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Strategize your Fundraising Event
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, itâ€™s like throwing something against the wall and hoping it will stick.
We all know the adage that those who â€śfail to plan,â€ť in fact, â€śplan to fail.â€ť 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 audienceâ€¦
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 â€“ 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 doesnâ€™t move in reverse, so donâ€™t be afraid to step back and ask the hard questions, such as â€śWhy are we doing this?â€ť Organizations and board members who bury their heads in the sand risk alienating the next generation of supporters. More strategic andÂ progressive nonprofits will be quick to scoop them up.
Cornerstone Montgomery: ejRemote
The event was successful, due in very large measure to Event Journalâ€™s assistance.Â We got rave reviews from our guests and sponsors, who were delighted with the e-Journal. Thank you again for all of your hard work, and I would very much like for us to work together again for our gala next year!
Chief Development Officer
Isaiah House: ejPresentations
I wanted to let you know our event last night was a huge success. The presentation you put together was such a hit. So many people commented how it was so much nicer to see the ads on screen all night — rather than a printed journal, which gets tossed in the garbage. The venue had about 20 screens going at once, so the ads were seen easily from every corner of the room. You all did a wonderful job, and we thank you for all your support and patience.
Board Member /Fundraising Chair
Top 10 Secrets of a Nonprofit Event Specialist
Chris Lipari, is founder and owner ofÂ Lipari Production Group, event specialists providing production and consultation services to nonprofit organizations. LPG has produced events ranging from large star-studded benefits to â€śK9Kâ€ť walks across the Brooklyn Bridge. Chris shares his top 10 â€śinsider secretsâ€ť for successful fundraising events. These tips resonate with Event Journal, because they are many of the same suggestions we give our clients:
- Think strategically about your event. What is your organization hoping to gain from the event? What do you want the event to achieve and communicate? Set goals â€” and not just financial goals!
- Determine how you want your event to make peopleÂ feel.Â How do you envision the complete event experience, from start to finish?
- Build an infrastructure into your development team to anticipate, plan and manage your annual major special event. Your other development activities should not come to a screeching halt each year when the event is being planned. If this is the case, consider outsourcing more responsibilities to seasoned event professionals.
- Engage all departments in your organization: development, communications, finance, and programing to work as a team â€“ you all have the same goal!
- Be smart about budget â€“ both revenue and expenses. Dinner Galas are costly to produce and are not the right fit for every organization. Consider other possibilities, such as a cocktail party or tasting event.
- The planned flow of an event is always likely to change. Who is the one person who knows the objective of the event, what should happen and (most importantly) isÂ empowered to make real-time decisionsÂ to create a positive outcome?
- What are you spending money and time on?Â Do you really need a printed journal?Â Make use of video projection to recognize supporters and sponsors at the event.Â Consider a digital event journal. It lives online year-round, saves paper and is one less thing for guests to carry home (and throw away!)
- At the event, you have a captive audience. How are you going to communicate with them? Attendees should walk away with new knowledge about your organization and its mission, and why you need their support. There must be a compelling call to action.
- Who are your guests? Often, tickets get passed down the line and may end up in the hands of a table sponsorâ€™s guests who have no connection with your organization and its mission. Find a way to engage these people too. Make sure there are giving opportunities for guests at every financial level. Not only will this yield more revenue, it will allow your organization to capture guest information and begin to cultivate these new donors.
- Make sure to hold a post-event debriefing: the good, the bad and the not-so-good! Consider sending a short survey to board and committee members and a selection of guests.Â Take specific notes, so you can start to build a year-to-year dossier of the event and build on your success.