Community nonprofit organizations typically excel at putting on events to celebrate #givingtuesday and throughout the year. The 5k run, the golf outing, the gala with a live auction—all are designed to raise both community awareness of the organization and and money. Too often, focusing on the logistics of putting on a successful event—the banners, the invitations, the t-shirts, the venue—detract from what should be the main goal: deepening engagement of donors and potential donors.

We had the opportunity to interview the president and CEO of a local chapter of a national nonprofit about the strategies her team employs to maximize success in fundraising through events.

1. Establish the aim of the event

“There’s a reason that you’re coming to the event. And it certainly isn’t just to raise a lot of money.”

—Nonprofit CEO

The first step in the planning process for any event should involve setting a clear objective beyond a fundraising goal. Who is the audience? What is the purpose of the event? What message are you hoping to impart to attendees? What are you hoping attendees will think, feel, or do as the event unfolds? Ensure that attendees will grow in their knowledge of and engagement with your organization through the event by establishing a clear aim.

If attendees are mostly new to the organization, perhaps your goal would be to introduce them to your organization’s mission, its priorities, and opportunities for them to help. For an event aimed at regular annual donors, an appropriate objective would be to deepen their engagement with your organization. For donors who have made significant contributions, consider demonstrating the impact of their philanthropic investments. “An event is a point of entry for someone that’s new to our mission,” said the CEO, “Or, for someone that’s been a part of our mission, to enhance their experience in a different way.”

Set aside an appropriate amount of time for planning. This CEO’s team works on an 8-month timeline for most annual events. Allow ample time to ensure all the work can be successfully executed, and—if new to this more involved planning process—pad your timeline with extra time to account for unexpected delays.

2. Set a strategy for success

“Our events are an experience. Participants are there to experience something, and we strategize before every event to know what that is.”

—Nonprofit CEO

Of course, you should have detailed plans in place to pull off the logistics of the event without a hitch. But what about the attendees’ experience? Create a game plan for the emotions and attitudes you want to inspire in participants. Design all programming and collateral with this plan in mind.

Reinforce your game plan by creating deliberate Touch Points. “We do up books with pictures of our guests we want to make sure we’re connecting with,” said the CEO. “Prior to the event, we’ll have a meeting about who’s coming, what they’ve given, what was their last gift, their largest gift, and what we think their future intent is.”

Then, the CEO and her team create Touch Point “assignments”—welcoming individual attendees, introducing them to specific supporters of the organization, and/or thanking them for efforts or contributions they’ve made—and include their board members in deploying these Touch Points. “The board members are actually given a list of different people to touch base with,” said the CEO, “and we include the table number and picture of the guest so that they can easily help us with that strategy once they get to the event.”

3. Put your post-event strategy into play

After the event, the CEO leads a full debrief with her team, looking at both the “wows” and opportunities for improvement with an eye toward securing success for future events. As part of the debrief, they also evaluate each guest’s experience and set additional strategies for engaging with them. For example, if an event included a live auction, they not only look at who “won,” but who also “lost” bids. “If a person bid $19,000, but ended up losing to someone who bid $20,000, that person was about to give $19,000 to our organization,” said the CEO. The team works together to create appropriate follow-up strategies for the attendees.

They also deepen engagement with attendees by following up with them post-event and asking for their honest impressions. “Often attendees tell us it was great,” says the CEO, “but I really encourage them to pick one thing that could be improved. We want them to know that we are open to feedback, that we are always wanting to make things better, and that their opinions matter.”

 

Whether your event is a shorts-and-tee walkathon or an elegant black-tie affair, deepening engagement with attendees should be at the forefront of the planning process to yield dividends for the vital work of your organization. Contact us to learn more about creating a robust strategy for your events.