Special Events as Part of a Fundraising Plan: What’s Their True Purpose?

Tips for Using Special Events to Reach Your Funding Goals

Special events are often a part of a nonprofit development plan. However, the true purpose of a special event can easily get lost in the flurry of planning activity, and the results usually don’t outweigh the effort. When discussing special events with our clients and prospective clients, I often ask if their staff keeps track of how much time is dedicated to event preparation. Have they done a basic cost/benefit analysis of time spent on planning, coordination, and executing the event? Amazingly, the answer is often no.

Convergent Principal Tom Ralser, in his book  Asking Rights: Why Some Nonprofits Get Funded (and some don’t), states that, “These types of efforts seem to hone the skills of event planning rather than fundraising, which would be a far better skill set to develop to help make the organization more sustainable.” In the book, he gives us an example of how some special events are perceived by sharing the story of when, while attending a client’s special event, a major funder of the organization said to him, “I am here for the social aspect, for fun. Come see me in my office if you want to talk seriously about money.”

As Convergent knows only too well, return on investment is a key reason prospects are interested in investing with your organization. They want to know you are delivering valuable outcomes and providing measurable results. It is difficult to discuss the value of your organization’s outcomes while teeing off on a golf course, dancing the night away to music, or running a 5K.

One of Convergent’s clients, the Grant County Economic Development Council, held a successful golf tournament for many years. The primary goal of the event was to raise funding for the organization, but it required the staff and volunteers to start preparing six months in advance. While the net funds were up and down over the years, time and effort to execute the event steadily increased, taking precious time away from other economic development activities.

After completing a capital campaign with us, the Grant County Economic Development Council secured enough funding to forego conducting their annual golf tournament. Staff observed a major difference in their work outcomes as well, with more time being put towards mission goals such as small business assistance and potential business expansion. Most importantly, they now have ample time to plan for quality Investor Relations meetings and strengthening their relationships with current investors.

Most nonprofits cite the need to raise revenue as the reason for holding special events, and the nonprofit’s ultimate mission might include a significant public awareness component. While Convergent does advocate that capital campaigns are a better vehicle to reach sustainable funding goals than special event fundraising, we also recognize the important role that events play in nonprofit development. In Asking Rights, Tom Ralser defends the need for special events by stating that they “…may serve as signature events for the nonprofit organization to help build its brand awareness.”  A single, well-planned event can serve to market an organization, motivate its volunteers, provide networking opportunities for leadership, and obtain endorsements from prominent people, thereby adding legitimacy to your message and mission.

As NonProfit Pro states, event planning for nonprofit organizations can be successful. It is imperative that you think of special events as more than just a tool to bring in donations; deciding on the main goal of your event (i.e. increasing awareness, thanking supporters, celebrating recent successes, etc.) and then choosing the correct type of event to reach that goal is critical. For instance, we recommend our clients host a public campaign kickoff event after reaching at least 50% of their funding goal in order to recognize the commitment of early investors, bring community awareness to the campaign, and generate excitement amongst those who have not yet committed to investing.

The type, size, and mission of any nonprofit needs to be considered when developing your overall fundraising plan and especially before dedicating precious staff and volunteer time to any special event fundraising. If these factors are considered, they can make execution of special events an invaluable component in your organization’s overall fundraising strategy, enabling you to attain your central mission. Need help throwing an event for your nonprofit? Oe want help reaching your funding goals? Contact Convergent Nonprofit Solutions to get started today!

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