3 things all great events have in common

We’re coming to the end of another fall event season, and I’ve had enough rubber chicken dinners to last a lifetime (well, as a vegetarian, I get rubber tofu, which isn’t much better)!

After 20 years in the non-profit sector, I’ve been to more fundraising events than I can count.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a glam gala or a businesslike breakfast, or if it’s organized by a large shop or small – there are three things that all great fundraising events have in common.

Great events are all about relationships

Like all effective fundraising, successful events are all about relationships.

You have tons of opportunities to meaningfully connect with your event attendees before, during, and after the event.

But so many organizations focus only on the experience at the event, squandering some great chances to turn a fleeting relationship into a lasting one.

Of all the fundraising events I attended this year, there was one that did an excellent job of all of the above.

They personally contacted me to let me know how excited they were that I was attending, and also sent a helpful reminder e-mail before the event, making sure I had all the details I needed to get there easily.

At the event, they had a dynamic and moving speaker – he was one of the best storytellers I’ve ever heard, vividly bringing to life his childhood in Nyakagyezi, Uganda, and deeply and emotionally connecting me to their work.

After the event, I got a thank you call for my donation, and a hand written card from the founder of the organization – all within three business days!

Wow! To top it all off, Beautiful World Canada is a small shop, and they outperformed organizations ten times their size. Small shop power!

Great events measure return on investment

While events have many positive attributes, the reality is that they can be one of the most costly and least effective ways to raise money.

Too often, events linger on past their sell by date because no one at the organization is willing to take a hard look at the event’s return on investment – decisions are based on personal opinions instead of measurable value.

When examining your event’s metrics, it’s simply not enough to look at the net amount raised, and how many people attended.

What are the goals of your event, and what will you measure to ensure you are actually achieving those goals?

Are you looking to attract new donors to your cause? Then how many event attendees start giving as a result of the event, and how many of them do you retain year over year?

And what's your true cost to raise a dollar? Special events typically cost 50 cents to raise a dollar, and most organizations don't track the greatest cost of all – the valuable time of their staff, and the opportunity cost of that investment.

Great events are accessible

When a lot of organizations are thinking about event accessibility, they focus on ticket cost.

While offering event access at a range of price points may be an important consideration for your organization, what I’m talking about here is accessibility for people with disabilities.

In addition to being the right thing to do (and increasingly, the legal thing to do, with introduction of legislation like Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act), making your event more accessible to people with disabilities makes good business sense for your organization.

For example, a growing number of your event attendees are likely using wheelchairs or other mobility devices - a recent study out of the US indicated that nearly a quarter of people age 65 and over regularly use a cane, walker, wheelchair or scooter.

So, if you want to raise more money, you need to be thinking seriously about the accessibility of your event, because it matters to your donors and supporters.

Here are a few places to start:

  • Ensure full wheelchair accessibility: in addition to entrances, elevators and washrooms, think about the full set up of your venue. Do you need to rethink your table set up to ensure wheelchair users can move comfortably around the room? Do you need to offer designated accessible seating areas?

  • Provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters: wise event planners are hiring ASL interpreters to make sure their programming is accessible to deaf attendees. Cool accessibility fact: Chance the Rapper uses ASL interpreters so all his shows are accessible to his deaf fans.

  • Caption your videos: increasingly, organizations are using video at events to more effectively tell their stories. Caption your videos so they are accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing – there is a range of free captioning tools available to help you.

This is not an exhaustive list, but a few pointers on places to start. If you’re looking for additional resources, Ryerson University has an excellent free guide to planning accessible events, which includes an Accessible Event Planning Checklist.

I’d love to hear how you make your events great. How do you build meaningful relationships with attendees, what do you measure, and how do you work to make sure your events are accessible to people with disabilities and deaf people? Leave a comment below – and thanks for reading!

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