By Roxanne Rukowicz Ladd, Principal
Behind the Scenes Events
Since planning and pulling off huge galas for nonprofit organizations is a large part of my business, this year I’ve been asked repeatedly: Are huge, expensive galas going out of style?
The simple answer is yes. And no. Some organizations are definitely rethinking throwing the ballroom event filled with giant TV screens, high-profile speakers, and cheerleaders (yes, cheerleaders) that annually asks supporters to whip out their black ties, diamonds, and checkbooks. Others, however, are sticking with the tried-and-true gala as a way to celebrate and show off the work they are doing with donors.
In fact, in December I was thrilled to see one of my clients who throws incredible annual galas have another fabulously successful event. The organization grossed more than $1 million at the event, which is obviously no small feat in the current economy.
How did they do it?
Well, it helps that theirs is an important cause that people believe in and are willing to support with generous donations — despite the recession. The organization also has a likable staff, solid track record, and good visibility in the DC region. But the truth is that are able to raise so much money at one event because they have mastered the art of fundraising.
Here are some pages from their playbook:
- 1. Customize sponsorship offerings. As nonprofits seek to identify giving trends and find creative ways to customize sponsorship offerings, they are becoming increasingly effective. Likewise, donors are becoming increasingly educated about the organizations they donate to and are making donation and sponsorship decisions based less on emotion and more on their own goals (such as increased visibility among their constituents).
- 2. Build and nurture personal relationships. With the average success rate for a cold-prospecting campaign at a mere 3 percent, creating marketing campaigns to educate potential donors throughout the year is time, and money, well spent.
- 3. Engage a committee of volunteers to assist in the sponsorship or ticket sales. This will be a highly useful tool if clear, defined goals are set in advance; committee members hold each other accountable to these goals; and rewards and accolades are given for a job well done. Additionally, a productive volunteer committee should be amply supported and encouraged by a strong organizational staff.
- 4. Open your personal address book. Staff, board members, sponsorship, and ticket-sales committee members should all seek to engage their personal and professional networks. Their own affinity and support for the cause will add legitimacy to the donation request.
- 5. Structure win-win partnerships with vendors. This approach can greatly reduce the hard costs to the organization. Creative opportunities might include signing multi-year contracts with partnering vendors, engaging leadership at the board level, and exploring opportunities for vendor staff to become more intimately engaged with the nonprofit, which can foster an on-going, emotional attachment to the cause and the event.
- 6. Choreograph each fundraising event as if it were halftime at the Super Bowl. A happy donor is an engaged guest whose experience at your fundraising event is one that not only makes him or her feel good about your organization — but one where donors, too, can have a high-octane networking experience. From ease of movement throughout the evening to table placement to the meal served, every aspect of the evening should be taken into account. Major contributors should have access to VIP guests, ample time and opportunity to engage and network with their constituents, and verbal and print acknowledgment through the appropriate avenues, in addition to any special requests they have made.
- 7. Go high-tech. Technology is the wave of the philanthropic future as the ability to give becomes ever easier. Social-media tools including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook are continuing to show increased return on investment. Other tools, including on-site mobile devices such as BidPal, a wireless, automated, silent-auction bidding tool, are showing impressive increases in contributions. Mobile applications like JustGiving, on-line sites like Kickstarter.com and text campaigns similar to the American Red Cross’ Give to Haiti campaign, which raised over $5 million, have all proven to be impressive fundraising options.
What is the moral of this fundraising story?
As an observer of dozens of nonprofit organizations, I believe it’s time to think differently about how organizations interact with potential donors.
Knowing your constituent demographics, creating and nurturing ongoing relationships, and communicating via multiple mediums is sure to yield increased support for any cause.
About Roxanne Rukowicz Ladd
Ranked one of the top meeting and event planners in Washington, DC, for 2009 and 2010 by the Washington Business Journal, Roxanne Rukowicz Ladd’s Behind the Scenes Events, opened its doors in July 2008 with a single concept: to offer organizations access to an affordable, full-service meeting- and event-planning solution.
Ladd has worked in the Washington, DC, meeting and event industry for more than a decade, starting her career at the Greater Washington Board of Trade in 1999. Her experience with this influential regional network of business leaders began as a temporary work assignment and progressed into a position as general manager.
Her extensive association and nonprofit planning skills are accented by experience working in the social and entertainment markets. Positions with the Walt Disney Companies and as a freelance wedding and special-event coordinator have provided opportunities with A-list celebrity clients and top-ranking government officials.
For more information, visit Behind the Scenes Events.