Why Charities Should Only Stage 2 Big Special Events Per Year


Ahhhh … special events.  The bane of every development director’s existence and every nonprofit board’s solution to raising more money.  It’s no wonder that turnover is high among development staff and charities can’t seem to grow their giving.  It’s easy to burn out and really hard to make progress when you’re stuck in perpetual event mode.

When I begin working with a charity, I typically find that they have three to five fundraising events on the calendar each year.  Some are big money makers and some are things that they “have to do.”  This post is not going to be a discussion on whether or not it makes sense to conduct an event.  Anybody can run the numbers and make that call on their own.  Instead, I’m proposing a limit that every charity should adopt for their special events.  It’s plain and simple:  no more than two events per year, period.

Why?  The issue isn’t so much the events themselves, it’s the staff time commitment involved with putting them on and what is lost during that time.  Even the most modest of fundraising events will require a pretty intense staff focus for the 10 weeks leading up to the event and the 2 weeks following it.  That’s 12 weeks or basically three months.  If you do two events per year, that’s six months in “event mode” … three events per year is nine months, and if you conduct four (or more) events per year then you’re always in event mode!

Being in event mode all the time is fine if your title is Special Events Coordinator, but I’m guessing that it’s not.  You have other responsibilities, the primary one being that you are supposed to be out building relationships with donors.  Guess what the most common thing to slip is when you’re planning an event? You got it, donor visits.  If you’re stuck in the office finalizing table assignments or running around town picking up silent auction items, you’re not spending quality time with donors.

It’s really an opportunity cost issue.  It’s not so much that you’re spending your time on events, it’s that you’re not spending your time meeting with your donors.  That’s why I set a two event maximum for the vast majority of my small shop fundraising clients.  This allows them to have two big attention-getting events per year (ideally targeting different audiences), but only has them in event mode for half of the year.  This allows them to focus their efforts on donor visits and major gifts for the other half of the year.

So, how many events do you currently run?  How much of the year do you spend in event mode?  And how does your donor visit count fare during those months?  It’s time to take a close look and see if all of those events are really worth the time spent on them!