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  • Nonprofit Fundraising: Events vs. Great Events

Your last bake sale was an outrageous success and the car wash did even better, but does that mean that it’s time to introduce a yearly dinner gala to your fundraising calendar? Unless your organization is flush with time, money and resources with staff to spare, you might be feeling a tad overwhelmed.

If you’ve had success with a handful of minor fundraisers then you’ll know that great events don’t just happen; they take an awful lot of work to reach their targets. And lumped together under the catchall heading of “events” are fundraisers as diverse as your summer cake sale through a golf fundraiser to an annual winter ball.

Is the event a good “fit?”

The obvious benefit of event fundraising is the enormous potential it offers nonprofits to fill their coffers quickly. Top organizations raise enormous sums of money with special events; the top ten events in 2013 raised over $138 million. Many organizations invest in events because of the potential returns and by tailoring the event to fit the mission and its message, half the battle is won.

At the end of the day, ensuring a successful event is easier said than done. If you can choose an event that aligns with your nonprofit’s available resources, so much the better. Have you got a large pool of available volunteers? What about an event that needs manpower like a fair, an auction or a festival? Do you have contact with musicians or singers? What about a benefit concert? And if the event is a good match for your mission, does it fit the interests of your prospective ticket-buying audience?

event tickets

Not all events are created equal

Many organizations focus on events as a major source of fundraising and as a result, do too many events without any one occasion really standing out. There are some nonprofits that aim for several benefits each year, but more money might be raised with one well planned, great event.

Events, properly done are hard work; why spread your resources thin, wear yourself out and sap your volunteers dry, needlessly? As an alternative, consider the potential benefits to your organization of doing one superlative event each year, a signature occasion that stands out and becomes synonymous with your nonprofit brand. Instead of a handful of ho-hum benefits conducted haphazardly throughout the year, conduct smaller fundraisers aimed at your local supporters and plan for that one great event you make your own.

You know your community and your audience better than anyone else; create something that people will associate with your nonprofit. One great event, done really well, has the potential to accomplish all your goals. However, you have to also consider the risks involved in putting all your resources into just one event.

More value than money

The buzz and pizazz created by a great event delivers a host of opportunities for existing donor stewardship and donor acquisition. In this day and age, both are extremely difficult and very expensive processes and it’s here that great events can play a major role in a strong fundraising program.

Great events will multiply your donor engagement by dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of connections with other people. Done correctly, this experience is an incomparable way to allow donors to understand and interact with your mission.

An event should never be just about raising money; one great event, done well, will build connections, raise awareness and attract new supporters. A great event should serve to develop the commitment of existing donors, encouraging more gifts while cultivating the involvement of newcomers to your mission.

One properly branded, signature event can draw other resources – companies looking for places to put their sponsorship dollar. Many larger businesses have a yearly budget for this; sponsorships and fundraisers make great business partnerships.

Great events attract sponsors

The real money from an event is raised from sponsorships. A sponsor is anyone or any company that provides something free (money, services, or products) to help increase the value of your event. In fact, sponsors also provide an expanded marketing and promotion facet for your fundraiser.

Not only does sponsorship alleviate expenses, it produces avenues for increased participation. Other people (your sponsors, their friends, family and fans) have a vested interest in spreading the word as well as a stake in the ultimate success of the event.

If you focus all your energy on one major event each year, you can raise bigger sponsorships, because a great event – well executed – will have great visibility and pizzazz. Find sponsors willing to fund a portion of the event. Is there a company or business that might want to sponsor a dinner, provide a prize or donate something to auction? Even smaller local businesses may be willing to donate goods or services in exchange for associating their name with your cause.

Many companies take advantage of sponsoring charitable events, campaigns and silent auctions etc. by offering in kind donations. They view it as free branding and publicity for their involvement. When you approach possible sponsors, clearly emphasize they’ll be getting the exposure to many potential new customers.

The gist is, don’t just do events because events are what nonprofits do… you are doing this to further your mission. Any event can be a useful tool but a great event makes an even better tool with more impact.

Whether you’re starting out with small fundraising event or considering that one tremendous signature event, you’ll find our free checklists and sample plans will help in the planning process, highlight common issues and give insights into the questions you should be asking.


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