While we tend to think of fundraising events as large galas or big blowouts where the success of the event depends on the cash received that night, there are so many more options.
Big galas are tempting – they raise a lot of money! But there are other kinds of events that can have just as much impact – or even more – on your fundraising.
Sure, galas are great for building community and sometimes they bring in new donors, but often the amount of money and staff time spent on a gala is better spent on events that retain or upgrade the donors you already have.
After all, wouldn’t it be better to raise $10,000 from a couple of donors that came to a small house party than to spend months putting together a big gala where the night’s receipts are the same?
So, if you’re not up for a big gala – or if you have one that is taking up too much time – consider these four different kinds of events that can bring you the same (or better) long-term return on investment:
Inspiring major donors: A way to set-up a solicitation and ask for a major gift upgrade.
Capital campaigns have, for a long time, used a kick off event to inspire big gift prospects. While there usually isn’t an ask right at the event, the event does (if done well) inspire attendees and effectively open the door for a personal solicitation. Why not use this same technique when you are launching a new initiative, new plan or even a new year of your great work?
Make the party a small gathering at a donor’s house and only invite those donors who you know want substance over the fun of an auction or dancing. Work with your host to create an intimate and comfortable atmosphere, more dinner party than dinner for 300.
Tip: Consider creating a small host committee of three or so donors to help you draw in other donors.
Motivating middle donors: Mapping the map to the major gift level.
What we know about most middle donors is that want to feel special, they want recognition, and they want to feel like they belong. Events that work best for them are smallish gatherings of donors like them and a format that honors, informs, and makes them feel special.
Middle donors also want to feel like they are giving to something specific and tangible. Consider an in-depth (but concise!) presentation about an issue of importance with a clear nod to the work they made possible. But unlike that major donor event, you may not have time for solicitations to all of your middle donors after the event, so make the ask right there for upgraded commitments.
Tip: Consider a matching gift to get the ball rolling on the night of the event.
Honoring legacy donors: Keeping these donors in the fold.
Many legacy donors stop giving in their later years, so they may not even be on your list of folks to invite to your big gala or other fundraising events. Many are older and don’t really appreciate a gala event anyway. But with the average bequest at $40,000 in the US, these are donors that should be kept close.
We know that bequest donors do change their wills and if they haven’t heard from your organization in some time, you might not get what you are expecting in the end. So, consider using an event to connect and honor these special partners in your work.
Tip: Tailor this event to the needs of older donors. Consider having an event during the day and providing transportation or assistance in getting to the venue. And be sure there are plenty of places to sit!
Recognizing monthly donors: Extending and upgrading their commitment.
First of all, if you don’t have a monthly donor program, please get one going. It’s the easiest way to get continued support. And the commitment that monthly donors make to your organization is deepened over time. These are the donors that are with you for the long haul and many of them will leave you in their wills.
You want to get to know this very special group. While webinars and updates are great, you might consider using an event to recognize these partners in your work. Allowing these donors the opportunity to get together with you and others like them should not only increase their retention, but also provide the inspiration for an upgrade in their monthly gift. (So, be sure to ask them after it’s over!)
An event for your monthly donors can also help you to determine which of your monthly donors might be candidates for upgrading to the middle donor level and which might actually benefit from personal solicitation as a major donor.
Tip: Honor your longer-term monthly donors with a special pin or t-shirt that they could wear to the event to mark their commitment. Wouldn’t it be great to have people walking around the event with their “I’ve Been a Monthly Donor for 5 Years” t-shirts on?
Every organization’s fundraising plan is different, so why do we think a gala is right for all? Take a look at your strategy and see if it would benefit from a smaller, less-expensive event tailored to your most important audience.
Your return on investment could leave any big event in the dust!
p.s. For more great advice on making your events the best they can be, check out Gail Perry’s event series “How to Create HIGHLY Profitable Events“. We are excited to be one of the 5 classes included in this series. Check it out now!