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Strategize your Fundraising Event

Section: Blog

In the frenzied world of event fundraising, development staff is often pulled from project to project and from event to event with little time to focus on strategic planning. So, often, they enlist the comfortable triad of pre-event communications: the save-the-date card, sponsor solicitation letter and the printed invitation/reply card. But this one-size-fits-all, tactical approach to event promotion is facing obsolescence because it hasn’t changed with the times. Without first identifying event goals and strategy, it’s like throwing something against the wall and hoping it will stick.

We all know the adage that those who “fail to plan,” in fact, “plan to fail.” Only after formulating a strong strategy can we begin to determine and enlist effective tactics, both traditional and innovative. Begin with key questions about your event objectives and think big picture:

What are the primary and secondary goals of the event? To raise money? To demonstrate impact? To inspire participation? To strengthen relationships? As you plan your event, it is important you keep these goals in mind.

What is the takeaway? What is the most important piece of information about your organization you want to impart? Make sure that message is being communicated before, during and after the event.

Whittle down your audience…

Whom do you wish to engage with this event? This includes both past attendees plus first time participants. Are past supporters vendors / acquaintances of your honoree? What about age, sex, income, geography and connection to your mission? How might the above strategies differ for each of these audiences?

When is the best time to reach your supporters? How early should you start marketing the event? If your event is in the fall, are your supporters accessible over the summer – or do you need to begin marketing in the spring?

How do you want the event to make people feel? Inspired? Empowered? Like a team member?

Based on your event strategy, determine which tactics to employ to help achieve your goals. While some organizations hold onto the status quo with all their might, others push the envelope each year, deploying new ideas. It is important to add new tactics each year because your donor base is evolving. Tactics should be analyzed post-event to determine which to keep and which to abandon. Determine a return-on-investment for each tactic, wherever possible.

Mass print media has been eclipsed by the advent of targeted, digital media. Email marketing, online ad journals, a/v presentations, social media and mobile technology all contribute to opportunity for greater engagement and better returns. Segment your list and target different messages to different audiences. For example, try sending different appeals to corporate sponsors, emerging donors, honoree supporters, etc. Each of these groups has a different reason for their involvement in your event, so it is important to craft a message that will resonate with them.

Because the digital landscape is changing rapidly, organizations need to keep pace with technology. While larger, sophisticated, nonprofit organizations are able to embrace best practices with the latest technologies, smaller agencies can benefit too. They just need to understand their limitations and know when to outsource to seasoned event professionals.

Progress doesn’t move in reverse, so don’t be afraid to step back and ask the hard questions, such as “Why are we doing this?” Organizations and board members who bury their heads in the sand risk alienating the next generation of supporters. More strategic and  progressive nonprofits will be quick to scoop them up.