Updated: Jan 11
You all know my thoughts on galas. We can’t deny their place in our current fundraising strategies, but it’s time to prepare for a world where they lose relevance.
Let’s take that a step further. What does our Magic 8 Ball say about the future of nonprofit fundraising events in general?
We must reevaluate all of the 5Ks, trivia nights, auctions, and everything else our organizations have created - outside of the critical work of our missions - and that we now depend on to reach our budget goals.
The diminishing success of events has been inevitable and the COVID-19 crisis exposed different (previously unimaginable) inherent risks. When we couldn’t (wouldn’t, shouldn’t) get people together in one space to celebrate our missions, we had to improvise and find ways to get people together while maintaining physical distance and safety.
Some events got cancelled, some pushed back to a later date, and some moved to a virtual setting. My personal experience with this process was illuminating: my organization’s annual gala was scheduled for September of 2020, and it was clear we couldn’t do the event in-person. We made the decision to pivot and have a virtual event, which was beautiful and well-received by our supporters. We were even able to drive our attendance well beyond the level of the previous year because of how accessible the online event was.
The problem? We didn’t raise nearly as much money as the in-person event. Now, some of that can be chalked up to the pandemic’s impact on people’s finances. But that doesn’t account for the full drop in revenue. The virtual event was a great chance for people to come together and to keep our mission front-and-center for our donors, but the bottom line took a hit.
We were fortunate that we had a well-developed fundraising plan and enough other revenue streams that we were able to withstand a drop in gala revenue. Many organizations were not so lucky, though. For those that relied on events for half of their revenue (or more), the COVID crisis has been especially devastating.
Sadly, that problem is not going away. The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently reported that organizations across the country are going through another season of event changes due to the surge in the delta variant. Organizations that may have been desperate for revenue from a fall event are now having to shift gears once again and figure out how they are going to connect with their supporters.
If your organization is heavily dependent on event revenue, now is the time to adapt. COVID has exposed the number of outside factors that can upend fundraising events, and our organizations simply can’t be exposed to that kind of risk. Consider the following when transitioning your nonprofit away from event dependance:
Connect one-on-one with donors: Find those people who are regular event attendees and meet with them one-on-one. The best donor engagement happens when you’re across the table (or, depending on the conditions in your community, video chatting) and connecting on a personal level. If you have to shift away from events for any reason, take the time you would have spent on planning and preparation and instead use it to get as much face time with donors as you can. If it works for your organization, consider providing virtual volunteer opportunities so people can stay personally engaged.
Be transparent with stakeholders: If an event has to be cancelled, postponed, or dropped from future plans, some people are bound to be disappointed. Make sure everyone knows that the choice was in the best interest of your mission while giving them a safe space to provide feedback.
Consider other fundraising channels: If events have to be pushed to the side, what are the other ways you can engage your donor pool and community? Consider a renewed push for major gifts, email fundraising to those who have engaged with you in the past, or exploring new foundation and grant opportunities.
Find space to innovate: This is a time to explore new ways to engage the community in raising money. Peer-to-peer campaigns are a great way to connect with a large pool of donors without the expense or large time commitment of events.
This is a time for all of us to come together as professionals and share our experiences in a time of unimaginable upheaval. We’ve all had to adapt our fundraising plans in ways we never thought possible, and events are one of the biggest casualties. The pandemic has exposed the risk we undertake when we rely on events, and now is the time to consider how much we rely on them moving forward.
It’s a challenge to move away from events, but also a tremendous opportunity. If you do it right, this change will allow you to focus less on event attendees who aren’t as likely to engage as long-term donors, and connect more with the people who have a true affinity for your mission.
We’re at the beginning of an exciting new era in fundraising, and we’re here to help you navigate the changing landscape.
Contact us today to set up a free consultation and discuss your need to diversify fundraising revenue.