The 12-Step Cure to Event Addiction

by Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE

Why are so many nonprofits addicted to special event fundraising? I’ve observed several reasons for this addiction. First, for many organizations they seem like the only way out of the fundraising dilemma. They aren’t aware of the diversity of fundraising activities that could make their lives easier, bring in more dollars, and cause less stress among the organization’s staff and volunteers. They see other organizations running events that get a lot of publicity and, at least on the surface, appear to be raising tons of money.

They see events as easy, anyone can plan party, right? And they are fun for staff, volunteers, and donors. Or, are they? Ask staff who have worked long hours for many months planning and executing an event, if they really had fun doing it. And volunteers, well maybe they enjoy events, but maybe they’d enjoy doing something that would have a greater impact on the organization’s mission. And donors, are they really enjoying your events? Or would they rather stay home with their family? A while back, a lot of nonprofits jumped on the “nonevent” bandwagon. Many sent out “invitations” with a teabag and said, “sit back, relax, and have a cup of tea, just send us your donation.” It made the event sound like punishment, rather than just sending a letter that said, “here’s what we’re doing, send us a donation so you can be part of this wonderful work and you can make a real change in our community.” A much more powerful message.

Often, boards stress events, because they are staff driven, and board members don’t have to get serious about fundraising. Although, for organizations that run  lot of events, board members may be sick of being nickeled and dimed at every board meeting, “sell a table at a gala, sponsor a hole at our golf tournament, sell twenty raffle tickets, get a team to run, walk, play golf, play tennis, or bowl! After a while board members will stop supporting this over-abundance of events.

Recently, I did a webinar on this topic and some attendees were holding more than ten events a year. Whew, I got tired just thinking about it!

So, how do you get out of the rut of special event addiction. Well, it takes 12 steps and although it might sound like a lot of work, you will find it much easier on staff, board members, volunteers, and donors in the long run. Take one step at a time and by next year, you’ll be well on your way to overcoming your “addiction.”

What are the twelve steps?

  1. Evaluate Events—Analyze the real results of your events, hard costs, soft costs (staff and volunteer time), and opportunity costs (what could you be doing with your time if you weren’t consumed by special events?)
  2. Evaluate Your Entire Development Program—Engage a consultant to do a development audit through which you will get an objective view of all your fundraising efforts and where you can improve.
  3. Review Results—Make sure all staff and board members are briefed on the results of your analysis and understand the results of these assessments and the recommendations you or the consultant make to improve productivity.
  4. Choose One or Two Events to Keep—Decide which events makes the most sense to keep, based on economic results, ability to build relationships with donors, and ability to tell donors your story—keep the most mission-related events, but make sure it’s only one or two events.
  5. Development Plan—Create a full-blown development plan that encompasses all methods of fundraising and all constituencies.
  6. Development Committee—If you have a development committee, make sure it is not just focused on events. If you don’t have one, start one but be sure to include community volunteers as well as board members on the committee and select people who can help with all types of fundraising activities.
  7. Board Development—educate your board on all aspects of fundraising and build a board that can help implement your development plan.
  8. Develop Infrastructure—Build your infrastructure—your donor database, gift acceptance policies, and everything you need to expand your fundraising efforts.
  9. Develop Case for Support—Create your case support and make sure you know how to use it to tell your story. The case must be emotional and rational.
  10. Implement an Annual Fund—Develop methods to approach your event attendees, and other donors and potential donors, through mail, phone, Internet, website, social media, and personal solicitation.
  11. Research and Cultivation—Research your event attendees and sponsors, as well as any current donors and prospective donors and develop means to cultivate them. This could be through cultivation events, NOT fundraising events, on a smaller scale.
  12. Major Gifts/Planned Giving—Once you have all this in place, you can move into major giving and planned giving. Remember that one major gift could yield more than a special event that took a year of planning and hard work.

Want to learn more? My latest course, The 12-Step Cure to Event Addiction is available through my annual subscription, which gives you to access to fourteen courses, including Create a Development Plan That Works, Build a Great Board, Build a Dream Team of Fundraising Volunteers,  Build Donor Relationships that Lead to Major Gifts, Tell Your Story Right: Develop a Compelling Case for Support, and more. All for the low subscription rate of $349 a year if you sign up now. Price is subject to change as new courses are added. Signup here:

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