Dare to dream big for special events

by Derwin Dubose

I've already shared one of my deepest fundraising secrets: I don't typically like special events. Often, event costs -- both actual expenses and time invested -- far outweigh the financial return.

However, Durham Nativity School, one of my Armstrong McGuire clients, is doing it right. The middle school provides a tuition-free, enriched learning environment for students whose parents can't afford an independent, college preparatory education.

For its inaugural fundraising dinner, coming up on April 25, Durham Nativity School has used several best practices that all nonprofits should adopt for special events:

Breaking the mold. Traditionally, the school hosted a successful spring concert each year, but board members and donors began to grow fatigued with the event format. By planning a fundraising dinner, the school injected new life in its fundraising efforts.

Have volunteers lead. The event has been led by one of the schools' most enthusiastic and competent board members, who has built a five-person committee to handle event logistics and solicitations. The board chair and staff leadership have delegated to this committee to determine event format, menu, entertainment, and decorations. Staff and the board chair support this committee, but they trust them to do the work.

Solicit sponsorships. The volunteer event chair has personally solicited the organization's major donors to sponsor the event, resulting in more than 50 sponsors for the event.

Honor someone. The school is honoring  one of its longstanding board members and major donors. This provides incentive for new audiences to support the school, and it is amazing donor stewardship for the honoree.

Keep overhead low. The event's overhead is slated to be no more than 10 percent of the money raised, producing a great return on investment for the school. The event chair has kept overhead low by leveraging in-kind donations like graphic design, by recruiting a generous donor to cover the bar tab for the entire event, and by using a mail house to take advantage of presorted postage costs.

Make it mission driven. Themed "Dare to Dream Big," the event highlights the Durham Nativity School creed, a motivational motto the students recite each morning at assembly. By featuring the student success model, the school will allow donors to connect with the mission while having fun.

As a result of these best practices, the school has already secured more than $125,000 in commitments -- nearly triple the gross returns from their previous fundraising events with more than two weeks to go.

Learn more about Durham Nativity School and the "Dare to Dream Big" Event by going to their website. I would love to have you join us on April 25.

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