From time-to-time, I get to introduce you to a rock star in my universe, a colleague I trust implicitly. Today I’m thrilled to introduce you to Clover Frederick, a fundraising and marketing expert from Lincoln, Nebraska. I love her idea of fundraising events being a “22-hour piñata”! You can follow her on twitter @cloverfrederick.

Special events: Make them worth the effort

Image of Clover Frederick: A fundraiser and marketer on a mission www.CloverFrederick.comby Clover Frederick: Fundraiser & Marketer on a Mission

I read an article recently about a 22-hour piñata. The author’s daughter had an assignment to build a piñata. Ultimately, it took her 22 hours – much longer than expected and the project didn’t really teach her anything useful about Spanish.

The author encouraged readers to consider what “ridiculous project(s)” we take on that do not “merit this much energy.”

In the nonprofit world, fundraising events can easily become our 22-hour piñata. Whether it is an event that has been a tradition for years with devoted volunteer leaders or a fresh, new event meant to engage the public, we often end up spending so much time on the events that the buzz, engagement and even funds, aren’t enough to justify it all.

Don’t get me wrong. I love fundraising events. I think they are an important piece of the marketing/fundraising mix. But I have fellow fundraising consultants that refuse to work on them because they so often turn into a waste of precious time.

So how do you avoid taking on a 22-hour piñata project? Ask yourself a few questions about your event.

  • Is this a PTA-level event?

    No offense to PTA’s but their signature fundraisers require hundreds of foot soldier volunteers (students and parents). If your event idea takes more people than you can reasonably pull together (like selling items door-to-door or a bake sale of homemade goods), it is time to consider other ideas. These fundraisers depend on having a huge body of buyers and sellers so to succeed, your organization has to have a built-in audience (like a rummage sale for a church youth group).

  • Will this event expose new people to our organization?

    Even if there is a lot of work to be done, sometimes events are worth the work if they expose the public to your organization. In my experience, the event has to be so much fun or so intriguing that the public will attend whether they know your organization or not. The latest trend that seems to be working is the fun run/walk. People on an exercise kick will come run or walk no matter the cause and sponsors are willing to be a part of that. (It is important to note that the majority of funds raised will be on sponsorships, not entry fees.) Other fundraisers that host celebrities, concerts or comics will often bring in a new crowd and get media buzz.

  • Can this event be SMALL but mighty?

    Some events are designed to bring in great funds without a ton of expenses. One example is an event I’ve chaired that raised funds for a local breastfeeding center. We knew that this wouldn’t be a cause that the general public might support so we designed one that young parents would enjoy. The cocktail party and dessert tasting (called “Milk & Cookies) had less than 100 couples but expenses were low (donated food, drinks and location) so the profit outweighed the time spent. And the event was so intimate and lovely that the director described it as “magical.”

  • What extra ways of raising funds can we add to an existing event?

    Silent auctions are a lot of work and can really be draining to the sponsors you have to approach year after year. Consider a high dollar raffle of 3 to 5 big items instead. Believe it or not, you can make more money this way since nearly everyone will buy at least one ticket. Silent auctions are drawing lower and lower bids lately and people are more like to look for a “deal” than run up the bid for a good cause. Participants are often willing to spending $20 on a chance to win rather than hundreds of dollars to be sure to win.

Hopefully these suggestions will help you determine whether that “great idea” is truly a great fundraiser or if it will turn into a 22-hour piñata.

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