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Special Events - What is the point?

If you are a long-time fundraising professional, the words "let's do an event" may make you cringe just a little bit. Many people naturally think that a fundraising event is your fundraising solution. Or, if you are new to the world of fundraising, all you may know about fundraising is what you see in your community. Much of what people know about fundraising is what is advertised and promoted, which is special events. So, naturally, people tend to believe that events are a fundraising solution.

I am not a big special event fan, and everyone who has worked with me can agree with me here. But, there are components of events that I do like. For example, I would much rather work on sponsorships than sit at the fourth committee meeting discussing decorations. But, I believe that fundraising events have a point, but only if they are done right. So, in this blog post, I want to tell you how to do events well.

First, sit down with your board (or your staff, if you have one) and decide who your target demographic is for your fundraising event. Do you work with children? Does it make sense to have several drop-in events for parents? Does your organization deal with very uncomfortable topics, and does it make more sense to get your constituents together in one room for one epic night? Once you decide on your target demographic, you can choose how many events you want to pursue the following year. Make your decisions, and stick to them.

Second, decide on what types of events fit with the mission of your organization. For many, it may be a Gala. The critical part of fundraising events is stepping outside the mold, offering your constituent base a unique experience. In my community, there is a Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and they do this event called 'Dinner in the Dark' and have everyone eat their dinner while wearing blindfolds. What a way to connect your mission with your cause! This will make your fundraising ask much more powerful.

Third, decide on venues that are attractive and affordable. A quick way to lose a large portion of your audience is not to have the right location. Then, with a location in mind, you need to decide how you will raise money. Does that mean you are going to have a silent auction? Or can you get your constituents to participate in games that generate additional revenue? Many online resources can help you pick out your fundraising 'add-ons.' No matter what, make sure you carefully plan your ask.

In closing, when you start planning your fundraising event, you and your board need to decide on a realistic budget and some realistic goals. First-time fundraising events may never raise as much as those events that have been going on for fifty years. Be realistic, not only in your fundraising goals but also in the behind-the-scenes work necessary to pull off your event. An excellent special event is several months in the making, sometimes an entire year. One of my favorite resources is Greater Giving and their Auction Planner.

Although I am not the biggest fan of special events, there is something special about getting hundreds of people in a room to celebrate your successes and challenges. I hope that special events are something you and your organization can take on - make sure they have a point!

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