I have heard event planners say they can’t understand why some organizations’ events do so well but “identical” fundraising events held by their organization in the same city do poorly. They say that they do everything they can think of to imitate the successful organizations’ events. They imitate what appears on the surface as a successful formula, and it never seems to work. Why not?
They are frustrated and confused by event fundraising, yet they continue to hold charity fundraising events and seek secrets for success from the apparent actions of others, because they see other organizations thriving on event income. They ask, “what are we doing wrong?”
Although it’s impossible to give specific answers to such questions without analysis of the events, I typically advise fundraising event planners to stop trying to imitate events held by the successful organizations if imitation isn’t working for you. Instead plan events for YOUR organization, your members, and your volunteers. The successful event planners have created events that work well for their organizations’ members and missions, and that can be effectively managed within the organizations’ staff and volunteer resources. It’s up to event planners for all those other organizations to do the same for their organizations.
Each organization is different from any other. Members are different, their economic situations are different, and so is the cause they celebrate. Event planners must take differences into account and tailor each event to the audience.
Some people continue to do the same thing, over and over, expecting each time to get better results and then, amazingly, are surprised when the results are no better than last time. So it is with fundraising.
The past is prologue to the future. Success or failure is likely to be repeated in fundraising if the same thing is done year after year. The best predictor of future success is past success. If it worked well before, do it again if similar successful results are desired. If better results are desired, make adjustments to what worked well before, based on a rational evaluation of past results and actions. If a fundraiser is a failure, one can almost ensure a repeat poor performance by repeating the formula for failure.
While this may seem obvious, it’s a lesson some event planners never seem to get. Perhaps it’s pride, perhaps it’s a lack of objective analysis of performance, a lack of sound business-based planning, or perhaps it’s just an inability to lead change.
If last year’s successful formula doesn’t yield the same good results the following year, make adjustments in the future. Analyze the results. Look for extenuating circumstances; after all, if the local high school football team made it into the playoffs and the playoff game was held the same evening as the event, it’s likely anyone with high school–aged children may have been sidetracked.
Don’t ignore the obvious. Keep what seems to work, and adjust what doesn’t after careful assessment of net fundraising results.
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There are patterns to follow in fundraising. Find what works, and follow that up, expanding and improving. When trends, tastes, or conditions change, quickly adjust and adapt, following the new pattern to success.
Excerpted and adapted from the book, Money for the Cause: A Complete Guide to Event Fundraisingby Rudolph Rosen. Texas A&M University Press.
In Money for the Cause: A Complete Guide to Event Fundraising, veteran nonprofit executive director Rudolph A. Rosen lays out the field-tested approaches that have helped him and the teams of volunteers and professionals he has worked with raise over $3 billion for environmental conservation.
As Rosen explains, fundraising events can range from elite, black-tie affairs in large cities to basement banquets and backyard barbeques in small-town America. Money for the Cause runs the gamut, demonstrating methods adaptable to most situations and illustrating both basic and advanced techniques that can be duplicated by everyone from novice volunteers to experienced event planners.
Each chapter begins with a pertinent, real-life anecdote and focuses on major areas of event fundraising: business plans and budgets, raffles and auctions, tax and liability matters, contract negotiation, games and prizes, site selection, food service, entertainment, publicity, mission promotion, food and drink service, and effective team building and use of volunteers. The author applies each topic to the widest possible range of events, providing practical detail and giving multiple examples to cover the differences in types of organizations and their fundraising activities.