…’tis the season

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Last night, I attended the fourth benefit in as many weeks.  It is indeed the “event” season.

As I think back on each of the events, I am grateful that we have such wonderful nonprofits doing amazing work in the Chicago area.  And while each event had some great “wins”, as well as a “miss” or two, they all had one thing in common:  a connection to the guests.  Events are certainly designed to raise funds.  But more importantly, they provide a crucial touch point with donors – and prospective donors.  If guests leave at the end of the event filled with a sense of pride in supporting the mission and a sense of connectedness to the clients, staff or volunteers, then consider it a job well done.

Here are some simple reminders to ensure your event is a relationship success:

Be “guest-focused”

  • Make sure you know who will be in attendance and what their connection is to the organization.
  • Be thoughtful about seating.  While table placement is unimportant to some, it is very important to others.  It is also beneficial to put newer constituents near someone they know, so they recognize a familiar face.
  • Share the guest list and seating chart with key staff and Board members.  Ask staff and Board members to be ambassadors, which includes welcoming guests and keeping a lookout for those who may be new or “alone”, especially during the cocktail hour.
  • Provide nametags.  Personally, I hate wearing nametags, but I truly love to see them, especially when I see someone whose name I should know and cannot remember.
  • Circulate!

Provide the “mission moment”

  • Whether you have a video or a speaker, be sure your mission moment is compassionate, compelling and concise.  If possible, keep this mission moment to 5 minutes or less.
  • If you are going to make an “ask”, do so immediately following the mission moment.

Follow through after the event

  • We all breathe a sigh of relief once the event is over but remember – the work is not yet done!
  • Be sure to follow up with guests as soon as possible after the event.
  • Identify the VIPs’ – sponsors, those who made a significant donation and those who played a key role – and call each of them within 72 hours to say thank you.  Send a handwritten note within a week.
  • Identify others who should get a handwritten note – and then “divide and conquer” – key staff and Board members can help with this process.
  • Be sure to send out tax letters to all donors, and if possible, include a brief, handwritten thank-you note at the bottom.
  • If possible, send an email to all who attended with photos from the evening.

by: Susan Bottum Matejka, Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

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Time for a Change?

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A few of my clients are in the process of reevaluating their major fundraising events, an exercise I think can be very beneficial, especially if it is approached in the right way and with the right spirit.  If your fundraising events are in need of review (or more importantly, a complete overhaul), here are a few steps you can follow.

First, be objective

The facts don’t lie.  Evaluate your event statistics going back at least 5 years: revenue and expenses, sponsors, number of attendees, etc. Identify trends, successes and areas of concern.

Then, be subjective

Our HPS motto is, “people support what they help to create.”  If you are considering making changes to your event (or more importantly, replacing it all together), it is imperative to seek input from your constituents.  Take time to meet with committee members, both current and past.  Consider conducting a survey or a few focus groups.  In addition to requesting feedback on this event, ask your constituents about events they have attended for other organizations and determine what they like (and don’t like) about those events.  What you will discover through this process is that, no matter what decision you make, your constituents will feel like they had a voice in the process.

Now what?

While change can be unnerving, it can also be refreshing.  Whether you are simply eliminating a silent auction or replacing an entire event, make the decision and move forward with gusto.  Communication will continue to be an essential part of the process going forward.  Recruit some “ambassadors” – key volunteers, staff members, etc. to help you share the good news.  Arm them with the simple facts regarding the change and provide them with some exciting details about the new event.

Give it time

If you are replacing an event or part of an event, it is a good idea to remind your Board members, your volunteers, and especially yourself that change takes time.  You may not net the same about of revenue in the first year.  You may also determine that the change you made was not the right decision or did not go far enough.  Consider this a process, be willing to objectively evaluate the outcomes and continue to make the changes necessary to grow your event and ultimately your constituent base.  And remember…change is exciting!

by: Susan Bottum Matejka, Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Event Planning — Is it Just for the Event Planner?

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This question is on my mind as my feet are still throbbing from last night’s fundraiser.  The last boxes were put in my trunk after midnight.

You see as Vice President of Development, my current responsibilities include managing the fundraising and logistics for my client’s signature event.  It’s true, an event of this magnitude needs a single point person for go to questions.  But I find the greatest value is often in the important roles of others on my team.

One day I realized it is possible for a sponsor to come into an event, wander around the reception alone, be seated for the program and leave without ever getting the “donor love” that they need and deserve.

We know that events like these wouldn’t be sustainable without our sponsors right?

So now I put our CEO, Board members and leadership team staff all on standby to greet and mingle with our sponsors as they arrive.  Last night there were even some state dignitaries who promised to come, so I gave our team head shots so they would know who they were looking for.

I wish budgets were more generous and we could add a member to our development staff for this client. Honestly, I’d be happy to assume the role of Major Gift Officer and throw away my clipboard! I would much prefer to  have ample time to get to know our donors one-on-one at these events. But state budgets being what they are, I don’t anticipate a change.

So until that time, my philosophy is…..if you can’t thank sponsors yourself, then delegate, delegate, delegate.

Happy Spring Fundraising!

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Spring Gala Time:Bring the “non-event” donor into the excitement of the evening

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by Michele Jimenez, Senior Consultant, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

If you are like me, you are probably doing one of three things this month:  planning a spring fundraiser, attending a spring fundraiser, or mailing in a donation to your favorite organization because you’d prefer to stay home.

With our busy schedules, sometimes dedicating time feels like a more valuable resource than money.  And let’s face, it according to the book The Seven Faces of Philanthropy, (by Russ Alan Prince and Karen Maru File,) there are many different factors that motivate donors to give.  Event going isn’t for everyone.

But despite all this, I do love the energy and enthusiasm that events offer and I love the way they immerse our donors in the mission of the organization.

So here are four tips to reach out to even the staunchest couch potatoes in your donor base.  These will help you make your event work harder and spread some of that “event love” to those who chose bunny slippers over patent leather.

  • If you show a video at your event, place it on the homepage of your website. Send that link out the next day to those who did not join you with a simple message, “We missed you last night, here’s a glimpse of what Steven (participant) had to say.”
  • Likewise, we don’t want to forget about those who have not provided email. So a simple postcard could be printed and mailed to non-event attendees with a similar message, photo from the event, and link to view the video.
  • If you don’t produce a video, then compile a collage of photos that represent the event. Print them in color along with a letter to non-attendees conveying highlights from the evening. These should focus on the mission specific portion of your program and the impact the event will have on your mission.
  • Have a select few participants create a “sorry we missed you” card to dedicated donors who wanted to attend, but could not this year.

Of course any of these messages can all be tailored to individuals who have not yet given.  Just include a message like, there’s always time to be part of this successful fundraising initiative…” Just use the event to the fullest in whatever creative way you can so it goes the extra mile.

Case Study: Galas

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by Molly Galo, Senior Consultant, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, galas play a critical role in an organization’s philanthropy plan — they raise needed funds and they foster feelings of good will among party-goers.

The most successful galas, I believe, are those that are truly mission-focused. Here’s a case study to illustrate my belief:

Two years ago, the nonprofit social service agency with which I work raised $190,000 net through its annual gala. The paddle raise — in my mind the critical piece of the event — raised $40,000.  Fast forward two years: the gala raised net $292,000, had reduced expenses by 25%, and the paddle raise alone raised nearly $120,000.

Why? One simple reason: every decision the staff and committee made — from planning to execution — was focused on engaging guests in the organization’s mission.  Sure, we wanted guests to have a good time, but we wanted them to leave feeling like they both understood and helped have an impact on the people we serve.  For this organization, that meant:

  1. Streamlining the Party Experience. Specifically, we moved away from an elaborate party theme that changed each year to a simple, yet elegant theme. Guests weren’t distracted by over-the-top decor and theme-related flourishes, and our decor-related expenses were significantly decreased. In addition, we eliminated the silent auction component of the evening. Instead, guests were able to participate in simpler raffles, which increased dollars raised while lessening the strain on the volunteer committee.
  1. Communicating the Organization’s Impact on Clients. Of course, the remarks of the featured speakers — the CEO, the board chair, special guests — were brief and aligned: all touched on the theme of “the impact we can have, together.” Likewise, the video let the guests in on a conversation among stakeholders (clients, board, staff, business leaders) who shared their impact stories. The video participants were in attendance, and were able to share their stories personally with guests. Finally, throughout the cocktail hour, and again after the program, guests could view the mission, the impact the organization has on its clients and community, and the impact the donor can have, projected on large screens.
  1. Engagement of Guests by Board Members and Staff Ambassadors. Board members came to have a good time — but more importantly to be advocates for the organization, and stewards of its donors. Several board members visited specific donors at their tables, based on a list provided ahead of time by staff, to thank them for their support. Likewise, program staff members attended as ambassadors, and were seated strategically to engage with donors and share stories of the important work they do every day with clients.

Guests left the event feeling both happy and valued. One month later, there’s still a buzz around town about the “best-ever” gala. Most important, though: the funds raised are having a direct and immediate impact on the people the organization serves. Truly, that’s the critical role the every gala should play.

The Gala is Over – Whew! What’s Next?

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by Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

As fundraisers, we all had our fair share of orchestrating fundraising events for the not for profits for which we work.  There is so much prep work ahead of time…from securing committees, selecting venues and food, garnering underwriting support, designing invitations….the list goes on and on and on!

Then the fabulous event takes place – our labor of love – and then it’s a wrap, right?  While we are weary from the event planning and the wonderful evening that raised incredible funds for the organization, we as fundraisers have a great opportunity to cultivate our donors post-event (even though our feet still hurt!).

What are some things we can do?  Well first, pick up the phone.  Call your top paddle raisers or sponsors for the evening and let them know that it would not have been a hit without them.  Let them be among the first to learn how much they helped you raised on that special evening and what a difference their gifts make to those you serve.  And…send pictures of them and their family or other friends at the event with a handwritten note.  For those that you really want to cultivate further, drop off a framed photo at their home with a personal note of gratitude.  For those donors that are new to your organization and attended your event for the first time, call and invite them for a visit and a cup of coffee to see the work of your organization first-hand.

Perhaps there were some of your donors that were unable to attend your event.  If your organization provides a mission moment at the event, send a video link via email and provide an opportunity for them to experience the wonderful evening with a snippet of what occurred.

All of these touch points help cultivate and deepen relationships with our donors.  Your gown or tuxedo may still not have made it to the dry cleaners, but, the week after an event provides a wonderful window of opportunity to reach out and touch our donors and cultivate and deepen relationships even further.