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Special Event Season Is Here: Here Are 5 Tips

September marks the unofficial start of special event season for many nonprofits. Perhaps a formal affair, an autumnal golf outing, a back-to-school fundraising event, or a digital (or perhaps hybrid) special event of some type. Nearly every nonprofit has at least one special event each year.


There’s no doubt about it, special events have an important place in the development practices of many organizations. And yet, at the same time, we often see institutions doing so much of the work but only realizing a portion of the harvest that could be reaped.


“After all of this work, I just wish more came of these special events,” you may have caught yourself sighing.


The cost-to-raise-a-dollar (CTRAD) for events tends to be among the most expense development strategies, and often is considerably more expense than many campaigns including annual fund, major gift campaigns, capital campaigns, and even planned giving initiatives (when you consider the maturation of those planned gifts many years down the road).


With that in mind, it’s of great importance you are aware of the actual CTRAD for each of your special events.


Do you know the CTRAD for your event last year? Do you know what your CTRAD for this year’s event is budgeted to be?


You, your dedicated staff, and your committee of faithful special event volunteers will collectively dedicate hundreds (or maybe thousands) of hours to making your event successful. But are you counting the staff time allocated to that event when you build your event budget or are you only counting the hard costs (i.e., catering, venue rental, etc.)?


We recommend doing a study each year of how much time each and every staff member spends on the event (leading up to, the day-of, and all of the post-event activity) and allocating that given percentage of their time (expense) to that special event budget. This provides you with a more realistic CTRAD.


Here are four additional helpful tips you may want to consider pertaining to your special event strategy:


  • Special events may offer a unique opportunity to identify new, first-time donors. Be certain to mine the data of those who attend your events, establishing a thorough, actionable plan for folding those event attendees (donors) into your annual fund, major gift, or special needs campaigns accordingly. Said another way: Be sure attending your special event is only the first step of involvement with your organization, not the sole or last encounter of giving to your organization.

  • Special events can offer a unique second-mile giving opportunity for those who already support the annual fund. But it shouldn’t be the other way around - - your board of directors shouldn’t be buying a ticket or table in lieu of supporting the annual fund. Whenever possible, it is important to secure annual fund support from your donor base, and then also invite them to support (attend, buy tickets for others to broaden your reach, bid on the auction, participate in the live “fund a need,” etc.) your organization through the event.

  • How to best utilize your event committee? We would propose that selecting the napkin color and designing the event logo may not be the best use of their time, connections and creativity. That’s why you have staff! We are elated when we see the committee meeting less frequently but working their networks to invite people, to sell or help fill tables from the community. The ripple effect comes into play here - - building a robust, community-minded committee broadens your reach into the community for selling tickets. Our general rule is that the larger the committee you can engage meaningfully, the more tickets (or tables, or sponsorships…) you will be able to sell. An active committee also is a good way to engage with your active donors, and may even provide a chance to get to know future board candidates.

  • There’s no taking a day or week off following the special event! (This was often met with a grumble when we’ve led development departments over the years, but there’s a lot of important work to do in the day and week after the special event.) Has each and every attendee been sent a personal, handwritten thank you note within 48 hours? Have all donors at a determined level received a personal phone call of thanks that also has preliminary information (stewardship) about what their support is making possible within 48 hours? Have you uploaded to your database all of the giving information and started folding these event donors into your overall annual fund strategy? Has your finance team started calculating the net revenue that will help bring your mission to life?


Special events are an important arrow in your philanthropic quiver, but we encourage most organizations to focus more intently on building their annual fund, corporate partnership strategy and other development initiatives more robustly, rather than focusing on being an event-centric development team.


On-going, relationship-focused philanthropy has a more favorable CTRAD than do events (generally), and they are more resilient through economic downturns, staff changes, and societal turmoil.


Use special events as an on-road to meet new people and bring them into your organization’s family. (Follow-up is vital!) But do not misconstrue events as being a substitute for relationship-based philanthropy.


Want to have a conversation? Email us and let’s find a time to talk!


Cape Fletcher Associates www.CapeFletcher.com


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