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Ideas that work: Analyzing the value of special events

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Susan McLaughlin

Susan McLaughlin

Susan McLaughlin

[Publisher’s note: This article was provided by Blackbaud, a maker of fundraising software. Blackbaud is a PJ business partner.]

We have all sat around a conference table when a well-meaning volunteer or board member suggests a new event to raise funds.

The suggestion is usually prefaced with “I went to…,” or “The nonprofit down the street had success with…” followed by “and I think we should try it.”

Before agreeing, you need to consider whether your organization needs or can afford another special event.

Special events have a place in every fundraising program. But nonprofits must evaluate the goals and objectives of each event to determine its value.

I took an informal survey of nonprofits recently and asked how the economy has affected fundraising performance.

The biggest impact was decreased revenue and participation at events. In a tough economy, budgets get tighter and expendable items are cut.

Businesses and individuals consider special events to be a luxury, not a necessity. Nonprofits should consider special events as a luxury and not a necessity as well.

No organization should rely on net proceeds from special events as a primary funding source. Without that pressure, you can truly analyze the value of special events.

‘Friendraising’ events

You may use the term “friendraiser” to describe events. Events provide the opportunity for nonprofits to raise awareness and engage new constituents as well as raise money.

Every special event is a friendraiser. However, this philosophy fails when there is no follow-up strategy to continue to engage those new friends after the event ends.

After the event, dollars are counted, thank you notes are sent, and staff begins to focus on the next task. The friends you just raised are forgotten until next year when it’s time to start planning for the event again.

Part of every pre-event process must be to identify key participants on the attendance list and develop a strategy of engagement.

Your post-event process then must be to follow through with that strategy and begin to engage these new friends in a way that raises their interest and inclination to give to your organization.

Without a strategy of engagement, your event could become simply a line item in a personal or corporate budget.

Sure, you may meet your net revenue goal for the event, but you might be missing out on a much larger gift.

Can you afford another special event?

When you tally expenses, you include catering, linens, rentals, etc. But let’s consider the true cost. How much staff time are you investing and is it worth it?

Event activities may start as early as a year in advance. To truly evaluate the success of your event, you must analyze the number of hours spent by staff and the total pay attributed to those hours.

You may find that the true cost of the event causes you to lose money. But, will you be able to make up that loss with a well-planned strategy of engagement that leads to a major gift?

In a tough economy, you must evaluate every event and determine whether that friendraiser will meet your fundraising goals.


Susan McLaughlin, CFRE, is principal consultant for Blackbaud.

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