Events. Every organization hosts events, but are they effective? It’s important to be very clear about what the goals are for any event you host and have strategies in place to meet those goals. Fundraising events in particular require a lot of staff time and expenses can greatly reduce the amount of revenue received by the organization.
While raising money is the main reason the event is being hosted it would be a missed opportunity to only focus on revenue and ignore other ways the event can support your mission.
For 10 event seasons, from 2005-2014, I managed 25 events a year that raised approximately $1,000,000 for a Boston-based nonprofit. To improve communication with my team I designed an event strategy form. These are the questions I considered before planning any fundraiser or donor cultivation event.
An event strategy form clearly outlines all the goals of the event and the strategies to achieve them. I recommend that the first draft of this form be filled in by the event manager and then discussed with key members of the development team. Once a plan has been created, document any significant changes on this form. Reference this document after the event to measure how well you succeeded at your goals and include your findings in a separate event debrief document.
This post provides explanatory text prior to each section of the event strategy form template to help you personalize it for your organization. I’m available to consult if you have specific questions about your fundraising events strategy.
An events strategy form is useful to consider whether to move forward with a new fundraising event that has been suggested by senior staff or the board. These questions are also very helpful for building upon the success of an existing event. Start by describing the event as it is or as you envision it.
Briefly describe the tone & format: (cocktail party, sit-down dinner, breakfast, auction, etc.)
Events should have multiple purposes, but they won’t all be weighted the same. Some reasons for having an event will be higher priority and it’s important to parse that out with your team. This will help avoid focusing too many resources on a less urgent goal and keep your team focused on the top priorities. Brainstorm with your team a list of possible goals for an event, the list below will help you get started.
Why are we doing this event? (scale 1-3 with 3 as more important)
- ___ Acknowledge the achievements of an individual or group (i.e. give an award)
- ___ Attract new donors – identify demographic (e.g. Millennials, women) ____________
- ___ Celebrate a recent victory
- ___ Create an accessible ($, geography) event
- ___ Create cultivation opportunities (for board & staff to meet with donors)
- ___ Cultivate donors via host committee service (opportunity to be on committee)
- ___ Cultivate major donor prospects
- ___ Inform guests about our program work
- ___ Offer our top annual corporate sponsors high visibility for their support
- ___ Raise money to support our mission (revenue goal = $_________)
- ___ Solicit gifts to meet a Match Challenge
- ___ Solicit new major donors
- ___ Steward major donors
- ___ Strengthen connection with businesses via sponsorships
- ___ Strengthen connection with local businesses via auction donations
- ___ Strengthen ties and visibility outside of our geographic area
- ___ Other: _______________________________________
Events cannot be all things for all people. Clearly identify who your target audience will be and craft the event to be best suited to meet their needs while being mindful that you may be attracting many different types of guests.
Who Are Our Audiences?
- Board Members
- Major Donors
- Individual Donors
- Prospective Donors
- Elected Officials
Identify clear metrics for each goal so you can track progress during planning and measure specific outcomes after the event.
How will we know we were successful? (Metrics)
Cost of fundraising (percentage of gross revenue that went to expenses):
Demographics of guests:
Single tickets sold:
Corporate sponsorship goals:
Individual sponsorship goals:
Each goal should have a clear strategy to achieve that goal. During the debrief reflect on how well these strategies helped you meet your goals and adjust your strategies for next year.
What strategies will we use to achieve identified metrics?
Strategy to achieve attendance goal:
Strategy to keep cost of fundraising to X:
Strategy to identify and invite specific demographics to this event:
Strategy to sell tickets (e.g. Table Captains, invitation, posters):
Strategy to solicit $_____ from corporate sponsors:
Strategy to solicit $_____ from individual sponsors:
At this event you’ll have the opportunity to speak to your guests so it’s important to identify what message you want to convey during the program. Brainstorm a list of possible topics or program areas and include them in your event strategy form template to be sure you are not overlooking one. If there are multiple messages take time to prioritize them so there is a clear take-away instead of a muddled message.
What is our message focus? (if multiple prioritize)
- Which program areas will be highlighted?
- Who is speaking?
- When is rehearsal?
Host Committee members can play a key role in the success of your event. These volunteers play an ambassador role – encouraging their friends and colleagues to attend and sponsor the event. It’s important to clearly identify goals for the host committee so they know what the expectation is before they agree to serve in this capacity. You may decide to have a two-tier host committee (Co-Chairs & Committee) with different give/get goals. What is give/get? “give” is their personal gift; “get” is the dollar amount raised through their personal outreach.
What is the role of the host committee?
- There is no host committee for this event
- Event strategy & planning
- Event execution
- Bring new guests to this event
- Solicit silent auction items (or raffle prizes)
- Solicit high-level auction items
- Solicit sponsors
- Steward donors
- Other: _____________________
What goals have the Host Committee committed to?
- Sell _____ tickets (Co-Chairs =______)
- Give = $______ (Co-Chairs = $______)
- Get = $______ (Co-Chairs = $______)
Who on staff is managing the committee? ___________
Communication frequency and method:
⏯ in-person 1/month ⏯conference calls________ ⏯ e-mails 1/week
Planning ahead will allow you to reach your target audience through many different communication methods. Create a separate communication calendar to clearly identify the timing of each invitation and who will be responsible for drafting and producing each format. Remember to create an easy to follow event promotion toolkit for your host committee with links to your online event page and sample text to share with their network on social media and via email.
How will event be promoted?
- Email invite
- Print invite
- Facebook event
- Facebook ads
- Web calendars
Annual events should improve year over year and continue to impress your guests. It’s important to solicit feedback from your guests by asking a mix of “on the scale of” and open-ended questions. Incorporate their feedback into your final event debrief so you have this information readily available when you begin planning next year’s event.
Tools to measure success
- Post-event survey
- Ask board/committee
- Focus groups
Robbie Samuels has been recognized as a networking expert by Inc. and Lifehacker, and profiled in “Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It” by Dorie Clark. Check out “On the Schmooze” his new podcast.