Why Events are So Valuable

By Rob Cummings Events Leave a comment

Events have been part of the advancement profession forever. Today this proven fundraising vehicle may be relegated to the development backseat. This technique is considered outdated by some, compared to social media and other trends of the moment.

It’s interesting how often we regard the newest concepts as the best concepts.  Not always so.  When a fundraising vehicle has served so many for so long, there’s a good reason.

As a carefully-positioned element of an overall annual plan, this “old warhorse” of development can provide targeted messaging to your key donors, an entrée to new donors, and multiple residual benefits.

Events are a lot of work.  Physically demanding.  I managed 102 class reunions by the time I was 34 and my knees still remind me of that from time to time.

The cost of fund raising for events can be as high as 25-40%, which is pushing the envelope for a respectable return on investment.  Events are time consuming, staff-intensive, and a ripe opportunity for any number of things to go wrong.

But have you ever been a part of a perfect event?  Very few of them are.  When that magic happens, it is something wonderful to behold.  The look on the faces of your guests says, “Thank you for allowing me to be part of this moment.”

You don’t forget that right away.  Neither do your donors.

Events raise money, sure.  Sometimes, lots of money.  They’re also a “gathering of the clan,” the time when people who believe in your organization come together.  Donors look around and see others, hundreds of others who feel strongly about your organization.  It fosters a pride of association, or a rejuvenation of spirit.

We’re influenced by the actions of others whom we respect.  It’s human nature.  When we look around and see folks who came out to support the organization it gently reinforces our belief that the cause is, indeed, worthy of our support.

Events are a premier opportunity to present an award or give an honor.  You can never give away too many awards.  Do so at every event you have.

I’m shocked when organizations invest time and effort in an event and don’t present an award.  The recipient, their family and friends will remember that moment forever.  The audience commends you for making the effort to honor the recipient’s commitment.

It’s also a great moment to make that big announcement to your captive audience; about the Campaign, or the major gift, or whatever big news you have to share.  You’d like to share some exciting news, right?

Your organization’s special event is, perhaps, the last remaining opportunity you have to secure corporate funding.  Companies will, for civic and marketing reasons, support an event when they may support no other request you send their way.

Board members can be particularly effective in helping you secure corporate support for your event and it just might be the only fund raising you will get your board members to do!

When you “make the rounds” of your event with your CEO and stop by to say hello to a special donor, he or she may just introduce you both to their guests.  There is no better opportunity you’ll have during the year to introduce your organization in such a positive way to these new friends.

You will recall that we look for any possible “spark” to begin a relationship with new donors?  It’s right there.  At an event.

Most notably of all, events are tradition.  Just as we honor traditions in our families, our organization’s events are its tradition.  When your donors and friends participate in those events, in your tradition, they know deep down they are part of your “family.”

That is gold to you.

Seven things to keep in mind about events:  One, little events succeed, too.  Not all events are big to-do’s.  A conversation with the President. “Music Under the Stars” for the neighborhood.  A memorial service or a Mass for a deceased benefactor.  The beauty of events to me is its diversity.

Like everything else in your development plan, keep a balanced portfolio.  Good development shops are so much more than events and proposal writing.  Remember events, but don’t overdo it.  And work hard to ensure a proper net return from your investment in the event.

Special events provide a wonderful training ground for development staff at an earlier stage of their careers.  Events give an opportunity for staff to create relationships with donors that might not otherwise be possible.  Do your younger staff struggle with getting visits?  It’s because donors don’t know them.

Events are the perfect cure for that.  When a young development officer drives donors from the parking lot to the event in the golf cart, or give a tour, or assist at the registration table with a big smile on their face, donors remember that.

The work traits needed to manage events – attention to detail, organization, follow through, and others, are precisely what that development officer will draw upon in the years to come.

Events are great team-building.  We’d have events that were “all hands on deck” and no matter what your job description said, you pitched in.  I loved seeing that.

Beware of events that have too many details attached to them.  The bigger the event, the simpler you want it to be.

The golden rule of raising money from big events:  You cover your costs with your tickets and you make your money from sponsorships.

“Mileage events” are those you do not manage but participate in, nonetheless.  Perhaps you can invite a donor to graduation or a Dress Rehearsal.  There is nothing more powerful.

The Monday after your event will show what you and your team are made of.  Development rookies give a huge sigh of relief, congratulate themselves, and look around to see what’s next.

Development pro’s dig in to the follow up work; the thank you notes, the phone calls to get those visits that the event made possible, the copies of photos taken that night sent to the folks in the photos.

It’s very similar to the stewardship of a major gift, actually.

Next time, one of my all-time favorite event stories.

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