profit hosts at least one fundraising event annually. As you begin planning your next event, consider the following keys to success:
Foster audience development. One of the most important elements of any fundraiser is who attends the event. Collaborate with your board members, sponsors and key donors to ensure attendees at your event have the capacity and incentive to giveRather than have your corporate sponsors offer tickets to any employees in their company who want to attend, encourage them to invite their key executives, partners or vendors who are more likely to appreciate and even match the company’s fundraising commitment.
Make your cause personal and relevant. At a planning meeting for a Midwest chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (one of our clients), I asked the board members what they thought separated their organization from others competing for local dollars. One person said, “We’re really good at fundraising.” Another answered, “We host great events.” After much discussion and reflection, we all agreed that this particular chapter of JDRF really excels at making Type 1 diabetes personal and relevant to everyone who attends its events. Children and families affected by Type 1 diabetes are strongly integrated into the event experience, from children with diabetes selling raffle tickets and speaking at its gala to displaying “story boards” on its annual Walk to Cure Diabetes walk route that share the personal stories of local families affected by diabetes. For patrons intimately affected by the cause, it’s easier to make that personal connection. But for those who are attending because a friend or colleague invited them, the event should create an emotional connection so attendees are more likely to donate to your cause.
A Glimmer of Hope, a Texas-based nonprofit that that helps lift women and children out of extreme poverty in rural Ethiopia, hosted a very creative event last year called, “One Night, One Village, and 5,000 Lives Transformed.” This one-of-a-kind event gave its a patrons a chance to experience what life in a rural African village is really like, from recreating a “water walk” to featuring a visual board where patrons could choose specific projects in the village they were interested in funding. The event was so successful, the organization raised twice its fundraising goal that night and was able to improve two villages and 13,000 lives as a result. One patron commented on the event, “We showed up as individuals and left as a family. Normally, you go to one of these things to do something for someone else’s cause. For that night, A Glimmer of Hope and these two villages became our cause.”
Many event planners believe an event’s success depends on the band, décor or the meal. Let me be clear: most people will never remember the chicken dish you served, but they will remember if you touched their heart. Use your event to make your cause personal and relevant, and your patrons will intimately understand the impact they can have.
Make the ask. Again. And again. And again. In life we know that we rarely get something unless we ask. Fundraising works the same way,. Before your event, communicate with prospective attendees on opportunities to give, such as auction items and giving levels. Ask for their commitment before, during and after the event. And make sure you offer opportunities to give, even if they are unable to attend this year.
And finally, let them know what an impact they’ve had. After your event, be sure to communicate the success of the event and how the funds were used. Transparency is more important than ever, as donors want to ensure their investments made an impact and were used responsibly. Thank them for their support and let them share in your success as an organization.