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The BEST and WORST Nonprofit Fundraiser Events

best practices board finances funding Aug 17, 2023

     Nonprofits and charities are always looking for ways to raise money to keep their organizations funded, and one of the most popular methods is to host a fundraising event. These events provide a wonderful opportunity to bring people together, have fun, and raise both awareness and money. But… I’ve found that not all fundraising events are created equal. After 25 years in the nonprofit world, I've seen some spectacular fundraising events, and I’ve also seen some bad ones. Today I'm sharing my list of the best (and worst) types of fundraising events and why they stood out to me. 

The Best Nonprofit Fundraiser Events

When I think back on the best fundraising events I’ve seen, two examples come to mind, which each achieved one of the following goals: 

The event is connected to the mission. 

     The very best fundraising event I’ve seen was one in which a very well-known keynote speaker came to speak at the event. But, what caught us all by surprise, was that this speaker shared a personal story that poignantly illustrated the need for this particular nonprofit in our community. It was a powerful story that was felt tangibly by everyone in the room. As a result, the generosity that flowed that night was overwhelmingly beneficial for that organization. Granted, it's not easy to find a speaker with such a powerful and personal connection to your mission. But, if you're going to have a speaker, look for one who can personally underscore your purpose and your mission.

The event grows your donor relationships. 

      The second type of event that I’ve seen play out very successfully is an event that aims to strengthen the relationship with the donor. By this, I mean events that are not just one-offs or events for the purpose of having events. Instead, these events fit into the landscape of all that you're doing to connect the interests and passions of your donors to your mission.

     Recently, I heard about a nonprofit event that was really effective. This event was hosted by a nonprofit with the sole purpose of thanking their donors and showing them the impact of their generosity through the nonprofit. It was a moderate cost event, and there was no ask for support. It was truly about showing appreciation for their donors. So, what was the result? Well, they stewarded a very important, high-trust relationship with their donors. My friend, who told me about this event, said, “It was amazing! It made us realize what we were really a part of, and it completely made us ready to give again!” So, those donors are ready to help again the next time the ask comes.

The Worst Nonprofit Fundraiser Events

      Much like the best events, when I think of the worst events I’ve seen in 25+ years, there are two stand-out examples that come to mind, each with its own reason why it flopped: 

A recurring event that has lost momentum

     Sometimes we fail to recognize when a reoccurring event has just lost its momentum. It's dead and gone. It's done. My example of one such event is a golf tournament. When we started this particular golf tournament, it was the only golf tournament during the month of October. It started out as a fantastic event! Wonderful things were happening through that golf tournament. It had awesome attendance, incredible momentum, palpable energy, and raised quite a bit of money. But… five years later, there were several other nonprofits in our community hosting golf tournaments in October, and our attendees now had several other tournaments to choose from, and only so much time to play golf. So ultimately, the event had run its course, and we just weren’t raising any money. The volunteer strain was tremendous, the cost was high, and the net profitability was next to nothing- maybe $10,000. Itt had simply run its course. It was done. 

Poor timing causes donor fatigue. 

     Lastly, I want to remind you that good events with bad timing can still fatigue our donors. Once again, I’ll share an example of this from my experience. I was a part of an organization that made a very specific ask- an appeal that they would make every September. But when the end of the year rolled around, they’d  make another year-end ask. Then, just a few months later, they’d turn around and ask for table sponsors for an event in March. Typically, these appeals, were made to the same people three times in a row. That kind of repetitive asking tends to make donors tired. Although they love your mission, there might be a way to ask more effectively. In this case, perhaps that ask in September could have gone to a different group of individuals. Maybe the year-end appeal should only go to people who normally give at year-end, rather than asking everyone. Additionally, that event in the spring, we could simply not ask for the table sponsor. Maybe instead, just use that donor appreciation idea we talked about earlier. Instead of asking 'em to pay for the table, give them tickets, let them come and let them bring their friends. 

     So, when you're planning a fundraising event, I think it's important to know what your event's purpose is. It’s so important to evaluate any past successes, and consider your event in the greater context of your organization’s entire calendar. Make sure that your strategy is effective and that it's having an impact. Steward those relationships. They're a gift to your nonprofit to make what you do possible. Take care of them. Say thank you, and say it often. 

     If you found this helpful, then I’d invite you to subscribe to my Youtube channel for more nonprofit video tips. If you'd like weekly tips, just like this, delivered to your inbox so you don't miss one, you can subscribe to my blog here. 

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