This is the third and final installment of a series about successful event planning for nonprofits originally published in Canadian Fundraiser eNews in October 2010.
Event Success: Operation & Execution
By Stacy Dyer
As we explored in the first two parts of this series, planning and promoting special events, auctions, and ‘a-thons have many similarities. Different types of fundraising events, however, each have their own unique execution challenges.
A golf tournament may operate differently from a gala opening night, but there are several tips any organizer can use to ensure smooth operations and a headache-free fundraiser.
Harness the Power of E-mail
E-mail has become one of the most ubiquitous forms of modern communication. Seventy-eight percent of U.S. adults now use the Internet, and nearly all of those (91%) send and receive e-mail. (* Pew Internet & American Life Project, Generational difference in online activities, Accessed online January 28, 2009)
While many of us routinely ignore marketing messaging from generic organizational senders, most of us will open and read e-mails from friends, colleagues, and family. It’s important to empower participants and supporters to easily communicate with potential donors in their personal networks about your fundraiser.
Control the message your supporters share regarding your organization and its event by providing teams with e-mail templates. Consistent imagery and wording that matches other communications promoting your event will help the message resonate. Ideally, e-mail templates should not only contain information about your event, but also link back to a registration, sponsorship, or donation form where the recipient can take immediate action.
When you provide easy-to-use e-mail templates for your supporters to send on your behalf, you extend your reach far beyond your organization’s traditional online fundraising.
Technology Tip: Extend your online reach even further by adding a “Send to a Friend” link to your e-mails. Also include links from completed donation and registration “thank-you” pages online to immediately share participation on popular social networks. Look for systems that provide these links in your templates automatically. Some services also let your supporters customize personal donation forms, so individuals fundraising in their own networks can easily track their progress and monitor their success.
Create an Event T-Shirt
T-shirts are a wonderful way to promote your fundraising event. As supporters wear the shirts, they raise awareness about your upcoming event. Provide t-shirts to participants, sponsors, and staff as early as possible. Feature your event’s sponsors on the shirts to provide them with additional publicity, and sell the shirts online to raise additional money.
Technology Tip: If you aren’t able to secure a sponsor to print the t-shirts locally, consider a using a service, such as www.cafepress.com, so you don’t have to purchase a large inventory of shirts upfront. You can upload images and customize text to create your own unique design.
Maximize Event Revenue with Concessions
Successful sports franchises understand how important a concession stand can be to happy event attendees. Onlookers and supporters will remain at your event longer if they aren’t hungry or thirsty. And don’t forget about participants – take care of them, too, so they can walk further and, hopefully, raise more funds. To keep expenses at a minimum, get refreshments donated. Ask local restaurants, caterers, or wholesale distributors to become corporate sponsors. Be sure to check local ordinances if you plan to have volunteers supply food.
Technology Tip: Create volunteer registration forms on your event website to collect contacts from interested individuals. Have information from the web connect seamlessly to your existing donor database where coordinators can track contact information, assign duties, and schedule shifts, as needed.
Hold an Auction
A live or silent auction is another fun way to generate extra donations at the event. Get local businesses to provide items you can auction. If you have an emcee at your event, they can oversee live bidding and help encourage participation by attendees.
Technology Tip: Check out this thread in the On Fundraising group of LinkedIn, sponsored by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (registration required.) The ongoing discussion includes tips and best practices from nonprofit professionals using eBay Giving Works to enhance their organizations’ auction potential using the Web.
Photograph the Event
You can use event photos in many fun and creative ways. Publish photos on your website; include them in next year’s event publicity posters and pamphlets; or create keepsake photo books to use as thank you gifts to sponsors, committee members, or team captains.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” so photograph as many activities as possible. Use images to tell your organization’s stories; however, make sure to check with your legal counsel on what photo consents you need before publishing.
Technology Tip: Use Flickr to create a Photostream highlighting your organization’s activities. Explore Creative Commons licensing (www.creativecommons.org) to allow others to share the images of your mission-related work, fundraisers, and events. Maximize the viral nature of compelling imagery by selecting images that do not require captions to clearly demonstrate your organization’s presence.
Don’t Forget to Say ‘Thank You’
Everyone who helped make your event a success should receive a personalized thank you note. Send a thank you gift and letter to your sponsors, recognizing their contribution and the impact it will have on your mission. Many organizations opt to invite participants and team captains to a special post-event celebration, where you can hand out prizes and recognize their efforts.
Technology Tip: While it may be tempting to utilize the mail merge functionality of your donor database, this is one occasion where a streamlined technological process can hurt you. Depending on the size of your event, consider hand-writing as many thank you notes as possible. The personal attention you invest will pay dividends since those appreciated volunteers, sponsors, and participants will be easier to recruit next time.
Executing your fundraising event smoothly and successfully doesn’t have to be tedious. Remember these simple tips and tricks to help make the most out of your next ‘a-thon, tournament, or auction. By planning ahead; utilizing multiple promotional channels; and setting the right operational expectations for staff, participants, sponsors, and volunteers; you can create a phenomenal fundraiser to support your mission without interrupting programmatic priorities.