Many of the people and organizations I talk to about development strategy think that fundraising is all about big events like walks, runs, and galas. They do not seem to realize that these things take a great amount of time, manpower, and money, so the net returns are not as great as many would assume. An organization must pay for their employees’ salaries who plan and work the events, the food and drink, T-shirts and gift bags, fees, space rentals, sound systems, etc. Understand, I am not totally against these things, but I have enough experience to know that events are some of the least effective ways to raise money for a nonprofit organization, especially a small one with limited resources.
Yesterday, an old friend, I should say a long time friend, that I have known since seventh grade, posted on Facebook that she had a number of friends over for cocktails. While they enjoyed drinks and conversation, she passed around an envelope asking for donations for Doctors Without Borders and raised a thousand dollars. Not a bad result for an improptu ask for a good organization. I am pleased by her actions and the generosity of her friends and associates.
More organizations should use this strategy to raise money for their programs.
Small, intimate events held by individuals, whether Board members or donors, can be quite successful. Let me tell you why and how they can be exactly what your organization needs.
- Large events don’t allow you to spend much time getting to know your donors and potential supporters. Big events like galas usually last two to three hours, and the number of guests usually number in the hundreds. The Executive Director and the Development Director cannot possibly have time to genuinely get to know people and find out what their interests are in the organization and its programs. Conversations are short and impersonal, reminding me of going through the rush events of fraternities and sororities in college. “Hi, what’s your name? What’s your major? What’s your father do for a living?” Small events are more intimate, relaxed, and personal. You have more time to find out what interests the potential supporter and use that information for further conversations in the future.
- Costs are far less than a big event. A big gala or athletic event like a run or walk can cost the organization thousands of dollars. A small get together of twenty or so people can cost a couple of hundred dollars in food and drinks, and can be held in a Board member’s or supporter’s home. The host will generally provide the necessities, but an organization can certainly help pay for the party supplies.
- The hosts are in charge. They do the heavy lifting, so to speak. Let them take charge. Planning is relatively simple and painless for the development staff. The hosts know who they want to invite to their gathering and what to serve their friends. They have a better idea what their guests’ interests are and the giving capabilities of their guests, far better than the Development Director would have.
- Since the hosts of the event are doing the planning, the ED and DD have time to think about the message they will be sharing and the stories of the organization’s successes they will tell. They can talk about their plans for the future and how the guests can be a vital part of that future. The talk can be informal. Guests can ask questions, and the staff attending can answer them then and there to the best of their ability.
- Hosts have a great number of options for their events to choose from. They can have a simple cocktail party like my friend, or they can go all out with a formal dinner party. They can have a barbeque in the backyard, have a picnic at a park, or they can invite people over to watch a baseball game, football game, or watch a movie.
- These events can be for asking for financial support, or they can be an introduction to the organization and its mission. Remember, the goal is not just about raising money. It’s about building lasting relationships with potential partners to achieve your mission’s goals. When you meet in smaller settings, the more intimate conversations shared over drinks and dinner can be far more productive in achieving this goal.
If you are a small organization with limited means, small events can be the answer for your needs. Even if you are a large organization, a small event with key donors and potential supporters can build new and lasting relationships.