Part 1 of 2

    Are you in the special events business or a fundraising professional?

    So asked one of my mentors in a moment of exasperation. Too often we complain about the lack of a “philanthropic culture” at [insert your charity name here]. We are mystified as to why we can’t get volunteers to open doors for us. Or why alumni don’t contribute. Or why a large donor will come to the spaghetti dinner, but won’t respond to our major gift request.

    In part, the answer is that you are in the “special events business” sometimes without even knowing it. You are giving your donors more opportunities to express their support for your mission in a modest way rather than making a “stop-and-think” or sacrificial gift.  How do you know if you’re in the special events business?

    It is human nature to bargain shop… even for donors. “Would I rather buy a table at the Annual Gala for $500 or sign a check for $5,000 to the Annual Campaign?” a donor may ask themselves. Five hundred dollars is too often the answer. But even if they might have been open to a larger gift, if the special event comes first, the donor may ignore further appeals with the sense of already having given. And here is the kicker: the more special events you conduct, the more you dilute your other fundraising efforts.

    To highlight just one example, an organization I worked with ran upwards of 30 or 40 fun-runs, dinners, golf outings, bake sales, and more, at 12 different locations annually. In a year, they raised $350,000 in special events funds. (Gross revenue, mind you, not net revenue). But the annual campaign was stuck at $700,000. Why? Because the donors thought we were in the “special events business” and not fundraising.

    A few years later, there were less than a dozen special events (still too high for my liking) and the annual campaign was now doubled to $1,400,000. The deliberate change from special events to major gift fundraising forced a culture shift and also forced more volunteers and staff out of the “busy work” of putting on the golf outing and into one-on-one visits with donors. The results can be spectacular.

    Stay tuned for Part 2: Moving Away From Special Events Culture in a future blog.

    In the meantime, check out our Field Notes on “Keeping the Special in Events

    Posted by Danny Maier
    Danny Maier

    Written by Danny Maier

    Dan Maier offers fundraising counsel and strategic management for local and national nonprofits, YMCAs, camps, medical and social service organizations. He offers invaluable support to clients and their volunteer leadership as they look to enhance their development campaigns, prepare for crisis communications, strengthen their boards and more.

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