|This Bishop Lions Club pancake breakfast raised money plus awareness and interest in the group.|
The sponsoring group at a fund-raising event I attended several years ago was thrilled with the money it raised, even though participation dropped slightly from the year before. Using a different approach, though, would have generated a lot more money, a much greater turnout and probably increased the group’s volunteer base.
Non-profit organizations are always holding fund-raisers, or so it seems. Yet some seem to attract hundreds of people and raise thousands of dollars for their causes, while others are barely noticed. Why do some events work well and others bomb?
Effective events have clear goals and well thought-out ways of achieving those goals. They also have teams of people working together to achieve them. A good communications strategy will help achieve these goals while a bad or non-existent one will event doom the event.
Goal 1: Increasing Public Awareness
Non-profit organizations should always have three goals in mind for every fund-raising event. In order of importance they are:
1. Increasing public awareness about its cause and educating the public about the organization.
2. Recruiting new members.
3. Raising money to help achieve the organization’s goals.
Increasing public awareness about a cause is a task that needs constant work. The minute the public forgets about a cause and the group working on it, both the cause and the group are banished to obscurity.
Here’s an example. Off-shoots of two nearby local Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) are dedicated to helping low-income student have good shoes. Group A has a website, regularly updates its postings and shortly before the school year starts, runs a massive publicity campaign. Group B does not have a website, has several people who could care less and never seeks publicity or donations. Guess which one is successful?
A good way for many groups to gain public attention is by finding and attending other local events, primarily those attracting a lot of people. If your event promotes literacy, having a booth at high school football games helps since both students and their parents attend. Every person you talk to is one more person exposed to your message.
A second method is by holding events that generate press coverage. You will want to tread that fine line between getting enough press to help your cause but not dominate the local media at the expense of other non-profits.
A third way to gain exposure is using the Internet. A website and social media presence are required for non-profits today just as they are for every business. List all sorts of details about what your group does, who it is and what it needs online. Include a calendar and testimonials from people who have been helped by your group.
Goal 2: Recruiting New Members
The biggest problem most non-profits have is a lack of manpower. People have fantastic ideas that they want to see turned into action but the group does not have enough bodies.
Getting out among other local residents lets groups promote their agendas. They can also find people who might not have any money to spare, but do have free time.
The more active volunteers a group has, the better its chances for survival.
A key to recruiting new members—and this cannot be stressed enough—is be sure your group accepts everyone who expresses an interest. I’ve seen many civic groups that had declining membership despite an effort to recruit more people. Why? Because the existing members only recruited among their friends, not the general public.
Community service groups such as the Lions Club and Rotary International often have problems keeping their chapters going. The issue is they do not recruit enough younger members to replace the older ones who lack the stamina to work large events.
Goal 3: Raising Money
The stated purpose of a fund-raiser is adding funds to your group’s coffers. The more money your group has, the better it can help your cause. But if you are going to raise money, do it wisely and effectively.
Most fund-raisers get their money through a combination of three methods:
1. An admission fee, which often includes a meal.
2. Raffles, with people buying chances to win donated items.
3. Auctions of both the silent (write a bid on a piece of paper, with the highest bid getting the item) and live (highly entertaining) varieties.
Other methods include selling beverages at an open no-host bar and specialty events such as “casino nights” where the money and friendship flow.
Earning money wisely means charging the right amount for the people your group wants to attract. A rule of thumb is the more money you charge, the fewer people will show up.
Also, make sure your admission fee and meal relates well to the local economy. For example, don’t charge a high meal fee in a depressed area. Instead of a catered event, cook hamburgers and hotdogs or spaghetti. You’ve just lowered your charge and your cost and made more money through a higher volume.
Lower fees also tend to attract an ethnically diverse younger crowd, rather than only middle-age Caucasians. Opening the event up through lower prices also means a greater opportunity to recruit volunteers.
Now let’s take a look at raffles. These items are typically donated by group members, such as bottles of wine, and local merchants, such as gift certificates. Make sure there are plenty of good-quality donated items for your raffle, but keep the top-tier stuff for your auction.
Auctions are where the real money is. Get several top-tier items—like designer dog dresses for an event benefitting a pet charity—and many more medium-grade items for your auction.
Lessons I’ve learned from attending and working these events are: set the initial prices high enough to raise money for your group, but not so high no one will bid on them. If an item does not get any bids, save it for a future event and place a different, lower price on it. Even better, have the auctioneer say something like, “We don’t want to store these great items so we’re forgetting the minimum bid. Who wants to make an offer?”
Good auctioneers can then get the crowd going and the money flowing. You may not make the previous minimum bid, but you might make more.
Also, request people write their names on silent auction items, not anonymous numbers. The idea is to make bidding a game, pitting friends against each other in a gentle competition to see who “wins” the prize. When you don’t know who you’re bidding against, this competition and fun vanishes.
Good fund-raisers generate thousands of dollars for their charities. Why? Because they use both a silent and live auction.
Effective Fund-raisers Also Educate the Public
Effective fund-raisers raise lots of money for their non-profit organizations. They also increase public awareness and provide a venue for recruiting new members. Good ways to achieve these goals are:
Have an organization member speak briefly about what the group accomplished last year and what its goals for next year are. For example, have the president say something like, “With the $5,000 we raised last year we were able to buy 200 new books and several large print volumes for our vision-impaired patrons.”
Explain what the group does, how often it meets and what it focuses on. For example, the president of a pet charity could say, “Our goal is to make sure every pet has a good home and that none go without food or shelter. We meet the first Tuesday of every month at the local animal shelter. Everyone is invited to attend.”
Consider having a booth at the event with photos of past events and items the group bought with money raised from similar fund-raisers. This same booth, staffed with volunteers, can be used at other events to raise community awareness. Let your photos tell people what your group does. Have some printed materials available. Include your website link on everything.
Be sure to publicly thank key sponsors and staff. The organization president should always thank the staff members who volunteered at the event. Sponsors and top donors should also be publicly thanked before the night’s entertainment starts.
Other Ways To Raise Money Include …
When one event starts generating a lot of money and enough interest where larger halls are needed to hold it, consider holding a second similar event, but in a different area. This way, you attract new people who may not be able to make the main event and bring those who had a gas back for more fun.
You can also think about selling advance raffle tickets. Either have a high value prize (one charity holds an annual drawing for a fishing boat, motor and trailer and sells tickets year-round), or prizes limited only to advance sales. The easiest way to do this is by using different color tickets.
Persuade local merchants to attend the event in person. If you can get the top merchants in town to show up—and promote their attendance—people who know and respect them will also come.
Have contests that help generate interest in the event. Pet events could include several animals available for adoption.
And Finally …
When your event is over and all the trash picked up, it’s time for three more tasks:
1. Thank the people who did all of the work. Without people to pick up and buy the food, rent the hall, gather chairs and clean up the trash, you would not have an event.
2. Send thank-you letters to sponsors and key donors. The letters should list the dollar amount of their donation for tax purposes and explain how the event wouldn’t have been a success without their help. These letters ensure you get more donations next year.
3. Take stock of what you learned. Make notes of what worked, what could be tweaked and run better next year and what flopped. This way, you can always a good event better and raise even more money for your charity.
Good luck in your fund raising adventures.