Making peace with events

Sara Wise
Executive Consultant

There is a statement many of us in nonprofit fundraising have heard and universally dread – a statement that can induce shivers down the spine, cause instant headaches, and instantly disrupt your carefully thought-out development plan. And it often comes from a well-meaning board member:

“I think we need to do another fundraising event.”

Yikes. Yes, events are the necessary evil of our nonprofit world. Just about every organization has one, if not multiple, annual events. From golf tournaments to galas, luncheons to fundraising runs, they come in a million forms – and bring a million tasks along with them.

We labor endlessly to plan and execute them, spend countless hours working with volunteers, and pray that we meet our goals, all the while knowing the hours we spend could be more efficiently focused on deepening major donor relationships.

But as much as we often hate events, perhaps it is time that we all hold hands, take a deep breath, and realize that for the time being, events aren’t going away. And maybe, instead of wasting time whining about them, we need to embrace fundraising events for the value they can add.

Yes, I just said embrace events.

Now, let’s qualify that statement.

At Mission Advancement we recommend that any development shop, no matter the size, audit their activities and really examine how much time, energy, and resources are employed for every event held. This can be a painfully illuminating exercise. By resources, we mean staff and volunteer time spent along with financial expenses. Hours, days, time picking up auction items, chasing vendors, corralling chairs, making multiple trips to Michael’s for frames and any other last-minute errands. It can be really eye-opening to quantify that time in financial form – as in how many staff hours and staff dollars you spend producing an event.

But we also recommend that you audit your events not just in terms of net revenue, but in value added.

Have you ever stopped to ask how an event adds value to your donors? How does it deepen relationships and understanding of your organization’s mission? Does it create a sense of community? Does it highlight and celebrate your mission?

So often, we allow events to be transactional with our donors – we provide an experience and in turn, they make a contribution. But what if we started to look at how our events can become transformational for our donors and guests? How can we truly inspire them to fall in love with our mission and get excited about making an impact? 

Instead of focusing so much time on detailed like linens and mulligan packages, perhaps we should step back and analyze how we can ensure our events are work the time and energy we spend.

Here are some tips to take your event from transactional to transformational:

Make those hours count, folks. And give your donors and prospects an event that will truly transform relationships and make a difference. Stop worrying and fussing over the minor details and focus on the end results for the benefit of your mission.

Advance your mission. Today.