I got the following email today from one of my blog readers, John Scott Foster of the Wesselman Nature Society.
I had an experience this weekend I thought you might be interested in. I attended two “gala” type events. One was the standard, at a conference center. Held from 6 to 8:30. Coat and tie. Arrive at 6, cash bar, sit at a table at 7. People say nice things. You eat. People say nice things. Silent auction. Then at the end of the silent auction, we are thanked for coming/supporting and told we can all stay and dance to the DJ selection. 3/4ths of the people run out the door, happy to have that obligation over.
The next day. A beer tasting and restaurant sampling event at my nature center. The only roof the spreading branches of 300 year old trees. Jeans, sweaters, comfortable shoes. Beautiful weather. Among many options, a fire ring with a gourmet s’mores station. Acoustic guitarist who was amazingly talented. 3 microbreweries and then one distributor with a total of over 50 beers that could be sampled. A wood fired brick pizza oven on wheels serving pizza. Held from 3 pm to 6 pm. We had to chase people out. They didn’t want to leave. They were having fun.
Obligation (we need to support this important cultural institution) vs. fun (this important cultural institution is providing a great experience for us).
Great story. As John adds, “People love being out in nature. It filled a need that they might not otherwise seek fulfill.”
As John notes, we do amazing work in the world, but we nonprofits don’t always have great events that reflect the heart of our efforts.
Ask yourself: Is your event about dressing up and collecting money for you? Or is it about the essence of your work for others?
Here’s another example of an event focused on the experience of those who participate: Strollers in the Front 5k. As this post in Event360, a group of parents are running with strollers to support The Neighborhood Parents Network in Chicago. It celebrates the experience of parents jogging with kids in the name of building communities of parents and their families.
The bottom line is, the event should be about the experience of the cause – not the experience of fundraising. The more people feel the immediate joy of the larger mission, the better.