Sunday, July 17, 2011

Some Suggestions Based on A Fundraising Event That I Just Attended That Could Have Done Better, So Your Organization Doesn't Make the Same Unfortunate Omissions

This weekend my husband and I attended a local, annual, fundraising event for local nonprofit organizations.  It's a lovely evening, including bite sized plates by different accomplished chefs from across the United States, each plate is paired with a specific unique wine and beer, a main stage with two bands performing dance music all night long, and all of this occur outdoors at a lovely, scenic, local venue.

Specific to the actual fundraising, though, I was (as a professional fundraiser) left scratching my head over a couple of very key things, so I thought that I'd share to perhaps prevent your nonprofit organization from doing the same at your next fundraising event.

When my husband and I arrived and parked, there were no signs in the lot that we parked in nor on the trail that we were supposed to take to direct us to where the event was located.  We had a fairly long walk (perhaps 1/8th of a mile) and only got tot he event, itself, (in a golf course) because two different caddies drove past us, per chance, as we stumbled around looking.   We saw two other parties of attendees lost, looking for direction, too.

We, next, gave our tickets to the greeters at the main gate, we were given a bracelet to authorize that we were of age to drink (something that most states' alcohol/beverage boards require at a public event like this which serves alcohol), a wooden pog, and a small slip of paper.

After we got into the event, we looked around at everything offered and all going on.  Personally, having helped put on very similar types of fundraising events of the same size and larger, I thought, 'This pog or slip of paper that we just received must give us the details of the evening's events.  Neither did.  The slip of paper explained that the pog was to be used for each attendee to vote for the sponsor's tent that they thought was decorated the nicest. 

__ First, nothing was handed to us, upon our entering the event, that asked us to contribute to any of the local nonprofits that the event is helping to raise funds for.  This is the most unfortunate mishap of the evening, as at this event, are people who support the event, have the means to support nonprofit organizations (as the ticket for the evening was $200/person) but no attendees were asked for a direct contribution (in an amount of their choosing or in a recommended amount) last night.  While, yes, the attendees are contributing by paying the ticket fee, the legal amount of the contribution is the amount given to each nonprofit being supported last night, in each organization's individual portion (which means that there were tens of organizations being supported - not one, so they each share the donations raised in direct proportion to the number of them), less the cost of the attendee's evening (i.e. food, beverage, overhead, etc.).  If an attendee was given a pledge sheet, last night, as they entered the event, perhaps listing every nonprofit being supported, with a donation line next to them which the attendee if they chose to, could write in a donation amount that they promise to give, there could've been a formal ask after everyone had had a few drinks, requesting that the attendees be sure to go through their pledge sheet and select a nonprofit or two that they believe in to give a contribution to, more money would've been raised.  If attendees aren't asked, though, (as they weren't last night) no one will give any contributions beyond what the tickets raised, themselves.  Remember, when a donor is asked to give, they have the right to say "no", but if they are not asked to give then, quite simply, not one of them does.  The ask is probably one of the top three most critical things that any fundraiser must do to conduct their job to the full potential, and raise the most possible.  At one point, in the evening, a master of ceremony at the main stage did ask participants to pledge and as he did, a woman turned to me and asked, "Did you get a pledge form when you came in?" and I said, "No, I did not."  She replied, "We didn't either,".

__ Second, we did not receive a pamphlet or booklet that explained the layout of the evening's offerings, at the site.  Where were the bathrooms, where was lost and found, and where were the garbage cans/recycling bins?  This particular event, in length and width, was laid out over probably about two football fields.  We could see, generally, that food was being served around the perimeter, but there were private tents for sponsors' attendees set up interspersed among the food vendors, so it was a bit unclear at first.  Also, we knew that each food dish was to be paired with a specific beer and wine, but it was not initially clear where those pairings were made available, for each dish being offered.

__ Third, there were booklets that listed the names and services provided of each sponsor.  It listed all of the volunteers, the key staff, and thanked the local venue, listed the bands, etc.  The booklet did not have a donation envelope or pledge sheet in it, either.  Again, this is unfortunate.  The booklet could've listed each nonprofit's name and explained each organization's: mission, recent successes and accomplishments, current goals, and why their effort is so necessary right now in our community.  This kind of compelling case ingratiates a donor by drawing them in to an opportunity to (in effect) partner with a nonprofit of that donor's choosing by giving it a donation and thereby enabling its programs and services (and ultimately, its accomplishments).  This is how a repeat donor is raised who remains a long term repeat donor.  They are understood to be critical to the organization's ability to succeed so they are treated as investor/partners in the organization's potential and its successes.

__ Fourth, at no time, during the evening, did any of the masters of ceremony who spoke at the main stage explain each nonprofit that was being supported or their mission or recent work. 

__ Fifth, there were no visuals, regarding what the fundraising goal is (in sum total), nor any visual indicating how much, so far, has been raised, and how much remains to be raised to meet the total financial goal.  Again, what a shame.  Imagine if any one of those attendees, last night, (some of which are some of the wealthiest members of this community) felt so strongly about the goal and potential to help these organizations, simply took out their checkbook to write a check, themselves, to in part (or in total!) contribute the rest of the amount needed to raise the total goal amount?!  There was no such clear visual, though, last night.

__ Finally, the website for the event is visually gorgeous.  It's very colorful, contemporary, and on topic.  The surprising thing is that when my husband and I referred to it last night to find out what all the evening involved, whether the venue was outdoors or indoors, what the dress code was, where the event's site and parking were: none of that were on the website.  Not any pertinent information nor clear description of the evening or its details are on the website.  What a shame.  We had to look up photos of previous year's events to see what those year's attendees wore to get a sense of what we should wear.  We had to call local friends who had gone before who could give us the rest of the information as the host company's office was closed.

There are no perfect fundraisers, nor perfect events.  There are many ways to conduct successful fundraising events and no two are probably the same.  Having said this, there are things that are somewhat necessary that one can simply improve an attendee's experience of any event, by including.

Oh, and my husband and I never even looked at the different sponsors' tents or their interior design because we, ourselves, were not at the event with any sponsor.  So, why would we?  After all, we were there to have a fun evening, eat, and enjoy ourselves.  We came home with that slip of paper and pog that we got at the entrance.

Sadly, late in the evening we found out that there were pledge forms, but they were in stacks up by the main stage and if you wanted one, you'd have to walk up to the main stage (across the entire site) and find the stack.  Too bad.

8/31/11 Update to this post: Sagebrush Fundraiser Needs Its Own Cash Injection 

7/13/12 Update to this post: This organization is no longer conducting this event.  The post above describes their last year of it and the final event.

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