Its hard to believe that its mid November already, and even harder to believe that I haven’t posted since September. Any fundraiser will understand when I say that our annual event was two weeks ago. My world was filled with glitter decorations, cases of soda, meat trays, last minute registrations, vendor coordination, and finally a large glass of wine.
This time last year, I posted about our annual event. I had just started at my current organization, and the venue, event format, and process were all inherited, leaving me powerless to make changes to what I predicted would be a nail biter of an event. The entire staff did the best we could, turning a dusty lumberyard into a shabby-chic venue for an educational summit during the day and annual celebration during the evening. But let’s be real – this event didn’t work. I tripped on uneven concrete, ripping my pants hours before the event, a colleague had heat stroke, and our interns were sunburnt and miserable. Overall, attendance was spotty, we didn’t profit much, and I knew there had to be a better option for us.
And here we are a year later.
We opted for an old-school fundraising event format I was very comfortable with: a casino night. We called it Gambling for Good, and good it was. It was one of the largest events the organization had seen, and held indoors at our facility, we maintained the control we needed to ensure it was a success. Staff members simply had to hide personal effects from their desks rather than haul wood around. Centrally located with ample parking, guests could easily arrive from home or work. Every component of the event functioned: side fundraisers, the silent auction, the cash bar, and awards. The single largest difference was splicing the educational component of the event away from the celebration – two events now, we can better focus on the goals of each event independently. It was a lot of work, but well worth it.
Did I mention that our office flooded right before the event?
Life Lessons from this year's event
1. Make sure that your event is a good fit for your organization. Don’t look at what other folks are doing – you know your org, donors, and constituency – do something that everyone will enjoy.
2. Interns and volunteers are essential, but don’t forget to recruit for post event tear down. That stage has to get back to the vendor somehow…
3. Use the photos from the event to follow up with donors and guests. Everyone loves to see themselves fancied up, and reminding them of why they support your org will boost their engagement.
4. Send thank you notes. Send lots of ‘em. Handwrite them until your fingers hurt. Then write some more.
5. Be ready for anything, including fire, famine, and flood.