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Practical Tips to Put the Fun into Fundraising

By Leah Dobkin

If you’re like most nonprofit professionals in the field of aging, fundraisers are your least favorite activity. They fall way down on your “have-to” list.

But studies indicate that almost half of nonprofit organizations use fundraisers as a major source of revenue.

Fundraising events are not just about raising dollars. They’re also about raising supporters to strengthen your organization. They are great “friend-raisers.”  

What Events Can Do for You

Let’s face it. There are many faster and easier ways to raise money. But fundraising events can lose money—or just break even—and still be successful because they generate publicity, visibility, and contacts for your organization.

Fundraisers also:

  • Provide cultural, social, and intergenerational opportunities for your community.
  • Improve community relations.
  • Lead to new partners.
  • Strengthen your relationship with business sponsors. 
  • Recruit new volunteers and board members. 
  • Allow you to recognize volunteers and supporters.
  • Inform the public about your services and impact. 
  • Reach underserved or new target populations.

Fundraisers also can diversify and expand your funding base. They provide funds to address cutbacks, expand programming, and pilot test new services or new methods of delivering old services.

Fundraisers generate unrestricted dollars to cover “unsexy” expenditures like staff and volunteer education and training, overhead, research, and unexpected short-term emergency needs.

Because special events offer variety and flexibility, they’re also excellent for acquiring, retaining, and upgrading donors. If you’re serious about building a broad base of donors, you should conduct at least one special fundraising event each year. 

Planning an Event

The good news is that you may not need to do more fundraisers—just better ones. Here are a few tips to help you plan your event successfully.

  • Determine your visibility quotient.
    Of the people who should know about your organization, what percent actually do? This simple, but important question requires that you identify a list of key people and the best ways to reach and engage them in your fundraiser.

  • Market your impact while publicizing your event.
    Too often, marketing and promotional materials talk about a nonprofit instead of its impact on the community or the values it embraces. Emphasize what your organization does and how it makes a difference—not how much money you need. If you don’t have public relations expertise in house, try contacting a firm that offers pro bono work.

  • Use volunteers to plan and implement the event.
    Using volunteers tells people that you’re maximizing your efforts, which builds credibility. Also, peers asking peers is the most effective way to generate donations. People give to people—not just a cause. They also want to contribute to an effective organization.

  • Plan your events strategically.
    Asking someone to volunteer for a short period is far easier than asking them to commit to a six-month campaign. Structure your fundraising events into modules that last 1-12 weeks. For example, have two short donor events each year—one to renew current donors and one to bring in new ones. Or conduct a five-week donor drive, with something happening each day. Mail personal letters from board members or key volunteers to invite their friends and colleagues to participate.

After an Event

What you do after a fundraising event is just as important—if not more important—than the planning itself. Follow-up with your guests, vendors, sponsors, volunteers, and donors to turn your event into the start of something big. Start with these tips:

  • Send a personalized thank you.
    You can never give out too much gratitude. Make it a priority to send supporters a timely, warm, and personalized letter or e-mail thanking them for their involvement. Tell them how much the event raised and how your organization will use the money. Include copies of any media coverage. Handwritten and hand-delivered thank you notes are a wonderful touch. Or make your thanks even more unique by hiring a local artist or asking a talented volunteer to create some form of recognition for volunteers and donors.

  • Welcome newcomers.
    For guests who are new to your organization, add a combined welcome/follow-up letter. Include your newsletter, promotional materials, and past media coverage. Let them know about tours, educational and volunteer opportunities, and other events you’re planning.

  • Don’t forget the no-shows.
    Remember people who were unable to attend the event but showed an interest, such as vendors or sponsors. Let them know what they missed and how successful the event was.

  • Give a report on your web site.
    Post event photos, videos, and quotes; brag about how much you raised; and detail how the money will be spent. Ask visitors for their names and contact information if they want to be invited to the next event. Show people how they can continue to donate. If you have their permission, profile select donors.

  • Build up your sponsors.
    List all corporate sponsors on your web site. Consider including links to their web sites, as well. Driving prospects to their site is a big plus for them.

  • Keep corporate relationships going.
    After an event, maintain contact with your corporate sponsors. Host a workshop or brown bag lunch lecture at their workplace on topics of interest such as family caregiving or estate planning.

  • Follow up with media.
    Send photos and a press release to your media list soon after the event. See if you can get on local radio or TV to talk about an event-related special interest story or about the impact the event had on your community. Use it as an opportunity to position you, or your executive director, as a “go-to” authority for information on your area of expertise. Consider hosting a thank you lunch for media who publicized or attended your event.

  • Thank advertisers.
    If you have a journal or ad book associated with your event, send a copy to every advertiser who couldn’t attend, along with a thank you note. Better yet, get a group of volunteers to hand-deliver the ad book to thank supporters in person.

Fundraising events allow people to become involved with your organization and your mission. The more ways people can get involved, the stronger your organization will become.

And before you know it, fundraising events will become a “want-to” not a “have-to” on your to-do list. That’s when you start to put the fun into fundraising.

Leah Dobkin is a freelance writer and consultant with more than 30 years experience developing and managing innovative programs for older adults.  

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older adults don't have to choose between paying for medicine or food.

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