Let’s Have a Fundraising Event…Not

I don’t really want to dampen the enthusiasm for fundraising or “friend” raising events, but the reality is too many fundraising events are disconnected from the mission and purposes of  organizations to the point few participants can even recall the charity they are supporting.  Very often people are attending because they were asked by friends (that they remember!).  Another fact, few event attendees actually become donors on a monthly or annual basis. If in doubt look at your donor and event lists.

When I hear people suggest they need a fundraiser to raise awareness of their charity or to identify supportive “friends” but start talking about a golf tournament or some other activity (gala, fun run, etc.) unrelated to their mission, I ask them the simple question, “how does this really advance the mission of the organization?”  What is the plan to engage people in the work you do and the outcomes your organization creates?  (BTW, raising awareness is not the same as raising money).

From incubation of an event to delivery to post-event activity, the fundraising event organizers need to ask this question.

The cost of special events typically runs in the 50% or more range.  So for every $1 dollar grossed, 50 cents or less comes back to support the organization.  That is a pretty high fundraising cost and a low return on the investment of time, energy and effort.  And typically it is a small group of staff and/or volunteers putting in a lot of work with precious resources.    That is a good way to kill off good board members or underutilize time and skill of staff.

Compare the costs of raising money with an event that to a mailing campaign like the annual fund – the cost per dollar raised is only $.25-.30 cents on the dollar. And the most efficient way to raise money of all is face-to-face solicitation focusing on major gift donors – that’s only 5 cents to 10 cents on the dollar.

If you can’t scrap fundraising events, consider revamping and reducing the number.  Create a bigger event with greater sponsorship opportunities linking the right sponsor with the right audience and cause.  Link it back to your mission and demonstrate how the event helps the organization create impact.  Think of the event as a starting point, not an ending point.  Follow up personally with a minimum of ten participants who attend the event to see if you can engage them in a meaningful way as a donor.    The journey from participant to donor can be very powerful for both the donor and the organization.


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