This past weekend I was honored to host out regional American Advertising Awards, and as the emcee introducing and presenting damn near 100 awards, I experienced the great event planning and execution’s time honored tradition:
The event hangover.
Even though I had consumed a miniscule amount of booze? I felt like I had woken up from a bender than my college self would have been proud of.
But as I sat in my kitchen pounding coffee and chugging Gatorade like it was the last liquids on earth, I glanced through the photos and selfies and reflected on how fantastic special events are…especially to the nonprofit world.
Sure they’re a pain in the ass to curate and pull off – but where else can you trap tons of people in a room, tell your story and have them collectively raise funds for your mission and feel as if the momentum will push you towards making the community you live in better nearly instantaneously the next day?
Not a thing.
So as many of you are gearing up to plan those next events, let’s keep in mind that there are a few best practices to keep in mind in order to raise the most and stress the least!
Here’s my Top 5 Fundraising Event Best Practices for 2023!
1. Why the hell are you even having an event?
Here’s the question for the ages.
Or at least for your consideration before you start your planning process.
What’s the actual purpose of the event? Is it to raise money? Just make new friends? Just to throw a party because that other organization in town has a cool black tie event and that one annoying board member just won’t let it go that the only way you’ll have elite guests is if you rip off and duplicate the other events in town so they can get their banker buddies to come and not spend money while they complain at your next board meeting that no money was raised?
Let’s get some clarity first, shall we?
You need to determine whether this is a fundraiser or a friendraiser.
If it’s a fundraiser, everything you do should create the environment for giving, lean on sponsorships, and (don’t worry, we’ll go over details about this in a bit) a fund-a-need moment. Your guests should have the capacity to give, and should already be aligned with your organization. These should be your biggest fans who have purposefully filled their guest list up with other folks they know that can help you reach a financial goal, and who have real pull in the community to make them see how much good their dollar can do. Your call to action is, in the words of Randy Moss, “Straight cash homie.”
If it’s a friendraiser, everything you do should create the environment to curate an army of newly found cheerleaders for your cause, mission and impact. Your guests can be as green as that St. Patty’s Day outfit you plan on wearing at the office, and don’t need to know anything about your mission. They might be connected business owners, local elected officials or other influencers in the community. The goal? Simply to get your message of awesomeness out to the world. Your call to action is to have them help you spread that message even further.
Define your goals. Make sure you have the right target audience. Rock your event right.
2. Bring in the Pros
Please let me be abundantly clear when it comes to your fundraising event.
You get what you pay for.
And please, if you take nothing else from this article, pay for sound, production, your emcee and your auctioneer.
Your second cousin who went to a cattle auction once that said he’d do it for free or as a favor for that one time you bailed him out of jail, will not help you raise money at your event.
There is nothing I have cringed more at watching than someone who has never controlled a crowd of people or doesn’t have the self awareness of when to talk, announce or speak in front of an audience. Second only to an amateur auctioneer that doesn’t understand pacing, fundraising, or reading the room. It will kill momentum faster than anything else you do
Your neighbor who has an extra speaker from the band he played in when he was in college in 1978, will not help you communicate clearly with your guests in order to communicate your message of hope, optimism and impact for the community.
There is nothing more important that getting the right people in the room, the night of your event. You’ve put all this effort into invites, and agenda, and stories that will move people…but not having the sound to get the attention while you say all the important things? You’ve wasted all your efforts by not investing in quality production.
Don’t be that organization. Find a sponsor to help pay for the things you need to make your event a success. It’s the investment that is worth it every time.
3. Fund-a-Need at All Costs
We talk about this all the time in webinars, trainings, podcasts and just yelling from the back of the ballroom during events, but for the love of all that is holy…have a Fund-a-Need at your fundraiser.
If you don’t know what it is? You’re in luck. Here’s a simple guide:
Ask people during the event to raise their hands at certain monetary levels to pledge a gift that goes directly to the program or service or general fund to do the most good.
Start at a high level. Work your way down to a level that nearly everyone in the room can participate in.
Make sure you have pre-secured a gift at the higher levels to build momentum.
That’s basically it.
Sure you could read up on my good buddy Dean Crownover’s e-book on how to set this up from scratch, or listen to our awesome podcast we did together. But whatever you do, please make this a part of your festivities.
I promise you are leaving money on the table if you don’t add this to your night of program!
4. Engage your attendees before the event:
Speaking of setting up pre-secured gifts – you really need to spend time hyping up those who have purchased tickets or sponsorships before they walk in the door.
Well, besides being generally a nice person to make sure they feel loved and appreciated, you really get an opportunity to have touchpoints that have nothing to do with fundraising before they arrive.
You get to explain any and all games or foods you will have.
You can preview auction items, raffles and prizes.
You can make sure they don’t have any dietary restrictions or needs.
You can ask them for their guest lists, so you’re not scrambling the day of and giving yourself anxiety.
Any action that you can take in order for them to feel welcome, excited and informed makes for a better experience and a better fundraising potential from each guest.
Trust me – the best value of time you can give before your event starts? Connecting with those who have voluntarily given you and evening of theirs for your mission.
You wont regret it.
You know…after the event is when the real work begins.
I suppose this could have been a 5th best practice, but let’s test this blog algorithm with only 4 best practices, shall we?
However, saying thanks, showing gratitude and making sure you have a communication plan to connect with, and show the impact of their gifts well after they attend your event, will make for some fantastic follow up gifts in the future.
You got this!!