Events raise awareness, then money

Heather Denkmire

Special events are experiential marketing; they are rarely successful fundraisers. Accurately referred to as “cultivation events,” most special events should focus on awareness, visibility and sharing information.

In a recent study of the practices of over 5,000 of the largest American nonprofits, Charity Navigator reported the average nonprofit spends $1.33 to raise $1 in special events contributions. That’s not a successful short-term income generator.

However, while these events cost a great deal in time, effort and even funds, they can increase an organization’s long-term organizational health through increased overall visibility.

Donors seldom seek out organizations to support on their own. Most will be drawn by nonprofits’ efforts – such as special events – to gain visibility. That kind of visibility requires a media “hook” – a well-done special event can provide a unique and interesting story for newspapers, radios and other media outlets.

In addition to increased public visibility for the organization, special events can help you:

  • identify new volunteers and active roles for current volunteers
  • train and develop new leadership
  • improve current donor relations by “rewarding” supporters
  • highlight the organization’s cause or mission

With the proper planning and a clear understanding of the event goals (cultivation through visibility), special events can help an organization connect with a wide audience in personally relevant and memorable ways.

Special events also build relationships, helping potential donors feel a connection with your cause. An event provides great “face time” with your community, sometimes laying the groundwork for large gifts.

Special events create buzz, build loyalty, and generate goodwill. And because special events are non-traditional marketing, they can be designed to work with your budget.

Heather Denkmire runs She can be reached at or through the website.

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