Size matters. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But please keep your thoughts clean. It’s not what you think. This is a family-friendly story for everyone. Still, it’s helpful to explain.
The type of major fundraiser nonprofits should choose is linked to the size of the organization and the resources it can bring to bear. Let me share an anecdote that illustrates this point.
An institution I worked for hadn’t conducted fundraising activities for twenty years. The reasons were simple. Over time, board members and volunteers who were once involved in raising funds moved on or passed away without being replaced. Also, as a UJA Federation recipient agency, we were asked to stop fundraising. Newly appointed members of the board were more than happy to blithely comply and limit themselves to their governance roles.
Once our organization and similar nonprofits embarked on multi-million-dollar capital fundraising campaigns, the UJA Federation conceded that it could no longer finance such massive endeavors. As a result, they gave us the green light to resume fundraising and large-scale capital project funding efforts. In our case, there had been a dearth of such activities for so long that I had to start from zero to launch the capital campaign. Part of the task was to decide on the main fundraiser soiree.
First, let’s backtrack.
Imagine finding no records of meaningful donations, or even a list of contributors with full contact information. All we had were 1,100 dog-eared index cards with partial donor data. Some had names, but no contact details. Others had phone numbers or addresses, but no names connected to them. Historical data did not exist, and the timeworn cards dated back to a bygone era. Tracking and acknowledgment software? That’s hilarious! No such thing existed. It was a sorry state of affairs.
Before choosing a major event and activating a new fundraising program, a self-assessment was required. To decide whether and how to proceed, the board, CEO, and I debated some thought-provoking questions. Many sleepless nights followed as I imagined the rough road ahead. As a result, I suggested that a tried-and-true checklist be used when selecting the major fundraiser. Described below is the checklist and our questions to prepare for an inaugural capital fund drive centered on a major gala.
- What are your fundraising goals?
- Did you set a realistic financial goal?
- What is the reason for the special gathering?
- How many fundraisers and by what means?
- What are your funding needs?
- Is it a one-off event, or will it be repeated annually?
- Who is your target audience?
- Friend raising?
- Are you catering to exclusive or affluent individuals?
- Is the aim to recruit volunteers or board members?
- Does it inform the public about your institution?
- Are you trying to attract interest in your programs?
- Is it designed to mobilize community support for a specific project?
- Will it encourage substantial donations?
- How will the organization be marketed?
- Can it generate extensive public relations?
- Can it also be a social function people will always relate to your organization?
- What resources are at your disposal to make the fundraiser a success?
- Corporate sponsors
- Community organizations
- Is there an adequate donor pool to attract new and substantial contributions?
- Do you have a suitable budget to fund expenses?
- Can you find local venues that will draw in your target audience?
- Are you supported by social media? Print and electronic media?
- Is there a digital platform to record, track, acknowledge and collect donations?
- Do you require audio-visual support?
- Do you need a case statement and/or supporting organizational literature?
- Scheduling of the happening and the period to finish the work.
- Is this a seasonal event?
- Are there any time constraints on your bash?
- Are there any conflicts with other events?
- Who are your competitors?
- What makes this occasion unique?
- Are metrics in place to measure your success? Have you established a procedure for evaluating your success or lack thereof?
Final considerations: Pick a concept that is innovative and has not been implemented by other organizations in your area for this major fundraiser. And make it something you love to hold. After all, passion is the key to enthusiastic participation. We hosted an elegant annual Gala Dinner at The Plaza Hotel in New York City and never looked back.
Charity Navigator suggests a 10% fundraising budget cap. They also encourage responsible spending habits for not-for-profit organizations. Charities shouldn’t use over two-thirds of their expenses to raise funds. Keeping a watchful eye on the bottom line of your major fundraiser is, therefore, essential.
As a last point, we return to the opening line of this essay. Size matters. Finding a shindig that works best with the array of resources available to you is often a function of your nonprofit’s size.
See? This was a family-friendly story, after all.
Norman B. Gildin is the author of the popular book on nonprofit fundraising “Learn From My Experiences.” He is the President of Strategic Fundraising Group whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits to raise critical funds for their organization. His website is www.normangildin.com.