By Josh Gold
Sometimes looking at your industry as an “outsider” can produce interesting results.
Back in 2009 when I was hired to create my first gala film, I was amazed by the grandeur of the fundraising events my clients hosted: everyone dressed in their finest – a real black tie event – with valet parking, a food selection that put wedding menus to shame, honorees and VIPs, and of course the featured videos.
The conventional wisdom, I soon learned, was that these high-profile affairs kept the spark alive between your organization and its supporters. They were both a celebration of the successes you had achieved together and a way of saying: “Thank you. We appreciate you, and we couldn’t do this without you.”
On its face, this approach made sense to me. You can’t take your backers for granted. While they may believe in your cause, you need to give them a reason to make it an ongoing priority in their busy lives. It can’t hurt to remind them occasionally that they’re absolutely essential to the work you do – work they value as well. Everyone has a good time, and by the end of the night, your guests are re-inspired, re-connected and re-committed to your cause.
It sounds good, doesn’t it? I certainly bought into the idea for a while, creating film after film for some amazing organizations.
Then I started to wonder what happened to all that goodwill after the guests went home.
Think about it. There’s a final speech, dessert, and then it’s all over. Within a few days, life has returned to normal.
We invest so much in these events. Why do we let so much of their impact go to waste?
The more I considered the issue, the more I realized that the whole system of annual events is structured… backwards.
We host these events with the intention of making them fundraising juggernauts. A few months beforehand, organizations send out “save the date” notifications, soon followed by actual invitations. These invitations usually contain a link to the organization’s website, where guests can purchase seats, place an ad in the journal, and make a donation.
But if the emotional climax is the dinner itself, why are all the donations made beforehand – when your supporters are almost a year distant from the last time you made your case to them? When they’re at their least enthusiastic and least connected? Why create the most lavish event of the year and then utterly fail to take advantage of the excitement you generate?
In this series of blog posts, I’m going to go over some of the strategies I’ve devised for making the most of the most inspiring event on your organization’s calendar. First, we’ll talk about what you can do in the lead-up to amplify your fundraising effectiveness. Next, we’ll move on to the big night itself. And finally, we’ll add a whole new dimension by advising you on how to follow up effectively in the aftermath.