I love a lot of things about events. I love the thrill of getting good attendance. The relief of having good weather. And most of all what I love is a fun gathering that raises lots of money for a good cause.
But there are lots of downsides to events, too. Just in terms of time spent, events are a very expensive way to fundraise. Think of the money you could raise from a major donor in the time it takes you to organize a silent auction!
And events have their life cycle. While there are many long-standing events in our area, most have had a plateau at some point where their attendance or their revenue stagnates or declines.
It’s prudent when these plateaus occur to think about changing up your event. We know organizations that have looked at results and made tweaks (or even major adjustments) to their timing, event venue, run of show, and solicitation strategies.
But we worry about organizations putting a previously-successful gala on the chopping block before looking at results and considering consequences.
Any event is just one part of your whole fundraising ecosystem. Thorough analysis and careful consideration is needed to make a good decision.
Here are a few questions to get you started:
What revenue comes in as a result of the event?
Be sure you have run the numbers on all of the revenue that comes in as a result of this event: before, during, and after.
What is your total event cost?
Determine the real cost of the event, not just in terms of direct costs, but indirect costs as well. Indirect costs include an estimate of the staff time it takes to plan and execute the event.
What other objectives and expectations are there for this event?
Consider any mission-based objectives around the event, like engaging the community or cultivating expertise, in your value calculation.
What other pieces of your fundraising program will be affected if you change or discontinue the event?
Determine where this event links to other objectives in your fundraising. Has the event been used as an acquisition tool to bring in new donors? Is it an acknowledgement or upgrade opportunity for middle and major donors? Are you using it to prime your donors for an annual appeal?
Are there donors or volunteers that might disengage from the organization if this event is discontinued?
Organizations that have used an event to cultivate donors for a long time may find it difficult to convert event donors to organizational donors. Do you have supporters on your file that fit into that category?
How will you replace the net revenue from the event?
Many events have specific net revenue tied to them, either from a particular donor segment or for a particular piece of work. Before you ditch your fundraising event, you must have a plan for replacing the revenue (net of expenses).
Is this the right time to make the change?
While your event may need to go, it’s important to think about timing. Are you making other changes in your fundraising program that will affect this decision? Are there considerations outside of fundraising that make eliminating this event problematic this year?
This might sound like we don’t recommend eliminating events. But what we are really saying here is this: DO take stock of the costs and benefits of your events. DO the analysis to determine if there is a better, more cost-efficient way to raise funds from your donors.
But DON’T ditch your successful fundraising event without careful consideration and planning. While there may be more efficient ways to raise funds that your tried-and-true event, make sure that any decision is made in the context of your whole fundraising program.