Fundraising events are a mainstay in your world, but let’s be honest—they can take a lot of time, money and effort to pull off. If you calculated your ROI on your latest fundraising event, how would you fare?
On second thought, don’t answer that. Let’s focus instead on how to up your ROI on your next event and really make it count, getting the most out of your investment as possible.
Here’s the thing to remember: Too many nonprofits see a fundraising event itself as the finish line when really an event should be viewed as a small part of your larger development strategy. Instead of focusing on your fundraising event as a time-bound, one-off moneymaker, make sure it connects to your other fundraising and advocacy campaigns. Tie your event’s marketing to your larger development strategy. Use events as a springboard to develop stronger partnerships with sponsors and to create deeper relationships with your donors.
Here’s how to get started:
1. Use All Available Online Channels to Promote and Manage Your Events
Take your invitations, communication and marketing online to save time and money. Don’t abandon all your offline communication—just be sure to support it with online efforts; you’ll get more bang for your buck. Use email marketing to spread the word, and tap in to your supporters’ social networks by asking them to share the content you post about the fundraising event. Regardless of how many more tickets you sell, you’re still getting valuable exposure for your cause, plus you’re enlisting the help of supporters, further connecting them to your organization.
2. Embrace Your Opportunity to Have a Captivated Audience
Events aren’t just about passing the hat—or at least, they shouldn’t be. Use this face-to-face time to really engage with your donors. Ask for feedback from them and consider setting up a place to gather testimonials from your most passionate supporters—these can be valuable in both marketing materials and on your website. Also, provide plenty of opportunities for attendees to get involved with your organization (i.e. signing up for volunteer projects, subscribing to your email list and newsletter, etc.).
3. Make Your Event Relevant for Your Donor
This is something that is commonly missed, but it’s important to have a reason for your event that appeals to the donors. Tying your event to a fundraising campaign may be relevant to you, but then that makes your event all about you. The reality is, prospective donors who aren’t yet tied in to your organization may only attend if the fundraising event seems relevant to them in some way—like, if you’re a health and wellness center and you’re hosting a running clinic. Until people are connected and engaged with you—and passionate about your cause—your own fundraising goals alone aren’t compelling enough.
4. Be Clear About Your Goal for the Fundraising Event
Do you want to raise money or more awareness? Or both? Truth be told, special events are not the easiest way to raise a lot of money immediately. However, they can be a part of your strategic plan to cultivate future donations and to boost your profile in the community. Make your goals reasonable and reachable. Also, be aware of holidays and other community events when you plan yours—if your timing is off, your goals might be sabotaged. For example, hosting a fundraising event during the holiday season can be a real challenge because people are tapped out when it comes to social functions. Know your goals, and then figure out when you’re likely to have a big enough turnout to reach them.
5. Have a Follow Up Plan
The last thing you want to do is plan, prepare, host and pull off a major fundraising event—and then do nothing. Long before your event even comes around, you’ll want to develop a follow-up plan that allows you to connect with every attendee, thanking them for coming and giving them another opportunity for engagement. Your plan could include several components, including follow-up calls, handwritten thank-yous, an email blast, posting event pictures on your social media pages or highlighting an event video on your website. Whatever you do, be sure to stay in touch with the people you just hosted. Leverage the wave of interest and excitement about your organization as much as possible.
So, let’s say you’ve been there, done that with big events and you’re interested in trying a new way to engage with your audience. I get that, and it’s not a bad thought. Here’s when you might want to consider planning something on a smaller scale, like an in-home get-together or a casual gathering of prospects and donors. A few ideas for this might include:
1. Latch on to Something Already Happening
Maybe there’s a basketball or hockey game going on, or an opportunity for a wine tasting event or brewery tour. Piggyback on to a community event, send out some invitations, and just make a casual ask at the end.
2. Plan a Small Soiree at a Board Member or Constituent’s Home
It doesn’t have to require a lot of planning—it can be as simple as wine and cheese, or beer and pizza. In-home fundraising events are more intimate and can give you a better opportunity to get to know prospects and supporters, and they can be an even more effective way to build important relationships.
3. Plan a “Non-Event”
Send out invitations to everyone on your email list saying, “In lieu of hosting a big fundraising event this year and selling tickets or asking for donations in a formal setting, we’re cutting costs and funneling as much money toward our cause as possible this year. Please consider making a donation—all money will go supporting our mission, not to planning our event.”
Whatever you do, remember that hosting a fundraising event—either large or small—is never finished business. It’s just a small part of the larger picture of rallying as many supporters as possible around your cause. If you view your events this way, you’ll reap more out of what you sow in your event planning and maximize the time and effort you spend in hosting them.