“We’re very event-driven…”: And then a Leadership Giving Program was born…

the-phoenix-rises-from-the-ashes-john-edwardsDoes it sound familiar to you?  “You see… we haven’t really been able to build that part of our program because we’re very event driven…”  Rather than feeling sheepish and wringing your hands about the state of affairs, rejoice!  This is great news – you have done so much work already to build a strong leadership giving program.  In reality, you don’t need to either have strong event fundraising, or have relationship-based leadership giving… you can (and should!) have both!

Part One: Get Out of Your Own Way

As nice as it is to think that leadership giving (which, here, we use to mean gifts of $1,000 to $25,000 annually – though in your community it may be slightly larger or slightly smaller gifts…) will rise like a phoenix from your events, it’s not quite that simple.  Almost.  But not quite.

  1. Start with a quick scan of your events:  if you are the driver on more than two or three major events a year, this isn’t going to work.  (Having third-party planned and hosted events is a different story… but a topic for a future post.)  There is simply not enough time for the vast majority of organizations to devote staff or volunteers to the kind of “in between” work required to make leadership giving a reality with a event each quarter.  Or each month.  Or every couple of weeks.
  2. As you pare down, if you need to do that – or just review your already-limited number of events, check in on these criteria.  Do these events:
  • Align with your mission:  a great event does some of the work for you, in representing what you do and how you do it.  A raffle of a motorcycle doesn’t have much to do with disability services.  A golf outing that includes a putting clinic that pares golfers with children with a wide variety of abilities, learning to golf, does!
  • Tell the story:  does your marketing of the event – invitation, media placements, all of it – and your on-site event communicate what you do, why you do it, and how philanthropy supports you?  “Raising awareness” of your organization isn’t enough.  Too vague.  And events that take on a bigger stature than the sponsoring organization aren’t ideal:  who can name the organization that does Relay for Life?  Quick.  Click here for the answer.
  • Engage in your work:  Following on this theme, does the event structure allow you to infuse “mission moments” throughout the experience?  If one or two honorees are good, four or five are better, right?  Not so much.  One or two honorees who help fill the room and are passionate ambassadors for your organizations are a huge asset, but a lot of talking heads make for a very uninspiring evening of tuning out about your work.
  • Target the right audience:  events are a tool to get strategic things done in your fund development plan.  (Say that with me.  Embroider it on a pillow.  “Events are a TOOL, not a reason to raise money.”)  If you need more C-Suite decision makers knowing you, and at your event, a kayak race on your local lake may not be the best way to get there.  If your goal is to attract more young donors and volunteers, probably better.  (And… yes, my 70-year-old father is a great kayaker.  I know that I am generalizing.  You get my point.  Save your angry letters.)
  • Capture and converse:  this can be a place where events can seem great (and be great – but for a different end goal…)  Does your event enable you to capture information about participants and seek some out for conversation, to jumpstart a future relationship with the organization?  A giant craft festival that funnels all proceeds to the local youth development organization can be a huge money-maker, but not a win in the “Capture and Converse” column.  And what happens to that revenue if it rains?

Part Two:  Build on Assets

  • Plan for your events to be a “Point of Entry”.  So many scare themselves out of leveraging their events for leadership giving because “I don’t want to lose those events gifts next year.”  ALL MONEY IS GREEN.  OK, it would be great if they came back next year AND gave an additional gift to you.  And one of the things that your “in between” time relationship building is going to do is encourage them to get more deeply involved – perhaps as a volunteer? – in your event.  Beyond your own spreadsheet of goals, your program doesn’t care that their dollar were raised face-to-face, or through an event.
  • Steward them all the same.  Some of your event probably already have leadership donors giving to them – corporate sponsors, individuals who bought a table.  Treat them as a member of your leadership giving society; steward them accordingly.  Donors are much more likely to stick with you when you’ve treated them as a member of the club they already belong to (and may not have realized…)
  • Redeploy your board.  Using events to give birth to a leadership giving program is all about relationships – identifying the 10, 20, 50 attendees from your event who could become leadership donors in future.  That takes personal conversations – face-to-face.  And those take time.  If your board’s time and energy is spent on running registration and organizing the silent auction, choosing linens and working on AV, there is going to be very little time and energy left for relationship-building.  Build an event committee with some board representation, but send the clear message that you need your board doing what only boards can do:  Sending that powerful message – “I believe, I support, Please join me!

For more on building strong relationships through your events, check out our resource on “Hosting a Mission Infused Ask Event“.  Got a great event to donor story?  Share it on Facebook! (No donor names though, eh!)

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