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The #1 Thing to Remember About Fundraising Events

Whether you are a brand new start up nonprofit, or a large organization that has been around the block a time or two – hosting special event fundraisers should be a critical part to your solicitation strategies. There is no better opportunity to hold a large group of individuals’ attention and control the messaging of your mission than during fundraising events. More importantly, if done with purpose, passion and a little bit of pizazz, the impact of your incredibly fun event, can pay dividends for years to come.

However, the large amount of logistics, small detail work and other event related headaches can distract nonprofits from the main objective of hosing fundraisers: building relationships with current and potential donors.

That’s it.

Sure, there is money to be raised or friends to be made. But more than anything? Developing a roadmap for engagement with individuals and businesses to be lifetime supporters? That’s everything.

I have found over the course of a nearly 20 year fundraising career that organizations need to keep a few things top of mind when hosting special events.

Here are a few tips and tricks for nonprofits of all sizes and shapes to use during your special event fundraising seasons that are specifically designed to help you think about all things relationship building!

The Event

Small organizations and new events cannot expect to raise millions of dollars the first few years of existence. Realizing that, a strategic move would be to concentrate on building an army of loyal followers and champions by hosting events that are intentional about creating relationships rather than solely caring about monetary donors. Once they become fierce advocates of your mission, it becomes much easier to convert them to financial supporters.

Sometimes, concentrating on building the number of people who love and trust your organization should take precedence over the amount of money you make at an event. If your nonprofit is looking to increase the number of potential supporters – barraging them with ways they can financially support your organization may take a backseat to softly selling the impact of what you do in the community.

Specifically, knowing who is in the room, how those individuals got there, and being purposeful with your presentations are three easy ways to win these new organizational friends.

Who is in the room?

An extremely important thing to remember when executing a fundraising event, is to know who is in attendance. Your organization needs to identify individuals with a high capacity who are in the room so that you can prioritize making strategic introductions or who to begin conversations with. Don’t treat your special events like blind-speed-dating. Know enough about those who are in the room to ensure you treat the individuals who may be able to help your organization significantly in the future, like the VIP’s they are.

How you got them there?

Why did your guests show up? Were they invited by a board member or volunteer? Did they simply buy a ticket because you had an open bar? Are they secret millionaires testing the waters to see if they like your mission so they can leave you in their will?

Whatever the case, knowing how they arrived at your event will give you a very clear direction on how knowledgeable they are about what you do, who they are connected with from your nonprofit, and how willing they are to support your cause financially. Whether you have a sophisticated donor research system, or using social media to research who is on your guest list, it is worth the time to look into your attendees.

What is the content you are presenting them with?

Once the program starts, your opportunity to grab each person emotionally and forever tie them to your work is within your grasp. Remember to keep your agenda short, sweet and to the point. The more “things” you try to squeeze in, the less likely your guests will remember the important items like impact, vision and mission.

Be enthusiastic and positive about what you have achieved and what you plan on accomplishing in the future.

Start and end with gratitude, so that those who are not currently on your fundraising team feel inspired to be a part of an organization that spreads such gratitude.

Feature those who have experienced your impact first hand. Remember that third party endorsement is exponentially more important than first party solicitation. Having others who are not paid employees speak highly of your nonprofit will dramatically increase the likelihood of event guests to buy in to your mission.

The Fund-a-Need

Once your fundraising event has successfully taken off – building the opportunity for those in attendance to give generously becomes incredibly important. But, there is a finite amount of money a nonprofit can raise, through auction items, raffles and other traditional ways of transactional giving.

If your organization does not currently use a fund-a-need component to your special events, you are leaving money on the table that donors in the room would otherwise love to contribute to. A segment of your event that asks contributions towards the purchase of a tangible item, audacious goal to provide services or programs or to match a gift made from a donor is a surefire way to accomplish your fundraising goals.

Attendees at galas, wine events, or any other gatherings are becoming less and less interested in bringing home baskets of things. Embracing this trend, organizations who invite the audience to, as a collective group, achieve a fundraising goal by purely asking for monetary gifts, allows guests to feel as if they are part of the solution to a particular problem, or a part of a team that helped accomplish an outrageously positive goal.

Ideally, there is an individual, or collection of donors who use their gifts (pre-solicited) as a challenge to the audience to match their generosity. The idea of momentum building towards a fundraising goal through matching gifts, is a tantalizing way to encourage attendees at your special event to give as much as they can to

However, if you don’t have the good fortune to have a matching gift financial backer, make sure you are funding a tangible and impactful item to make massive impact on those you serve.

Keep it simple.

Keep it achievable.

Keep it awesome.

Succession Planning

Finally, keep in mind that your current donors and sponsors may not be around forever. Some may find other organizations to support, and businesses who have been a part of your organization for years may part ways or not have the income in lean years to continue sponsoring your event.

Do your due diligence and make sure that you create a pipeline of potential supporters who will be able to step up when needed in years to come. Avoid relying on a small number of groups to do the majority of your funding. Your organization will be in dire straights if one or more of those individuals leave.

Rather, recruit and empower the next generation of supporters by giving them roles and responsibilities at your events, seating them next to more established and veteran fundraisers in the room, and prepare them for taking a leadership position when the time is right.

Fundraising events are an incredible opportunity for nonprofit groups to tell their story, share their successes and share a vision for the future. Making sure you keep relationship building top of mind while planning these events, will ensure you have successes weeks and months after they are over.

You got this!


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