Event expert Cassie Brown shares tips on making a fundraising gala a success
Fundraising is a critical piece of revenue for many organizations but can be especially difficult in this vexing economy. There are ways to rise up to the challenge and make your fundraising event the best yet. Raise more money than ever before with these five tips below:
1. Make the “ask” early, make it once, and make it count.Usually, the main point of the event – the fundraising part – happens at the end. But by that time, you’ve lost valuable audience attention, whether due to event fatigue or to some of your prime donors sneaking out early. Try making the “ask” in the middle of the event, when it’s unexpected, then keep on delivering a terrific experience that makes people glad they gave.
2. Talking Heads: Only a good thing if we’re talking dance music. The primary way philanthropic events lose audience engagement? Giving sponsors the floor for what seems like forever, one after the other, as they all say basically the same thing. Do the math – 5 sponsors x 5 minutes each = 25 minutes of “I’m here, I support this cause, here’s how…” A 2-minute, professionally designed, powerful video (that features the sponsors) has a far bigger impact. Everyone wins: the sponsors, your organization, and most importantly, the audience.
3. Hungry people are distracted people—don’t wait to feed your audience. Too many events feature hours of upfront speeches and entertainment prior to providing dinner or even hors d’oeuvre. By pushing up the food portion of the evening, you’re more likely to have a happy, satisfied audience that’s far more receptive to your message.
4. Center stage, not centerpieces—make the most of your event spending. Depending on the size of the event, the traditional stage at the front of the room arrangement can leave some tables feeling like they’re in Siberia. Consider placing the stage/podium in the center of the room, with surrounding screens overhead so that everyone has a great view. Does it cost more? Sure, but it will engage your audience far more than even the most costly centerpieces and tableware. Shift your budget to where it makes the biggest impact.
5. Change it up—present the unexpected. Holding an annual fundraiser? Even if the speakers are different, if the format’s the same, your regular donors may regard attendance as a duty rather than a pleasure. In addition to taking steps 1-4 above, consider introducing new elements each year. At one event we included elephants in the opening ceremony. Work with an event planner who understands your end-goal and can offer fresh ideas to get you there!
With some creativity and proper planning, you can knock your fundraising event out of the park. By implementing these tips, it should increase the donation amount and infuse a fresh wave of energy, inspiration, and engagement with your guests. When the event is over, consider a post event survey to get an outside perspective of what is working or can still be improved upon.
Cassie Brown is the chief experience officer at TCG Events of Charlotte, N.C,, an award-winning, full service event planning company whose work includes milestone, nonprofit, and corporate events, grand openings and more. TCG Events aims to "exceed client expectations at every turn, ensuring a superior guest experience that delivers lasting impact," the company says.