It’s common for nonprofit board members and staff to express frustration with special events. Questions like “How does this event advance our mission?” or “Where are the major donors, new donors, and volunteers?” are typical.
Many of these concerns are raised because your board and staff want to make sure donors (and potential donors) have the opportunity to connect with the organization at a deeper level and understand how they are supporting mission-focused programs.
Instead of moving forward with the usual events plan this year, try focusing on these five things that will ensure your events are donor-centric and have a stewardship element.
1. Give corporate sponsors opportunities for more involvement.
Your event sponsors want to show they care passionately about the community. They want brand visibility and recognition in ways they cannot secure through advertising. Sometimes they want to meet new people: ask them to sponsor tables at a gala or water tents at an outdoor event and place members of their team at those tables and tents. Invite the employees of the corporation to participate as event volunteers.
2. Secure creative event partners.
Think about co-promoting your event by featuring local artists or dancers as the entertainment. Ask seven chefs to be the feature of seven different food sites at the event. Ask individuals who have a wedding or reunion coming up to allow you to use the table decorations or flowers. Create centerpieces that reflect the mission or are made by clients. Choose a venue that reflects the mission, perhaps a hospital main lobby after hours, a schoolroom, or a park where homeless sleep at night. Not only do creative partners help cut costs, these partners are given the opportunity to contribute to your event in a unique way. These contributions of a special skill or talent can be extremely rewarding or, it lets supporters make the event possible beyond a typical cash donation.
3. Choose the right events for the right type of donor.
Different events attract different personas. Think of the different donor personas that might be in your donor database as you are planning your special events for the year. The mission must be front and center to the “why” support the event. If the event is an auction, you need to ensure that the people invited to this event can afford the benefit items and expect high-end items. If the event is a race, you need to attract people who can not only complete the distance and bring competitive energy, but will also attract or influence others to support them, support your organization’s cause and follow their training and race progress. And for peer-to-peer fundraising events, these peer fundraisers must also feel comfortable sharing why they support and want others to support your mission.
4. Leverage (and value) your board and volunteers.
The board must be empowered to connect their network to the event to reach the goal. They need to be proud and excited to participate in the event and willing to speak to their personal “why” story. They need to make supporting your mission important to those within their circle of influence. Some friendly fundraising or guest count competition between board members can be motivating for some people. Facilitate, invite, welcome the board member ideas. Event volunteers must be a fun team, able to answer questions, and easily identifiable the day of. Making sure board and volunteers are happy and feel valued promotes leadership succession for your committees and continued involvement. To help make sure that event volunteering is a positive experience, think about why committee members and board members would expend effort in planning and executing the event. Instead of focusing on what you or the staff need people to do, stay focused on your volunteer and staff why to ensure the experience is a great one for those helping out.
5. Plan for success.
This means planning at a detailed level. Everything, from signing up for an event and buying a ticket online to paying for an auction item, reflects on your nonprofit’s brand. Instead of thinking about how this process can be made easier for staff, think about the process from the donor’s point of view. Use consistent wording on invitations, your gala program, and volunteer training notes. This is especially important when explaining the event’s mission impact. Receipts or reservation confirmations must be prompt and communicate what has been accomplished because of their vital support. If you’re doing an auction, items should be on display online as well as on the night of the gala to add to the excitement and facilitate online bidding. Planning for success requires a communication plan that cultivates the guests and volunteers of the event. Many nonprofits are afraid of over-communicating the event. Don’t be! Part of this events communication strategy should include plans for cultivating volunteers, sponsors, event attendees, and major donors after the event. Gather their feedback and thank them early and often. Have board members follow up with five new people they met at the event. And put their ideas to use: with these comments, prepare an even better event next year.
Donor-centric events are stewardship events. You will find success with these events as long as you utilize them to bring new and existing donors closer to the mission and to thank major supporters of your cause. And remember to thank early and often: when buying a ticket, upon arrival at the event, upon departure and after the event is over. Remind them when the goal has been raised that the mission cannot be archived without their support.