In addition to rising temperatures, green leaves, and seasonal allergies, March usually heralds the beginning of the spring fundraising season. We’ve talked before about how to plan and execute a great fundraising event (you can check out our fall fundraising tips here, here, and here). But you know what’s as important as great planning? Putting together an event people actually want to attend!
Hear me out.
I know a lot of nonprofits that put on annual events because they’ve always put on those annual events. They’re not particularly well-attended. They don’t raise an exceptional amount of money. They’re often pretty lackluster. Those who do attend and donate do so more out of a sense of routine or obligation than a deep and abiding desire to attend the 8th Annual Combination BBQ and Easter Egg Painting Soiree, or whatever. (Author’s note: I would probably absolutely attend that, come to think of it. I’ll do almost anything for brisket.)
So how do you know if your event is making an impression for being fun and inspiring instead of for just being boring? And what do you do if, God forbid, you realize your event is more of a chore than a high point of the season?
We’ve got ideas!
Step 1: Decide if You Should Keep Your Event As-Is
Your event may not need tweaking! There are tons of great events out there, and it’s very likely that yours is one of them. But, just to make sure, ask yourself these questions:
- Does our event attract the demographic we want to engage? (New donors, major donors, younger donors, etc.)
- What’s your event’s ROI? Is it worth the time and effort that goes into pulling it off?
- Is attendance up year over year? Or, at the least, is it staying relatively static?
- Does your event help you reach your fundraising goals?
- Does your event offer flexibility for your guests (i.e. can guests still participate if they don’t want to attend in-person?)?
- Are donors enthusiastic about your event (Hint: you should use donor surveys after events to gauge their feelings!)?
If you answered “No” to one (or more!) of these questions, it’s time to reevaluate your spring fundraising event.
Step 2: Choosing a New(ish) Spring Fundraising Event
So, you’ve realized your traditional spring fundraising event isn’t thrilling your donors the way you’d like. What’s a fundraiser to do?
You come up with something they’d love, of course!
One option available to you is to do a riff on your pre-existing spring fundraising event or type of event. For example, one of our local clients, Volunteers in Service to the Elderly (VISTE), runs VISTEBall, a golf-themed event that combines the fun of a golf tournament with the convenience of an indoor event. They combine putting and chipping contests with silent and live auctions, dinner, an open bar, and the opportunity to win a ton of fun prizes, all while raising money for their mission. You can get a feel for their event here:
VISTEBall works because, in Florida, weather can be unpredictable enough that planning a full-scale golf tournament is a challenge. Their event also appeals to a wide age group, and attendees don’t need to be a seasoned golf player to have a lot of fun. It’s certainly a riff on a traditional golf tournament, but it’s one that makes the event more accessible to a wider group of people! VISTE’s supporters love the event, too, and many attend year after year.
Can you do something similar? Getting creative with your event’s format can infuse it with new energy that can attract new donors, more enthusiastic attendees, and bigger donations.
Alternatively, you may decide to scrap your event entirely and come up with something totally new. Want ideas? Check out our eBook on awesome seasonal fundraising events for inspiration.
And if you’re wanting to keep your next event entirely virtual due to COVID-19, check out these virtual fundraising ideas!
Step 3: Engage the Hype Machine
And, when I say “hype machine,” I mean it. I’m not talking about a weird one-page event rundown accompanied by a single tiny paper containing RSVP options and a spot to put my credit card number. That might still work with older donors, but it’s increasingly ineffective with the rest of your supporters.
When I say “hype machine,” I mean:
- Sending “Save the Date” fliers to people who might want to come (include all the information you can, including how they can sign up later)
- Sending email announcements and countdowns
- Creating a Facebook event and encouraging people to share it with their friends (make sure you include a link to register online)
- Sending a special email blast to donors inviting them to attend
- Posting sneak-peeks or teasers as you prepare for your event
- Recruiting existing supporters (like board members, volunteers, staff, etc.) and equipping them to share the word
- Text messages have a 98% open rate, so send teasers to last year’s attendees or prior donors via text
- Incorporate video, whether that’s by showing previews of auction items or by giving attendees a sneak-peak at the evening’s entertainment
There are tons of options, and no two nonprofits will promote their events the same way. Regardless of how you handle it, promotion is key. Your shiny new(ish) event won’t be successful if people don’t know about it — spread the word!
Your spring fundraising event should mark the unofficial start of the spring/summer fundraising season. If you’re worried that your annual event is starting to fall a little flat, it’s time to consider freshening up your approach.
Tweaking your event style — or even coming up with a brand-new event — and using a variety of ways to spread the news about it are great ways to make it successful.