The October 7 edition of the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports on a new study on how organizations are working hard to make sure their special events and galas measure up to donor expectations while still accomplishing their overall goal – raising needed funds. Organizations are going out of their way to create a memorable and – hopefully – special experience that will set their event apart from the numerous events being held this time of year. This is especially challenging here in Washington or in other large cities such as New York, Chicago, Houston or Los Angeles, where there are wall-to-wall events, galas and benefits.
The Chronicle article focused on a study conducted by CharityHappenings.org, an organization that sells tickets to charity events. They asked 850 event attendees across the country about what they thought when it came to event logistics, format, ticket prices, venues, menus and invitations. It gave gala-goers a chance to weigh in on how they view their own experiences with these types of events. One lesson: Be careful not to try to do too much, or you will wear out all of those good feelings your guests might be having…even with those glasses of champagne. This usually starts to happen when the presentations and speeches begin. Your annual gala might be your first, best or only opportunity to get your organization’s message in front of so many people, but you’ve got to think about your audience and their experience. To use the words of CharityHappenings chief Justin Baer says, “Like every great sales pitch, it should be fast, lean and targeted.”
You can get a free copy of the 2010 Charity Event Market Research report at the CharityHappenings website.
Some interesting – but in some cases not surprising – findings:
- The biggest complaint about events and galas – long speeches!
- The amount of the ticket price that most respondents felt should be going to the organization – 75%
- The time during which most people buy their tickets – 1 to 2 weeks in advance
- One of the least motivating factors in why they attended an event – celebrity appearances
- Percentage of event attendees who say they prefer galas to have some sort of “theme” – 66% (2 out of 3)
- The most popular nosh – sushi (no more scallops wrapped in bacon…)
So take some time and think about your upcoming gala, auction or benefit. Consider carefully the experience you’re providing to your attendees. Use the CharityHappenings survey to fine tune your approach. Yours might just be the event everyone said, “Were you there?? You should have been!!”
One of our clients held a gala this fall. In response to an invitation, one individual sent them a reply saying, “I’m sorry I can’t make it, but here’s $5,000.”
“That’s a ‘come and see me’ gift,” I said to the executive director. I encouraged this staff leader to get on an airplane and go visit this person who had just made such a generous, spur-of-the-moment gift. From my perspective, if someone can simply write a check for $5,000 based on an invitation to a gala, they have the capacity to do a lot more. A visit with that person could yield another gift, perhaps right on the spot. The organization could secure a commitment from that donor to make a similar gift for a number of years in a row – a so-called “sustaining” annual gift. At a minimum, they will have begun the very valuable process of effectively stewarding this donor’s relationship their organization.
Are your donors asking you to come and see them? Do you take the time to look for those out-of-the-ordinary, unexpected gifts that come your way? Is your annual fund staff trained to notice these special gifts? Is there a system that flags extra large gifts from the direct mail program for special attention? What do you do when you find these donors? The answers to these questions can form base of a good, sustainable major gifts program.
Many donors want to be noticed. All donors want to be thanked. While it might seem extravagant to get on an airplane to go and visit that $5,000, think of the return on that investment. For the price of a $300 airplane ticket and a $25 cab ride, you can help secure that $5,000 for future years – not a bad payoff to be sure.
Watch out for those “come and see me” gifts. Your donors are calling…you better answer.
The latest issue of BizBash magazine highlights a few thoughtful examples of how with a few changes, you can save money without sacrificing style when printing event invitations. With the advent of modest budgets and an increasing sensitivity among event attendees regarding the dollars being spent on galas – rather than on charitable mission – these are easy to implement steps that make a big difference. Ideas include:
- Simplify the images. Complex images with tricky effects can costs thousands in extra printing costs.
- Use photography instead of original art.
- Switch from expensive printing processes to more straightforward four-color printing.
- Stay away from non-standard invitation sizes and shapes; go simple to make it easy – and less expensive – for mailing.
- Use lighter weight paper, or tear-off cards or online rsvps instead of separate cards.
- Take advantage of digital printing; it can give you a bold look for often a lower cost.
The September/October 2009 issue of Advancing Philanthropy, the magazine of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, also features a number of articles on successfully managing special events in a recession.