Fundraising events are much-loved and much-loathed in equal measure. Yet despite the way in which fundraising events can split any group of people into lovers and loathers, they remain an important part of any successful fundraising program.
WHY ARE FUNDRAISING EVENTS IMPORTANT?
Many non-profits regularly report that they are finding it harder to acquire new donors, harder to hang on to the donors they already have, challenging to maintain a regular stream of content for social media, and tough to maintain a satisfactory level of public profile in a crowded and competitive world where many non-profits voices are all shouting out at the same time. When run well, fundraising events are able to directly address all of these challenges.
Events are often a good source of new supporters and they provide an enjoyable experience for current supporters that encourages them to continue that support. They also provide a great deal of amazing content for social media and, with a good promotional plan and a media partner, events can certainly lift a charity’s profile.
In addition to this, fundraising events are important because they raise money! Ideally, raising money through any event should be done as profitably as possible and certainly not produce a situation where nearly $140,000 is lost (think Sydney Powerhouse Museum)!
When compared to other fundraising activities such as bequests and major gifts, events do not provide the highest return on investment. Nevertheless, any event that is returning $3 or more for every $1 spent is achieving a good result. Depending on the circumstances, it can also be appropriate for an event to break even or make a small profit. This may be the case if there are non-monetary goals for this event or if sponsors or other supporters have agreed to be involved on the basis that some non-financial goals were a clear priority on that occasion.
Some fundraising events take the approach of offering high ticket prices, while some offer free entry. High ticket pricing can make good sense but it does limit participation to those who can afford it. Over 15 years ago, the Australian Tax Office created new rules and guidelines for making a proportion of ticket prices tax deductible for fundraising events. However, the rules and guidelines were structured so poorly (even after making revisions and changes) that I still don’t know of any organisation that has used it successfully. I could, however, nominate some that have used the guidelines wrongly!
There have been some well-documented cases of charities running events where the understanding is that “it is free to get in, but it will cost you a decent gift to get out” as the saying goes.
With underwriters and sponsors, good relationship development work with supporters, and proper attention to communication activities in between the event dates, some charities have produced long-standing, highly profitable events that have developed their own core following with hundreds or thousands of people pleased to go back every year for a signature event that encourages supporters to keep giving.
BIG EVENT FUNDRAISING
For times of great tragedy, (think natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods, as well as humanitarian crises) big public fundraising events can provide the right kind of platform to facilitate a large scale response. Such large-scale events require careful organisation and follow-through.
Following the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 that struck Indonesia, ultimately affecting Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand and killing over 200,000 people, Australia mobilised a major event as a public response. All major telecommunications networks utilised “text to give” functionality for that event, but promptly switched it off after that event. In 2018, Australia is only again beginning the reactivate donating by text on a large scale again.
In following up from big event fundraising, good communication is essential. Back in 2004, I personally donated to 5 different charities who featured prominently in the tsunami fundraising effort. Working in the non-profit sector, I was curious about how well these charities would operate in trying to retain me as a newly acquired donor and I tracked their progress. Within 2 years, all except one had either stopped meaningful contact with me or were sending me disengaging material. The only organisation that remained continued contact for 3 years. Unfortunately, their communication strategy became overbearing, with monthly calls asking for further donations without offering an update on their work or information on projects that would make a tangible difference.
Once an organisation has an audience to speak to, they need to ensure that the relationship is properly cultivated rather than not ignored or abused.
Overall, it is very important to have events as part of any fundraising program and like any activity, it is important to plan thoroughly, to execute well, and follow up post-event with a suitable strategy and an approach that engages supporters so they stay connected.
Fundraising events have helped both charities and careers succeed at times, but there is also a cautionary graveyard of instances where, despite good intentions, poor planning, execution, and follow up has produced a result where everything unraveled.