Pivoting Events for the New Reality [free resource round up]

This is a Free Resource Round Up featuring some of the fundraising event resources we have at Productive Fundraising. When writing this it is late spring of 2020 — a crazy time for events as we’re in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has completely thrown fundraising events through a loop. Everybody’s had to deal with these decisions: Do I cancel? Do I postpone? Or do I take it virtual? Well, good news. There are tons of great resources out there to help with these decisions. Here are a few resources to get you started in case you are still grappling with these decisions:

But what I want to focus on is the bigger picture with fundraising events. What happens after this year? Are these changes we’re going to make this year permanent changes? Or is this just a one time thing? Can we use this as an opportunity to maybe re-evaluate some of those events? Could we get rid of some of those events that we do because we’ve just always done it this way. Do you find that you get the same people attending your events who would probably contribute to your organization, whether you did the event or not? I truly believe that the primary purpose of a fundraising event is not necessarily to raise money as much as it is to introduce new people to your organization. So what can we do to keep things fresh and exciting and bring in those new people?

Yes, we still want to make money. But let’s not use our events as another tactic to get funds from folks who would possibly contribute another far easier way. So take a chance to evaluate your current events, which ones are doing that? Which ones match your mission? Is there a reason you should be doing a golf tournament? Are you an athletic organization, something sports related? Is there a mission tie to it? What about your gala? Are there these tedious events that take tons of staff time and really don’t make that much money? Is there something you could do more mission-related to show people what you do and inspire them and really use that event to tell your story? Is it a unique event that really gets people excited?

These are some of the ways I evaluate fundraising events and my friends, Jim Anderson and Alice Ferris at GoalBusters Consulting created this great evaluation sheet. It’s one of my favorite resources that I keep in my library. It’s simply called Evaluation Sheet For New Fundraising Ideas. But my trick with this tool is to put everything on there. Put your current ideas and plans on there but then also put potential new ideas on there too! In our current reality you could put the potential virtual ideas on there and evaluate it against what you’re currently doing. This tool can help you see the potential impact of your ideas – and what I want you to do is not just see it through this year, but look at this as a lasting change. Be thinking ‘how can I make my job easier and let us raise more money at the same time?’ I think it’s a great opportunity for us to be able to do that.

So, here’s my bottom line with events: No more than two major fundraising events per year. And ideally just one. Just do one big thing, go big! Get it done with, then you have more time to spend one-on-one with donors and more time on stewardship. Events take us out of that mode where we’re building those individual donor relationships. Nearly 80% of all fundraising dollars come from individual relationships and I think that’s going to shift even more in our current reality.

So you’re ready to plan a new event, what’s that first step? Most people jump right into the what, how, why, where, all those logistics questions with an event plan. I don’t like to do that first.

I like to start with the budget because if the budget doesn’t make sense, then I don’t want to put all the effort into thinking through all those logistics. So just take the big picture view of the budget. What’s that look like? What could ticket prices be? What kind of sponsorship revenue could be had? On the expense side, big picture, what are we going to do with virtual? We’re going to have to do a tech crew, make it big, increase that production value. Virtual events need to be more like TV shows. You need to do something more engaging on those virtual events. So you’re going to need to spend some money. So work out that budget. Virtual events seem to be cheaper than regular ones, but they’re not free. You need to invest in that production quality and make it something people actually want to see and attend. So do that budget first … here’s our Event Budget Template.

Then if you have something viable, develop a preliminary event plan (here’s our Event Planning Template) that you could possibly run through the food chain and see if we can get everybody on board and go in this direction.

So those are some of the event resources we have here. I encourage you to check those out, they’re in the links. I encourage you to use use this time when maybe we can’t do those live events to re-imagine the ones you’ve had in the past. Think about how they can be adjusted for the future and what do you really want that to look like? You have the chance to reinvent your job right now. What will it look like two years from now when all of this is over and we can go back to fundraising the way we want to fundraise. But let’s not fundraise the way we’ve had to fundraise because we’ve always done it this way. Use this time, fundraisers.