What Events CAN’T Do for Your Development Program

What Events CAN’T Do for Your Development Program

April 2nd, 2015

by Tim Ardillo


Special events can play a very important role in your integrated, multi-channel development program. For instance, I typically think of them in terms of how they impact the organization:


• Is the event a cash cow? Does it have a very positive financial net return for the organization?
• Is the event opening doors to new potential supporters? And, do you have the follow-through to develop the relationships post event?
• Is it a mission event?
• Is this event serving as a stewardship move for your donors?


It also depends on where your organization is at that point in time and how you view fundraising: Are you fundraising to stay alive or fundraising for sustainability? Organizations that depend primarily on direct mail and special events have a ROI of 200-400% while those that rely primarily on major gifts enjoy a higher ROI of 500% or more.


Too often we hang on to events that are time intensive, labor intensive, and have minimal or dismal net results. Why do we do that? We often hear – “It’s what we’ve always done,” or “Our volunteers will be upset if we stop this event.” But maybe we are just comfortable doing what we know.


We must stop relying on events without considering the strategic role they play in our organizations’ fundraising programs. We must use events, in balance, as a part of our integrated development programs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we should strike all special events. On the contrary, events are very important. We just have to ensure that they play a very strategic role in our programs.


As mentioned previously, organizations that have established major gift programs have much higher rates of return. And, they focus on developing a model of long-term sustainability from their development programs.


Establishing a major gift focus to your development program provides opportunities to deepen your donor relationships. So much more is learned when a board member, CEO, or development officer sits across the table, one-on-one, with a donor. You can learn about what’s important to that donor. You can learn about what motivates them and what parts of your organization’s mission and programs resonate with the donor. There is the misnomer that asking a donor to support your organization is hard. It doesn’t have to be, especially when you have an established relationship with the donor. As mentioned in a previous blog post, we need to be doing more role playing the donor relationship, not just the ask, to help us build confidence.


In the end, a perfectly executed special event is great and will bring lots of goodwill to your organization. However, the likelihood of individual donors (and those representing foundations and corporations, I might add) fully engaging in your organization’s mission goes up exponentially when you develop long-term relationships built on trust.



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