Yesterday, I opened a card-sized, hand-addressed envelope. Inside I found an invitation to the celebration for the impending high school graduation of two young women, best friends since babyhood. They will leave their parents’ homes and head to Carolina and Clemson next fall. I’ve known these girls since they were born and am thrilled to be invited to toast their transitions to the next stage of life. With baby pictures on one side and high school portraits on the other, the invitation was charming while making the purpose of the event crystal clear.
Is that clarity always the case with events nonprofits stage? In my experience, it is not. I have worked with volunteers who wanted to host a party to raise funds, but when the details of the event were being developed, they often shied away from making a clear ask either on the invitation, at the event or during follow-up. They were hoping that guests would be so moved by the case being made that they’d spontaneously send hundreds or thousands of dollars to the organization at some undefined future time. Usually, however, guests had a wonderful time at a beautifully staged event, but proved to be more than capable of leaving the party pledge-free and guilt-free.
Expectations for invitees begins with our own clarity about the purpose and desired outcome of the event. One way to achieve clarity is to ask ourselves and our volunteers how the event will impact guests and change their attitudes or behavior. Often we hear that the nonprofit needs to “raise awareness” of an issue or organization. But to what end? We’ve all heard the phrase “friend-raising”, but for what ultimate purpose? If the goal is to eventually raise money, then when will the ask come? If not at the event, what are the follow-up steps that move the prospect toward a gift?
In my experience, we tend to do too many cultivation and stewardship events primarily because they are fun and no one has to ask for money. I’m not arguing that they are a waste of effort; many are very effective. But I think we have to be strategic about their use.
Going back to basic fundraising, we know that we must inform, engage, cultivate, solicit and steward prospects/donors. It’s important to ask which part of the development cycle needs the most support and focus. In a world of shrinking resources, let’s analyze the purpose of every event, especially those we do automatically because we’ve always done them, in order to get the right balance and ensure we’re effectively moving prospects toward the goal.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit I’m an introvert. I’d much rather sit at home with a cup of tea and read a book than go to one more party. However, I have come to terms with the fact that the human animal is social, and events are good for us and for the causes we support. Events are a vital and potentially powerful part of an overall development program. Let’s just be very clear about our goals and expected outcomes before we whip out our calendars, scout venues and book the caterer.
Do you disagree? Do you have an example of a clearly strategized and successful event to share? Join the conversation and post your experiences!