Wait ... Should You Really Hold That Event?
Updated: Jan 18
When the daffodils start blooming, we start receiving “Save the Dates” for golf tournaments, 5Ks, and galas.
Wait ... should you really hold that event?
I have nothing against events. I applaud how events showcase an organization’s impact, bring donors together, and introduce prospective supporters to the nonprofit.
What often happens, however, is that by the time the event rolls around, staff are exhausted, volunteers feel over-extended, and if the staff’s hourly rates were included in the expenses, the event would be a net loss.
How to avoid event burnout and burning through too much cash? There are a couple options.
Some organizations have volunteers who manage an event like a well-oiled machine, get the expenses underwritten, and propel the organization to the next level (one of my clients has a volunteer who spearheaded an event that netted nearly $100,000 with $0 in expenses. Unicorns like those are rare).
Alternatively, consultants, like Marsherall Partners, specialize in conducting events and can create a phenomenal experience for your stakeholders. They are well worth the price.
In some cases, staff may be able to organize the event, but keep in mind that for every hour staff and volunteers are working on event logistics, they are not working on identifying, qualifying, cultivating, asking, and stewarding major donors – which is the fundraising tactic has the best return on investment, every time.
So, how will you determine if you should launch a new event, do that event your organization has always done, or try something entirely different? How do you determine if a volunteer or staff can manage the event, or if hiring a consultant is the way to go?
Start by becoming clear on what the goals of the event are:
To raise money? (If so, how much? Is staff time factored into the expenses? How about opportunity cost?)
To build awareness of your organization? (If so, how will you measure it? What will the call to action be?)
To engage the community of supporters? (Is there a less expensive way to accomplish this? How does the community want to be engaged?)
I recommend holding events when the goals are primarily non-monetary in nature – when the focus is on showcasing the organization, building a community of new and long-term supporters, or any other purpose that can only be accomplished through an event. If the goal is monetary, ensure that not only is the event preparation and execution worth the staff and volunteers’ time, but the organization can sacrifice the time it may otherwise be spending on cultivating major donors.
Lastly, it’s not all-or-nothing. Your organization may decide that the 5K does not have the intended return on investment (how many runners convert to long-term donors anyway?), but you don’t have to eliminate events entirely. You can ask board members and other select volunteers to act as “Ambassadors” – holding smaller, more intimate events in their home or workplace that bring in a new audience, provide an up-close-and-personal view of the organization, provide the basis for long-term major donor cultivation, while being very affordable (or completely free) for the nonprofit.
Wondering what to do about your next event? Contact us and we'll strategize together!