May 25, 2019
Event Marketing: Rules of Event Engagement

By Marla E. Nobles

One of the key elements to producing a great fundraiser is knowing that the seeds of success or failure are sown well before the event takes place. Another key element, as the sector changes, so too must the rules of event engagement.

As the pace of change in the sector continues to accelerate, nonprofits are faced with an increasingly competitive fundraising landscape. More advertising messages are spread through more media outlets. The Internet is being used more than ever as a fundraising tool. Yet, according to Giving USA chairman Richard Jolly, were it not for the natural disasters during 2005, charitable giving as a proportion of the Gross Domestic Product most likely would have remained flat for the year.

Therese Maceda, account manager at Event 360, a Chicago-based event management firm, discussed old vs. new at a cause marketing forum in New York City. She listed the six key take-aways for producing a better event.

The old fundraising event paradigm, said Maceda, is opportunistic, built for incremental revenue, reliant on volunteers and committees, taps into existing audiences, is draining, hectic and under-performing -- basically, a "friend-raiser." Enter the new paradigm, where an event is strategic, part of a holistic development effort, creates new audiences, includes assigned professional resources, is successful, engaging and enriching -- basically a distinct event for distinct goals.

To make the transition from old to new less painful, Maceda offered the following key takeaways:
  1. Events are a development function. Rather than relying on volunteers and committees to put together your event, Maceda advised establishing a professional development team whose primary responsibilities include producing your organization's fundraising events.

  2. You must have an experiential component to your development efforts. In other words, if your organization is to have longevity, Maceda advised setting in place a special event fundraising program. This way the fundraising event becomes a focus of your organization. Additionally, establish a results-driven process up front, said Maceda.

  3. Events are a means to an end. To what end, Maceda said you must first identify your need(s), and ask yourself the following: What problem(s) are you trying to solve? Do you need an event to solve the problem(s)? Why? And how will an event fit with your organization's other programs and initiatives? Next, identify what means are at your disposal. What is over-tapped/under-tapped? According to Maceda, the best available resources an organization has are its brand, money, time, volunteer network, staff, vendor relations, existing awareness and media partners.

  4. Set goal(s) first. Before you can consider the scope, budget or date, your organization must set its goals. Otherwise, you risk getting attached to something that doesn't address your needs. Articulate in measurable terms what it is you're trying to accomplish, which is usually either raising money or awareness, said Maceda. If the objective is raising money, define the goal in terms of the net dollar amount you want to have after the event. Then, separate must-haves from nice-to-haves, said Maceda. Once the goal and scope are defined, the budget and date can be set. If you can't hit your goal with your available budget, Maceda advised either limiting the scope or changing the goal. Always plan for budget/date contingency, said Maceda.

  5. "Rule of Ones."You can only have one top priority. According to Maceda, when producing a fundraising event, make the event your top priority.

  6. Only set budget and date after you've identified your needs and goal(s). This one bore repeating.
Maceda went on to describe one of the firm's larger productions, Out of the Darkness Overnight, which benefited the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. One challenge, said Maceda, was in making the issue of suicide something that people would want to address, and throwing an event that would draw the masses.

The promotional video of the event spotlighted three participants who had lost a family member, friend or loved one to suicide, and followed each along the 20-mile walk through the night. Of this strategy, said Maceda, "You have access to a lot of people who are passionate. Harness that passion."

Finally, said Maceda, keep in mind when looking for sponsorships, "your tangible benefits are probably less compelling than you think, and your intangible benefits are probably more compelling than you think." Passion, added Maceda, is a tremendous resource. "Compel sponsors," she said. Also, look for shared values at the brand level rather than just a sampling or exposure opportunity, and don't force a match.

Reprinted with permission from the August 9, 2007, issue of The Nonprofit Times. For a free subscription, click here.

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