Many people think that fundraising is all about hosting special events. However, as these events are popular among the volunteers who organize them and the people who attend, events can become more about entertainment and less about supporting an important mission. While these events do hold a specific purpose in overall charitable giving, it is imperative that they not become the lifeline of your organization.

According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), events are an expensive tactic, second only to direct mail acquisition. The cost per dollar raised is $0.50, which generally doesn’t include the indirect costs of time or labor. So, with a community calendar already packed full of events and a low return on investment (ROI), how does an organization determine if it should add yet another fundraising event to its calendar? Are fundraising events worth all the effort?

Thoughtfully managed fundraising events play an important role in a comprehensive annual giving program. They provide the opportunity to draw participants into your mission, helping fundraisers to identify new donors and to educate and connect with people. When managed effectively, the event becomes more about the cause and less about entertainment. In order to create a successful fundraising event, there are three things you should consider.

Create an experiential event. Black-tie affairs and “rubber chicken” dinners have begun to give way to experiential events. These types of fundraising events connect donors to your mission on an emotional level. For example, St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which funds cancer research for kids, raises funds through a head-shaving event. The commitment to shave one’s head raises both awareness and funds and brings hope to children who have lost their hair during treatments. Likewise, “dining in the dark” events bring awareness of the challenges of those who are visually-impaired, and some of Brevard’s philanthropists have even slept overnight in a tent to support those who are homeless.

Choose quality over quantity. Considering the higher ROI of events in comparison to other fundraising tactics, successful organizations are opting to reduce the number of events held to focus on creating one quality event that educates, inspires and develops sustainable investment. Your event’s return on investment should always be included in the event analysis.

Missionize your event. Your event should educate participants about the real work of the organization and tell a compelling story that helps them to truly understand the scope of your programs. This could be delivered as a visionary message by your organization’s leader or, with some careful coaching, by a current or former client. A personal testimonial will always trump a video or boring presentation spouting statistics and program data. By communicating the impact of charitable gifts, you show your guests the difference they can make, and you inspire real generosity.

Beyond raising revenue for your organization, a successful fundraising event should bring awareness to your organization, create genuine donor engagement and inform participants of the great things you’re doing for the community and how they can help fund them. Be sure to incorporate these ideas into your event planning and you’re sure to develop long-term relationships with your donors.

Pamela Gunthorpe

Pamela Gunthorpe is president of the Space Coast chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). AFP advances philanthropy by empowering its members to practice ethical fundraising through professional education, networking, research and advocacy. She is Investor & Community Relations Manager for the EDC of Florida’s Space Coast and serves on the boards of the Palm Bay Chamber and South Brevard Sharing Center.