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Improving Your Nonprofit Event’s ROI by Defining Purpose


By Terri Harel

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

A nonprofit event is an important part of a fundraising strategy. But a nonprofit event isn’t always about raising money, and assuming so can seriously inhibit your success.

Is this nonprofit event supposed to attract new supporters? Upgrade donors? Recognize major donors? Each has a different set of priorities and agendas, which in turn affects the details of putting the event together. In this post, we will discuss why chiseling out your event’s main purpose is critical to its success, along with a couple ways you can strategize the smaller details of planning.

A Lack of Purpose Isn’t Pretty

Let’s say you’re hosting a party to raise money. In search of any cheap available venue, you ask if any of your board members would like to host the party at his or her house. One member offers his home, quickly finalizing the location.

The goal of the event is simple: raise a lot of money. Beyond that, no one considers whether the event should be used specifically to acquire new donors, retain current supporters, engage current fundraisers, upgrade donors, or so on. As a result, your team invites its entire contact list. This leads to a mix of guests at your party: long-time donors, friends of donors, major donors, people hearing about your nonprofit for the first time, and some who came simply for the free food.

By the end of the evening, the party ends up raising some money, but not as much as you hoped. While the attendance rate was high, many guests left without making a gift.

The main takeaway is this: failing to clearly define your event’s main purpose and, as a result, audience, can lead to less than optimal results. Think about it. Sending the same, generic email appeal to your entire contact list, regardless of each donor’s history with your nonprofit, can come off as thoughtless or irrelevant. In the same way you would segment and tailor your email messaging to boost results, you need to identify your event’s purpose to maximize its ROI.

Identifying the Purpose for Your Nonprofit Event

As demonstrated above, it’s essential to clearly define an event’s objective before you start planning it. Raising money will likely be one of the desired results, but think further about why are you hosting this event.

Are you looking to…

  • Acquire new donors?
  • Engage and keep current donors?
  • Upgrade donors?
  • Engage mainly with major donors?
  • Foster community?
  • Some combination of the above?

Determining the event’s main purpose will help you choreograph all the details, including whom you’ll want to invite and what the programming will include. This will help you choose a theme and venue that will appeal to your target audience.

For instance, a pub crawl could be a great way to attract young people to your organization for the first time, but a black tie gala might be more appropriate for upgrading donors or engaging with major donors.

Switch Up the Way You Ask for Money

We know what you’re thinking. Sure, events are not always just about raising money, but ideally they can all be opportunities to generate some revenue, or at least offset overhead. When you know your event’s purpose and audience, you have the context you need to tailor another strategy: how you will ask for donations.

To illustrate, let’s consider a couple examples…

Example 1: Acquire Brand New Donors

Let’s say you’re hosting another party, this time to raise awareness and acquire new donors. Your staff members invite people who aren’t familiar with your organization, including their friends, neighbors, and people from other social clubs. You limit the invitation list to how many the house can comfortably accommodate.

Your main purpose is to acquire new donors, but this goal comes hand in hand with educating them too. These guests have not been previously involved with your organization, so you need to demonstrate the importance of supporting your worthy cause. During the nonprofit event, give a presentation about:

  • Your cause
  • How your nonprofit is making an impact
  • A video that represents your organization’s story and demonstrates your work on the ground

Open up the space for people to discuss the issues, ask questions and get more information.

Afterwards, it’s important that you tell people what they can do next to help. Make your pitch, and consider suggesting gift amounts; you can think of this as the suggested giving levels found on many online donation forms. To avoid asking for too much, align these amounts with the giving behavior of your typical donor. Give a few minutes for people to immediately respond, and then be clear with where or how donations can be placed.

Make sure to inform people about other ways they can get involved with your organization, since not everyone may be ready to donate just yet. Provide a way for people to sign up for your email list, give out information about your next nonprofit event or how they might be able to volunteer an hour or two of their time. Even if people don’t give that evening, this method enables them to take action for your organization outside of this organized event.

Example 2: Upgrading Existing VIP Donors

In this case, these donors are capable of making larger gifts, so you want to express the significance of their current support while asking them to increase their contributions. To show the exceptional importance of their role in your work, consider hosting an upscale dinner party and limiting the invitation list to 10 or 15 people. A smaller party will heighten the feeling of exclusivity and help attendants feel extra special. You can even introduce them to board members or executive directors to increase the sense of their importance to your nonprofit.

You can then start a discussion about the importance of your donors’ support, the impact made possible through their donations, and the good that their future support will bring. Then explain the need that requires extra support from your donors. Are you funding a new program? Has your vision expanded? Are you close to a fundraising goal, and inviting donors to help you cross the finish line?

Express how a larger gift will move the needle for your organization even further. As the dinner party comes to a close, make your ask for an increased contribution of a specific amount.

Obviously, each unique event offers a lot of room for different approaches. The main point is that there is high value to designating and appropriating each nonprofit event for a specific purpose. By identifying its distinct objective, you can customize the details to appeal to your audience and maximize the event’s ROI (and make it more fun and enjoyable for attendees!) Applying a more strategic approach to your events can increase your chances of success!

The Special Events Pocket Guide

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