A lot of nonprofits raise money quite well with events. But many are just plain worn out from throwing party after party, most of which have little or nothing to do with the mission. If this is you, here's another way to think about events.
The best thing about events is that they put the organization in direct contact with people. And one of the fundamental principles of fundraising (and you can learn about all of these in Nonprofit-KnowHow) is that giving is based on relationship. So events are a terrific opportunity to meet people and cultivate relationships.
But if the nonprofit is so busy picking napkin colors, selling tickets, taking registrations, assigning seats or tee-times, the relationship part can get lost in the shuffle. So how about doing events that are ONLY about relationships instead?
We did this at one of the nonprofits (an arts organization) I worked with - it was a young organization and I realized that we just didn't know very many people in town. So, I created the concept of "warm-ups" - intimate and brief events designed to meet people and get acquainted. That's it. No speeches. No presentations. No asking for money or shoving a pledge card in under the napkin.
We also kept the format simple. Here's what we did (and feel free to adjust any of the particulars to suit your style!):
1) Cocktail party format: 2 hours right after work so people could drop by on their way home, held in a setting appropriate to the nonprofit. We held ours at the artistic director's home because he had mementos of performances from all over the world decorating his home - perfect conversation starters!
2) A simple invitation with 3 or 4 optional dates for the same time, night of the week, and spread out over 6-8 weeks. This made it much easier for people to say yes since they could pick the one that fit their schedule.
3) Our design was a simple card in an envelope, but the card was actually a postcard, with our mailing address on the back. The guest filled out their name in a blank provided and checked the date, then put it in the mail back to us. (You can also use e-invites, if your target audience is tech savvy.)
4) We used the board to build the invitee list, which was easy since no one was being asked for money. We put everyone on the list we could think of: CEOs, heads of foundations, legislators, philanthropists, artists, educators - everyone who we wanted as part of our circle.
5) At first, the RSVPs were minimal - I think we got five people at the first event, so we padded the guest list with board members and volunteers, and told everyone to mingle and have a good time! Soon the word grew that these were great events to meet people, and our RSVP ratio went up.
6) We did these regularly for four years until we met and developed relationships with every opinion leader in the city, and then we did them intermittently as needed.
What were the benefits? We were on a first name basis with many influential people, with whom we had shared stories and broken bread. These relationships paved the way for a wide range of good things for the nonprofit for years to come. We made a modest investment that gave back over and over in foundation grants, real estate assistance, estate gifts, new board members, special treatment at the bank and on and on.
So, the next time you consider doing a lot of work to put on an event to raise a few bucks, ask yourself: would it be better to focus on building relationships instead?