I attended a great presentation on event planning offered by Women in Development of Greater Boston. Here are some key takeaways from Brianna Boggs, Director of Development at GLAD and Kelly Lepley, Associate Director of the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Brianna and Kelly mentioned a few possibilities for awkwardness that can arise for guests who have been invited to a fundraising event. Two examples:
Brianna noted that some people like doing the public paddle raise and others want to contribute anonymously. Make sure that you have “plants” in the audience at various giving levels. At the end of the auction, announce that folks who still want to contribute can give their paddle numbers to a staff person, so that someone can follow up with them privately.
She also suggests changing the table “donation” card to include more giving opportunities, like volunteering or participating in a site visit. That way no one at the table feels uncomfortable about not filling out the card.
It’s not uncommon to invite people to an event, even though they aren’t in a position to donate. Kelly pointed out that families who have benefited from Dana Farber’s services often want to participate in the Jimmy Fund Walk but might have difficulty raising the $300/person entrance fee.
Offering the chance to volunteer at the walk, where over 1,000 volunteers are needed, is a great way to have participation be high without someone feeling slighted. Another way they include families is through the “Hero Program,” where current pediatric and adult patients are at each mile marker of the walk.
Brianna strongly recommended that you make sure to review the comments of everyone invited to speak at the event. She warned about telling a story that someone who has been served in your organization might be embarrassed to hear. You don’t want to set up a dynamic of “us” as donors and “them” as clients.
Kelly talked about the value of building anticipation and enthusiasm before an event, but the importance of also asking a few questions: Does this new idea make sense? Can we do it well? Will it ultimately help us raise more money?
One strategy that her team uses that has worked well was adding an “Extra Mile Brunch” before the walk for big donors. This approach has been successful in bringing people together who are passionate about their mission.
Arranging tour nights to meet with doctors and hear about their research, however, has been less successful – on one occasion the doctor came out for what ultimately turned out to be a very small audience.
Brianna added that it is important to ask yourself, “Can I raise this money without doing an event?” In light of event fatigue on the part of the staff as well as attendees, it is crucial to do a five-year review of the event’s performance to see if there is continued success or diminishing returns over time.
Kelly shared that after the walk, they mail out postcards with an infographic showing the impact of their event and the amount of money raised. They use this approach to stand out and escape being more clutter in someone’s email inbox. In addition, they do thank you robocalls, recorded by a celebrity, a grateful patient, or the walk director.