Rethinking Special Events

I was at a conference where the presenter mentioned the need for us all to rethink special events.  The presenter was Chuck Loring, and for those of you who don’t know him, you need to, and you need to attend his presentations.

I left really thinking about this idea – of rethinking or redefining special events.  How many times do we frame our development work in somewhat narrow terms? Or perhaps another way to look at is – how often do we compare our development work and success to someone else’s?

If we really look at what our development staff can do – really consider it – have conversations on realistic return on investment and define those words so we are all on the same page.  You can start to answer the question of “what does having a special event look like for your organization?”

I would recommend the following questions to hone in on how you can define a special event that could be beneficial within the context of your current development plan. (notice I said within the context of your current development plan, yes you need one)

What values describe your idea of a successful special event? What kind of event is mission aligned and makes sense for who you are as an organization?

What kind of capacity and energy do you have to build on the relationships formed at a special event? Are you truly looking to connect donors/prospects to mission or are you building a following around a specific event?

Truly, honestly, transparently, answer this – what is the goal of the special event?  Do not start with “we want to make money” and when that doesn’t happen say “well, we got some good PR out of it”.  Define the goal, measure against the goal, work to meet the goal, but don’t fail and then ignore that failure and shift to another goal.

Now I haven’t spent any time actually defining special events. Mostly because there are so many ideas out there, and everyone at the development table has a different idea about which ones are the best. So I recommend starting with the questions above and find the answers – even if it takes time.

An remember one of the most important aspects of any kind of special event – if you aren’t building relationships with donors that are enhanced by their attending the event you may be missing out in the long term.


Small Shop Development; Where to start?

I have heard so many times the following statement from nonprofit executive directors and board members: “I know she has money; we need to get her involved.”

Now on the surface it’s hard to argue with that thinking.  You believe your nonprofit’s mission is worthy of support, and you know of a “rich person”, and it appears obvious that once they hear about your needs, money will rain down powerfully and purposefully.

And, seriously, who hasn’t heard of this happening.  The details are unclear, but someone told you it actually happened once, and it was amazing!

I would say that this is a rabbit hole of epic proportions that you may not have time to go down.  So let’s tease this apart a bit.

And, we will start with the best beginning question: have you thoroughly and completely and fully examined all your current donors for their capacity to give, identified the level of their giving potential, developed a strategy to build their giving over time, and executed the strategy successfully?

Now don’t get me wrong, it is critical to concurrently build current donor giving and recruit new donors, but remember that second one, recruiting new donors, or acquisition of new donors, takes a lot of time, really lots of time.  And if you are a small shop, you need to prioritize your time for best outcome.  I would argue that starting with your current donors is the best place to begin.

Back to the original statement about “if only she would get involved all of our funding issues would be solved.”  Again, it could happen.  But are you really ready for it?  Meaning, if you don’t have clear and successful practices for your current donor pool, how do you assure that new donors are stewarded well after that initial donation?

The rabbit hole in this is that you imagine the best outcome and focus all your energy on trying to get in front of a prospective “rich person” thinking “all will be solved” instead of first assuring that your overall strategy for stewarding your current donors is solid.

My final pitch for this approach is that new donors are a tender bunch.  Meaning, when they make that initial donation, your response to it has great impact on if there will be another one coming.  From the minute that donation comes into your hands you are actively involved with stewarding that donor’s relationship with you, whether it’s $5 or $500.

So, if you take a look at your current donors and see that many of them are one-timers, or have given a couple of times but are now lapsed, you must ask the question: “If we get the rich person involved, and they donate, how will we keep them?”


The Dreaded Turnover

Whether you have development staff, key development volunteers or a mix of both – staff turnover is truly a challenge.  Research shows that development departments/programs/efforts are a constantly churning pot and there are many reasons for the churn.

If you are seeing a trend in turnover or a constant shift in direction of development efforts I would suggest a moment to stop, think, and articulate the root cause.  You must give yourself permission to take time, to really think on the “why” of it and get to the root cause.  You need to do that.

Be honest.  Be brutally honest with yourself on this.  Ask yourself why your nonprofit is churning through development staff and moving from effort to effort –moving from “someone’s new best idea ever” to the next.  Ask yourself why, even with all these tremendous efforts, your revenue is not meeting goal or is not steady and growing each year.

Once you have your answer(s), test them with your key people and see what they think. Take your time, don’t rush, and remember be brave and honest – it is critical that you all are.

Now that you have the root cause, and you and your team have put it into words, you can begin to address it, move past it and plan for a different future.  The questioning and conversation may be hard, but the path you are on now is hard, and you can pick your hard.


The Best Idea Ever!

You remember that day.  The one when you had literally the best idea ever, and you got to the office knowing that everyone was going to love it and be as excited as you were to make it happen.

And, almost immediately, there were some folks who listed all the problems with it (how do they do that so fast?), and/or say “seriously that idea is the worst one ever”  or my personal favorite, ” we did that before (insert some vague history here) and it was the worst thing ever”.

There will be some who agree it is the best idea ever and then start talking about their own best idea ever and some who really just need to talk about this other thing (insert other thing) that is more important to them.

What went wrong?  Sadly, nothing.  But bringing a great idea to an actual thing is a long, long, long process.  And, along the way you need to love that process, embrace that process, and use that process to build group work, best thinking, and shared values. And, you need to open to the fact that what started as your best idea ever, will most likely not be “yours” at the end of the process.

Change, even small, needed, brilliant change, is hard.  Moving people in a new direction when they are used to their current direction (even  if it’s a bad direction, and they know it) can be a monumental task that takes time.

Don’t be afraid of sharing your best idea ever, just know, that most likely unless your idea becomes shared, meaning both the work to bring the idea to “the thing” and the credit  at the end of “who did it”, it may just stay an idea.




If You Fail to Plan; Plan on Failing.

Boy, that is an oldie but a goody!  How many of you have been at a board meeting, committee meeting or staff meeting and heard someone say,  “I have this great idea for a fundraising event!”.  And, everyone leans in closely, hands on chins, expectant eyes and smiles galore waiting to hear about “the” idea that will save the day.

Well, and I promise you, there isn’t one.  Even the very best fundraising idea cannot go from mention to fully realized without a lot of, and I mean a lot of, work.  And, back to the title of this post, if it is not currently part of your plan, you are facing more work and more time to make it a success.

So what does that mean? First it means you need a Development Plan.  That is a plan that outlines clearly the income goals for the year (or multi-year is even better) with the tactics you will employ to reach the goals and who is responsible for what.

The staff can begin the drafting of a plan as they know what resources they have.  And, the draft can then be worked on within your development committee.  And, finally, the board can endorse the plan.  And, remember, this is one of the ways the board fulfills its role in fundraising.

What does this planning process do?  Well, a lot.  It forces your organization to answer some very important questions.  They can include but are not limited to:  How do we raise our funds? How much does the board and staff understand the role of development?  What is the role of the board and staff in development?  What development activities can we be successful at?  Why do our donors give to our organization?  And, lots more!

If you don’t have a plan;  meaning a written down, agreed to, actual document that everyone gets to be part of making, you will go down many rabbit holes of “great ideas”. And the next time someone says, “I have a great idea….” you can say, “wonderful, let’s see if that fits within our plan this year, and if not, we can look at for next year.” Remember great ideas are great today, tomorrow, and next year.

I can help your organization with its development plan, and yes, you need one.