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Alex Comfort, CFRE

After two years of teaching my “Fundraising Boot Camp,” a new class had a member who said early on: “We have all heard that you hate special events.”  That was the moment I realized I needed to re-think my approach to special events, or, as I call them, special fundraising events.

As I look at the strategies of the many non-profits in our region, I am struck that MORE charities are depending on special fundraising event income than ever.  A woman I mentored through AFP told me her job was putting on 5 events and keeping track of 4 other “third-party events.”

A “third-party event” is when you get a happy call from some group saying they love you and are going to put on an event to raise money for you.  All you have to do is come to said event and beam a lot, then collect a couple of thousand dollars.  The problem, as most of us in the business know, is that two weeks prior to the event you get a crisis call and the group says there are myriad problems and you and your team need to come and bail them out.  To be fair, sometimes they work, but you have to be careful.

As for the events you put on yourself:

    • volunteers and attendees tend to get burned out;
    • some events have nothing to do with your mission;
    • most take several years to begin showing a real profit; and
    • most wind up to be “staff killers.”

 But the good news is that they can both bring in new friends and new income.  Even cynical old Alex can see the value of a good event, and the truth is I have almost never seen a charity golf tournament that I don’t love.

Just be aware that taking 10% of the time you spend on a special fundraising event can yield more income through targeted major gift work if done correctly.  Try to keep special fundraising events to two or three a year and try to have one high dollar exclusive event and one low entry fee event that thousands of people can do.

Use special fundraising events as an integral part of your annual gifts program, but be realistic, use the big picture approach, actually use the volunteers on your committee, and diversify your fundraising portfolio.

And, no, I do not hate special fundraising events.  Just don’t ask me to be on your committee!

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