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Mistake #4 – Getting in a Rut with Special Events

“We have to start planning the gala for next year!” These are dreaded words. Many people I know who work in fundraising can’t stand special events. Others see them as a necessary evil. Some of the reasons fundraisers don’t like special events include: they take too much time, they are the same thing every year (boring), and they don’t raise enough money. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

This is what getting in a rut with special events sounds like. When you do the same event every year because you “have to” do it, it turns out the same way as last year. How many organizations do you know who start a new event and call it the “First Annual…?” Why do we automatically assume that we should do every event every year? I want to challenge this assumption.

Why did your organization start a new event? What was the strategic purpose? Are you trying to just raise money, or bring in new donors? Are you trying to keep existing donors connecting with your mission, or introduce your mission to a new target audience? If you don’t know why or don’t remember why your organization started an event – ask yourself, why do we keep doing this event? Just reconnecting to or identifying a strategic purpose for the event will help you make decisions and get clear focus on your goals.

But don’t stop there. I firmly believe that every organization should do a special event analysis – every year – on every event. I am not talking about a revenue vs. expenses report, which is a necessity, but a full analysis of all the pros and cons to one specific event.

How much staff time did the event take?
Did we reach our target audience?
Did the event convey the right brand message for our organization?
Did we gain any new donors and did we engage those donors after the event? Did our vendors add to the experience or detract from it?
Did we have the right partnerships with our sponsors?

You can go through a similar process before starting a new event. Really question the strategic purpose. Will the new event have a different purpose or target audience than your existing events?

After asking these questions and more, you can decide as a group if you should have the event again next year. If you do the event again, you will start to see some clear opportunities for improvement. If you don’t do the event again, you will have some specific reasons why it wasn’t the right fit. Just realizing that you can decide whether to have the event can change your outlook.

Posted in Fundraising Mistakes

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