Why do nonprofits organize events?
Events are one of the best ways to engage supporters and to bring new supporters into your network. There is no greater investment in a personal donor than giving them a personal connection to the cause, like feeling connected to the people involved with the organization.
How to make the most of your event?
1. Determine your goals and draft a clear plan of action accordingly
Your goal may be to raise funds, but are you planning to accomplish this only at the event? Donor engagement is a long-term project. Your event could also be less focused on donations today, but with an eye for long-term support. Are you looking to raise funds through ticket prices or an ask for donations at the end? This may depend on your costs and norms in your community.
As an organization matures and has a group of key supporters, you might also want to organize a donor event that provides a special opportunity to connect without an ask for a donation. For example, when one of Asylum Access’ staff from Ecuador visited San Francisco on a personal trip, the organization’s headquarter staff organized a cozy gathering for 10 key supporters to meet her.
Your goal and target audience will help determine what kind of event you will host. Are they potential big donors who can afford a fancy dinner ticket? Or are they less wealthy, preferring a modest affair, supported by smaller donations? Know your target audience realistically, and consider how you might reach them. Unless you have a celebrity speaker, most guests will be those who are already connected to your work or someone who is and invites them.
Most importantly, knowing your target audience will help you come up with a suitable theme and program. What is the main feature of your event? Nonprofits often connect guests with inspir-tainment (‘inspiring entertainment’) such as getting beneficiaries to speak about how legal aid has made a difference in their lives. If this is difficult, you might want to arrange for a video or photo presentation about your work, and have a legal advocate speak. You could also ask donors who have seen your work or a Board member make an appeal for donations.
Also consider the attitudes and trends towards philanthropy in your community. In San Francisco, gala dinners or cocktail evenings offer a novelty experience for guests who appreciate a good evening out in support of a good cause. In a smaller town, this might be a cosier evening affair or bake sale at church. Can you get venue and food sponsored in return for publicity and some tickets? Do corporations partner with local organizations? In San Francisco, we seek larger donations from companies who regularly donate to nonprofits.
2. Market your event with lots of advance notice and get guests to RSVP
Marketing and outreach will enable your fundraising event to reach the greatest number of people possible in your target supporter group. Social media and eventbrite is free. Use it. Generate excitement through regular social media posts about the activities leading up to the event, make sure your current supporters are invited, perhaps even personally, and encourage them to invite others. You might want to provide discounts for bulk tickets as an incentive. Even if free to attend, requesting RSVPs are important so you’ll know how many people to expect.
Are there groups or communities that would be a natural fit for the cause? Find out if they will support you. For example, an affordable fundraiser might be promoted to law students. If you are fundraising for work that largely supports, say, a Colombian refugee population, is there a church with Colombians in a nice neighborhood that might be willing to share this event with their congregation? Is there someone from among your supporters that attends and might help bring in new supporters? Consider having an organizing committee of existing supporters who commit to bringing new supporters to the event.
Of course, make sure event information is easily accessible and clear (do they need tickets? Can they just show up?).
3. Deliver “inspir-tainment”
Provide “inspir-tainment”, in other words an inspiring showcase of what you are trying to do or have done. What would be the best way to convey the impact you would have on your beneficiaries? Often, the best way is sharing a human story – one of a refugee client. In previous years, we have brought clients on stage to share their lives or screened a short video of a client story.
4. Have clear messaging across all organizing staff and volunteers
Staff and volunteers are the ambassadors of your organization. Make sure they are well-equipped and informed to represent your work. Provide flyers or information for donors to take with them, so they can share the word or learn more about the serious details even after the event. Also, be sure to thank all volunteers and others who helped organize the event!
5. Other considerations
If this is a direct fundraising event, be clear that you are seeking donations and facilitate giving through available payment methods and easy processes.
Also, have email sign-up sheets where people can put down their email addresses to receive updates, invites to future events and be cultivated as a long-term donor.
After the event, consider calling them up to ask for feedback. Besides helping you improve the event, it’s a chance to engage with guests personally.