I saw a disturbing social media post last week from a fundraiser describing her planning process for her upcoming gala.
“It’s a fundraiser” her Executive Director said, “so that means that everything for the event needs to be donated.”
Venue. Food. Silent auction items. Everything.
Like I said, disturbing.
It reminded me of a few times I took part in large galas where our development team shut down in the months and weeks before the gala to focus purely on that one evening.
A gala can be an excellent time for the organization to be celebrated, the mission to be celebrated, and your key constituents to go home feeling empowered with the impact they just made in their community. It can raise some money for your mission! But if you’re relying on events to hit your annual fundraising goals, you very likely are heading to a sustainability nightmare.
If you want to increase the impact you make, you’re going to want a professionally run evening. That means investing in the evening. Sometimes you really do have to spend money to make money.
There’s nothing wrong with working existing relationships if it can get you free linens, and most restaurants are just one short phone call away from donating a gift certificate.
But the bulk of your efforts shouldn’t be spent on marginal gains from donated food or donated space.
Instead focus on what will impact the bottom line: the individual donors at that event.
Make sure that your key fundraising personalities are working the room.
Are they free to talk and interact with the high capacity donors? Do you even know who your high philanthropic capacity donors are?
Part of what they should be doing is thanking past supporters and encouraging your donors to make longer-term commitments.
In addition to deploying your key fundraisers with your high capacity donors, make sure you don’t neglect your first-time attendees and first-time donors. With retention rates hovering around 30% for first-time donors, this is a group that you can work to make sure you increase their long-term impact to the organization.
Finally, at the event, make sure that your event attendees go home talking about the mission and the fantastic execution of the event. If you decide to give your attendees a party favor to take on the way home, make sure it’s meaningful to the mission and their experience that evening.
While you plan for the event, make sure you’re taking time to plan the follow up in the weeks and months following the event. Did you make sure that the donors and attendees understand the impact they made that evening? Where did their dollars go?
If you do all of this, you won’t just raise some money one night. You’ll build a strong relationship with your donors that will keep giving for years. Then you can go out and rent (pay for!) whatever venue works best for you.