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Are Special Events Really Effective Fundraisers?

Let's look at the pros and cons.

It’s time to beef up the fundraising effort, so you’re thinking of adding a special event. Caution! While events can create nice visibility, connect you with supporters, and maybe even raise some money, do you really understand what they entail?

Before you get started, consider this:

How does an event align with your overall resource development plan? It will benefit you to look at the big picture, and think about the comprehensive plan. Ultimately the goal is ROI, right? Events can be very labor intensive, and some may have significant costs associated with them. I’ve seen many events fail because the goal is unrealistic. Be sure not to spread your resources too thin, and determine if the drain on your people and the net result is worth the effort.

Do you have a strong event committee? In addition to the time needed from this group, a successful event takes money. These are not things that can be dropped in staff’s lap. Volunteers must be committed to more than just the idea, but to also bringing sponsors to the table, selling tickets, etc. It would be a mistake to think one or two people can pull off a top notch event that will create high exposure and a significant financial net. You can also hire an event planner – they will take care of most of the logistics, but most don't secure sponsors to underwrite the costs.

Who will come and how much will they pay? Do you already have a target audience defined? It is common to set a ticket price low, thinking you will attract more people, and then not be able to recover costs. It’s critical to create a realistic budget, based on the amount of sponsorship you obtain. And don’t be afraid to adjust it if sponsor levels come in higher or lower than anticipated. If you start planning well in advance (I get anxious if it’s not at least six months out) you can feel more confident that you will hit the numbers.

Is there another way to accomplish the same thing? I have been part of, and seen many successful events. They can work. I encourage you to analyze options long and hard. If you are looking for exposure, can a partner organization work with you to raise awareness? Or can you focus on a few non-ask events, and then do a campaign focused on individuals and raise the same amount or even more money? Heck, a strong crowd funding effort could even do the trick! Also, keep in mind that very few people, especially business leaders, are looking for more events to add to their calendar, unless there is a clear benefit to them for doing so.

I’m all for trying new things….responsibly. Good luck!

Cindi Phallen has more than 20 years of experience as a leader in the nonprofit sector. She is the founder and president of Create Possibility, which works to help nonprofits grow and accelerate their impact. For more information, visit possibility-cp.com or call 858.618.4762.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Connie Lingus February 05, 2013 at 03:48 PM
Too many events benefit the promoter and the venue only with very little going to the stated charities. Do your homework, ask for financials and returns. Verify!
Constant Comment February 10, 2013 at 12:06 AM
@ Cindi Phallen, good article - wrong audience. Good luck with all of your future endeavors! }~)
Cyndi Darlington February 10, 2013 at 04:54 AM
Hi Cindi, I think this is the perfect audience actually. Many of us Patch readers are heavily involved in nonprofit work. In fact, I am currently chairing our school's fundraiser and my co-chair and I have this cost-benefit debate often. It is so many hours of volunteer time, often from the same people doing all of the other critical work for the school. We would welcome some new thinking rather than just assuming we do the same type of events every year, so thanks for the thought-starter!
Current Events February 11, 2013 at 05:42 PM
Nice article. I attend approximately 5 fund raisers a year, but it was not until last year when I volunteered to assist on coordinating an evening event. A lot more work than I anticipated. Great article.

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