Events as Fundraisers

April 27, 2018

As I have shared in previous posts, Joan Garry‘s book on Nonprofit Leadership is a great go-to for fundraisers. Joan speaks of the Ask at Events:

* The $500 gift to the gala costs the organization something. A solid special event will spend 30 [though I say it’s closer to 50] percent of every dollar it raises. With calculating venue, meals and so forth… the gift is really $350 (and less if you factored in staff time).

* The gala ticket is a transactional gift. I pay $500 and I get stuff.

* Revenue from ticket sales to an event is among your riskiest dollars. What if my friend is out of town next year?

* An event ticket ask is transactional and you do not have to put yourself on the line. You are selling a fun event that will be of benefit to your neighbor. You are not sharing in some fashion why this organization is meaningful to you and why you love it so much that you are willing to ask folks to join you in making an annual gift.

As I have mentioned in some of my previous posts, events have a specific purpose — they are usually an entry point for first-time donors. They are also among the riskiest of ventures (you can lose money in events) and the commitment of the participants to the charity is usually non-existent — they are participating to ‘get stuff’ as Joan refers to.

From a charity’s perspective, a third-party fundraiser, however, is like the holy grail. This means that some third party runs the event and the charity is there to share a story of impact and collect the proceeds. I know of some charities that literally have hundreds of these types of fundraisers annually.

I remember the story of a gala chair telling me that their event grossed over $1,200,000. When we chatted about this in further detail, we realized that the hard costs associated with running this gala were over $750,000 (including the meals, the amazing speaker, etc.) What was left was an event that netted a little over $400,000 (not accounting for soft costs like almost a year of staff time, etc.). Upon further investigation, we found that the lead sponsor level was $250,000. To me, it just begged the question if the charity was truly further ahead by having this event.

I contrast this with the experience I had with another sponsor who told me that he would bump up his sponsorship level if he didn’t have to attend the gala! He just couldn’t stomach (no pun intended) another rubber-chicken dinner.

As I have maintained, events do have their time and place. They tend to work well for charities that have a large donor base and a very active board/volunteer structure.

Charities would be better served if they focused on the relationships and less on the transactions –inspire the donors.

I am off on vacation to celebrate my wife’s 20th wedding anniversary, so there will not be a posting until mid-May.

L’chaim to all!