ABCs of Fundraising: Best Practices for a Successful Event

22 Feb

Monday, February 28, 2011

Fundraising, in some respects, is like an art form. It needs to be learned, appreciated, mastered. It’s true that anyone can ask for money; but, successful fundraising is more than that. It’s building lasting relationships for sustained giving and support. And even given the circumstances of our fledgling economy, charitable giving is up in the United States – over $300 billion!1 It’s time to harness the opportunity. Below are some of my suggestions – alphabetically, of course – for any fundraising campaign. (Note: All of these suggestions can apply to both fundraising campaigns and events.)

Awareness – Creating publicity for the event is first and foremost. If people don’t know about it, they won’t be there to support you.

Best-Practices – Establish a list of best-practices – a list of methods, activities or processes that will ensure a particular outcome – following your event/campaign that you can reference in the future.
Budget – Establish a budget during the planning stages. Consider including staff time and resources to establish a baseline which should make planning in the future easier.

Committees – Establish specific event committees, give them exact expectations, coach them and maintain Communication.
Confidence – Have confidence in your mission. Uncertainty will come across in your ask.

Donations – Obtain as many donated items as possible for the day-of (e.g. tents, AV equipment, photography, etc.). The less you have in expenses, the greater your profit. Or ask local businesses if they would be willing to donate a portion of proceeds for a particular product towards the event goal.
Donors – Make a list of your biggest donors and those people you have identified as the most potential donors (e.g. business owners, well-known society figures, etc.).

Efangelists and Fangelists Employ your brilliant efangelists and fangelists to spread the word for you. Remember that word-of-mouth is a highly effective tool.

Goals – Set realistic goals based on previous experience or similar events done by other organizations. Make sure everyone involved in planning the event knows your goal and your strategy to execute it. (Tip: Typically you don’t communicate this goal to the public, but do reveal the amount raised  and other pertinent details in a press release following the event.) Estimate your expenses for a more accurate picture of net income.

Honor – To bring in an even wider range of participants, honor someone who has been fundamental in mission integration and/or volunteering. Another idea is to honor someone who has been affected by your cause.

Innovation – The walk-a-thon is over-used, and let’s face it, kind of boring. Launch a new idea or even a variation of one that’s being done.

Jobs – Delegate specific jobs to day-of volunteers. Make sure they know explicitly what you need them to do. That way they’re not asking you questions every few minutes and you can concentrate on running your event.
Join – Have a station where people can join your advocacy network or sign up for membership and volunteering.

Keys – The key to any successful event is planning. Don’t rush into an event or campaign without having done research and planned every detail.
Keep – Following your event, hold a wrap-up meeting with your committee. Keep a record of everything that was positive and received good comments as well as the things that need improvement.

Leadership – It’s very important that your organization be visible in every way. That includes your board members. Have at least two or three  (board chairperson and vice-chair would be awesome!) attend your event to talk with constituents and, most importantly, donors and sponsors.

Mission – It’s not just about the money, but the mission. Ultimately, a fundraiser is conducted to further the mission of the organization. Therefore, the mission statement should be prominent in promotional material and at day-off activities.

Network – Join the local Chamber of Commerce, business networking groups, and non-profit organizations. The point is, be visible in the community in order to develop an extensive network.

Opportunity – Take advantage of this opportunity to showcase your programs and services, staff and even facilities. It’s ok to brag a little!

Purpose – Clearly define the purpose of your campaign. That sounds obvious, but sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do. Once you have it in place, everything else can be planned around your purpose statement.
Partnerships – Benefit from partnerships with organizations that share common values or that are willing to align themselves with your mission.

Quality – Quality over quantity. Yes, it sounds cliche, however, designing an event that is both exciting and entertaining will ensure that people come back. Your goal is to raise money, but retaining supporters is easier than recruiting new ones.

Research – Research your ideal donor. Research similar events to see how you can improve on the idea. Research, research, research. I can’t emphasize that enough.

Strategy – Plan your strategy detail by detail ahead of time so there are no surprises. You’ll want to have a contingency plan in place as well in case of bad weather, cancellations, etc.
Sponsorships – Approach potential donors and present the opportunity as a benefit to both their company and your organization.

Timeline – Formulate a logical timeline. This goes for the planning stage and the implementation of the event.
Third-Party Events – Third-party events are excellent ways to meet fundraising goals. Just make sure that the group you are working with aligns with your core values and mission. Not only is this a way to raise more money, but it’s great public relations for everyone involved.

Unique – A great way to get more participants? Make your event unique. Do something that hasn’t been done yet. Stand out.

Volunteers – Recruit a hard-working and trustworthy core of volunteers to plan and run the event. At some point, you may even be able to turn the event over to your volunteers, freeing you up for other  fundraising activities. (Tip: Don’t be opposed to holding informal interviews and having them fill out surveys to ensure they are a good match.)

Walk – Think outside the “walk”. How can you update it to better represent your purpose or brand? Better yet, come up with something altogether original.

(Sorry folks. There just isn’t much you can do with “x”.)
eXperience –  Capitalize on the experiences of your volunteers and supporters. Listen to their suggestions because in all likelihood they have some really good contributions for the planning and execution of your event.

Yield (results) – From year to year, you want to yield greater results. This may mean setting your goal higher, adjusting your strategies and/or updating your best-practices. Yield the results you want, but be proactive about it. A fundraiser is a 24/7, year-round event.

Zeal – Capitalize on the zeal and energy of your volunteers, supporters and attendees. Ask them about joining the committee, helping next year or just completing a survey of the event.

For more in-depth details and consultation, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I want your event to succeed just as much as you do. Let me know if I can help.

~Laura~

1 Great American Merchandise & Events

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