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November 21, 2018

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Is Your Fundraising Event Raising
Enough Dough - For the Effort?

by Barbara Talisman

Evaluating special events should be an ongoing process, in this economy even more so. Can donors support a special event? Is it an appropriate event for the community now? What can replace the income? More importantly if the event is raising less than $25,000 in any economy, should it continue?

The simple answer to the $25,000 question is, no. Think about the time and effort it takes to have a special event. Is that the best use of staff and volunteer time to net $25,000? There are alternatives.

  • Special events can be a point of entry for some donors and a reunion for others. Turning diners into donors can and should be done.

  • Special events can take six to nine months to organize and manage, sometimes less. If the same time was spent cultivating and soliciting major donors, $25,000 could be raised in the same time for less expense, no necessarily less time, just time spent differently.

  • Mining the donor base is the place to start. There are current donors who can give more if approached appropriately. Putting in place a strategic cultivation program for each donor is a better use of time than planning a special event and spending the money to execute it. A donor cultivation program will take time (and patience) but will gain better results and support the organization better over the long run.

Make a gift chart for $30,000 or for any amount that equals the net from an event. From the chart you will see it might take six major gift donations to equal $30,000. That means the donor cultivation program needs to include at least 25 current donors who have the interest, capacity and propensity to increase their gift. If the event hosted 150 (75 couples) individuals, there should be 25 donors who attended the event who should be a part of the major gift program. Add in individuals who have supported the organization without attending an event and you have more donors who can be cultivated. Here's another idea, start a campaign, set a goal and deadline. Look for and cultivate 30 donors who can give $1,000 each. Start a donor club for these special donors. Same $30,000 for different time, effort and expense. Remember to engage leadership and volunteers in the outreach. Finding natural partners to assist with the cultivation or campaign will ensure success.

Review your donor base. Pull a report for all donors and see where your donors fall in the giving pyramid. Make your own gift chart. Can you more effectively raise the same amount from your donor cultivation program than a special event? If the answer is yes, the next step is selling it to your organization staff, leadership and volunteers. Maybe this is just the next 18-24 months to sell it. With the current economy, spending more time with donors, less money to implement the program and not holding an expensive event may be all the rationale you need to have the conversation.

What do you think? Share your thoughts and ideas and we all learn from one another. In the next article, look for ideas on raising awareness even when you're not hosting an event.

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About the Author:

Barbara Talisman is President of Talisman Associates, Inc., a full service consulting firm working with public benefit corporations. For more than 20 years, Barbara has provided hands-on fund development assistance leadership training and executive coaching to non-profit organizations. You can read more about Barbara, her work and clients at

Barbara has been in the development field since 1983. Her experience includes corporate partnerships and special events, board development, grant writing, major gift solicitation and volunteer and staff development and training. Barbara teaches a variety of fundraising topics and has been a guest speaker at conferences in North America, Europe, United Kingdom and Australia.

Barbara has published articles in Fund Raising Management, Fundraising Success, Association Forum, Fund Raising Institute, Advancing Philanthropy and Clout and has been profiled in Entrepreneur Magazine, Today's Chicago Woman, Crain's Chicago Business and Chicago Tribune.

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