How Relevant is Your Special Event in Today’s Market?

Engagement strategies matter as much as the charitable affair itself

Charity auctions. Wine tastings. Formal awards dinners. Black tie galas. Feel-good races. Fundraising walks.

Many nonprofit organizations repeat the same roster of events each year, or ask simply, “Which type of fundraising event should we have next?” rather than looking under the surface at more critical factors.

Given the most common nonprofit fundraising events, questioning which experiences make the most sense strategically is a reasonable practice for organizations that seek to remain competitive and viable. In a market where only 27 percent of first-year donors ever give again and less than 60 percent of multi-year donors are retained, nonprofits must remain adaptable, agile and responsive when it comes to evaluating what works. This is so even if it means pivoting in another direction and amending established, signature fundraisers through an incisive, objective audit.

“Event planning is becoming more strategic. The event planner is being charged with and afforded greater responsibility for how events fit into the bigger branding and outreach landscape for organizations,” says Vanessa Wakeman, CEO of New York City-based event planning and PR firm The Wakeman Agency.

For organizations that have held the same seminal events for decades – such as the oft-referenced formal, exclusive dinner – it may be time to introduce new events or incorporate novel approaches to existing activities.

“The event planning process in nonprofits could benefit from more innovation around how events are done – from origination and conception through execution and follow up,” suggests Wakeman.[tweet bird=”yes”] “We are often sticking to the same models versus trying to be disruptive and creating new experiences.” [/tweet]

Changing course and getting out of organizational comfort zones can seem daunting in the short term, but the long-term fundraising and reputational payoffs can be worthwhile.

Consider the Audience

When it comes to nonprofit event planning, adhering to a boilerplate formula – that is, essentially a one-size-fits-all format with a homogenous base in mind – perhaps never was a prudent practice. But as dynamics and demographics change, staying attuned to unique audience preferences and appeals is all the more relevant in today’s event planning strategies.

According to The Nonprofit Times, charitable organizations primed for continued relevancy should cultivate outreach and connection strategies that interest and attract several needle-moving groups that are growing not only in number, but in potential impact. This means developing special events that interest and appeal to their priorities and sensibilities.

Specifically, women, Millennials and Baby Boomers represent an influential frontier, not only as consumers but also as prospective donors. Millennials – those born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s – are projected to comprise a whopping 75 percent of the workforce by 2025. As a result, they will have resources to spend in supporting causes that move them. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 20 percent of the U.S. population will be aged 65 or over by 2020, representing a significant upward trend from just a few years ago, when Boomers were 13 percent of the population in 2010. And, finally, women’s influence continues to magnify; the number of woman-owned businesses has climbed 68 percent since 1997 – and nearly one million of those are owned by women of color (accounting for one out of every six woman-owned enterprises).

Given these seismic generational and demographic developments, today’s successful nonprofit organizations need to create compelling event strategies that meet the expectations and desires of tomorrow’s key targets. This may mean departing from – or adding creative nuances to – age-old formulas and formats.

Engage. Engage. Engage.

Fundraising events are no longer the province of the wealthy, connected and executive-titled class. One emerging practice in charitable giving is courting and treating all potential donors as high-value, equally appreciated assets.

According to an article from the Society for Nonprofits, it is all too common for nonprofits to overlook underrepresented groups (a.k.a. “The Woman Next Door”). However, well-positioned businesswomen give approximately 7 percent of their income to charitable causes, and African-American businesswomen, in particular, outperform that, at a rate of more than 10 percent of their income.

Additionally, Generation Y is a group extensively covered for their novel way of living, if even with fewer material resources. However, the average Millennial who gives to nonprofits channels their dollars to three separate organizations. Over time, cultivating and sustaining this affinity can help savvy organizations reap enduring moral support and financial giving.

Other poor practices can spawn donor fatigue, leading to diminished giving and opting out of charitable events. Such missteps include not thanking donors (or not doing so promptly) and primarily contacting donors with an “ask “or solicitation rather than with general organizational news or useful information.

“Nonprofit event planners and leaders have to think beyond the actual event to pre-event and post-event steps to ensure they have a strategy in place to build relationships with attendees,” Wakeman says. “I often see organizations chasing people down to get them to sponsor or purchase tickets for an event, but then they may not think about them again until it’s event time the following year.”

[tweet bird=”yes”] Not tending to and fostering that connection before and after events can turn off would-be advocates and supporters. [/tweet]

“Inconsistent outreach is a poor approach to building a loyal donor base. With all of the competition for the same donors, it’s important to think about what organizations are providing to attendees.[tweet bird=”yes”] It’s not only about the glamour or the “it factor” of the event, but the experience being created so people want to continue to come and support the organization.” [/tweet]

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