Fundraising events are a staple for most non-profit organizations. From black-tie galas to small cocktail parties in a board member’s home, events raise billions of dollars for non-profits every year.
But events can be a huge drain on resources. They take up lots of staff time and energy, they require multiple donor communications (invitations, e-mails, follow-up calls, etc.). And they often raise less than they otherwise should, disappointing Executive Directors, board members, and fundraisers.
If you’re holding fundraising events for your non-profit, you need to develop an events system that allows you to raise as much money as possible, with as little stress as practicable. Good events that are backed up by good systems will grow each year because they are scalable… meaning that if you have a great system for putting together a host committee for your events, you can use that system each year to build bigger and better host committees that raise more and more money.
In my experience, working on hundreds of non-profit events, there are 2 fundamental keys to holding successful fundraising events:
Key #1: Understanding Where the Money Comes From
Most non-profits understand that the most profitable events have multiple revenue streams. They look for some sponsors, sell some tickets, maybe hold a raffle or add a silent auction. Multiple revenue streams are important for great fundraising events, so long as you know which streams to prioritize.
Far too many non-profits start their event planning with the idea that ticket sales are the most important revenue stream. They figure that if they can get lots of people to buy tickets to the event, it will be a major success… so they spend 80% of their time selling tickets, and 20% of their time on everything else. This is a mistake.
The best non-profit fundraising events on Earth put sponsorships first. Focusing on ticket sales, at the expense of sponsorships, would be like spending most of your time on low-dollar donors asks while neglecting your major donors. Ticket sales are important, but if you’re not focusing most of your energy on sponsorships, you’re leaving money on the table.
For the purposes of this rule of thumb, sponsorships are large / leadership gifts for your event, and can come from businesses, individuals, families or even other non-profits and foundations. In return for their sponsorship, these entities are giving marketing benefits, VIP treatment, reserved tickets / tables, etc.
In my experience, you should be raising at least 60% of the revenue for each of your events from sponsorships… this rule holds true even for small, intimate gatherings. After sponsorships, the next most important source of income for your events is ticket sales, followed by “add-on revenue” from things like silent auctions, raffles, etc.
Understanding where the money comes from – or should come from – for your events will make a dramatic difference for your non-profit. Focus 60% of your energy on sponsorships, then work on ticket sales, then everything else.
Key #2: Building Strong Host Committees for Your Fundraising Events
Many non-profits hold multiple events each year, all targeted at the same people… your current donors, who are asked to make annual gifts, donate online, attend multiple events, and more. While your current donors should be asked to sponsor and attend your events, there’s no reason why you can’t use events to help you reach into new networks to find new prospects for your non-profit.
In fact, events are a great way to find new prospects, because they are fun to attend with friends, informative about your mission, and a relatively easy way for someone who supports you to introduce their friends and colleagues to your non-profit. The best way to expand your donor universe through events is by putting together a strong event host committee.
Your host committee should be comprised of anywhere from 5-25 (or more) of your current donors… people who support you and are invested in your mission. The host committee should not be tasked with things like set up and clean up for your event, or with staffing the registration table. Those things can be handled by your staff or by a team of event volunteers.
Instead, your event host committee should be focused on fundraising… they should be helping you reach into their own networks to find new sponsors, sell tickets, identify silent auction donors, etc. Great host committees grow over time and become close-knit support communities that drive events to new heights year after year.
Every event can benefit from the power of a strong host committee… whether you are throwing a huge gala or a small silent auction, or anything in between.
Photo Credit: Amie Fedora