I want to tell you a story. When I was Head of Events Fundraising at a charity many years ago, we were approached by a man; let’s call him Simon, who wanted to run the marathon. Simon had a personal link to our cause which put him above many of the other applicants and he was well connected through work and in his personal life. We found all this out during a phone 'interview' which we introduced as there were always so many more applicants than places. The thing that set Simon apart was he went on to recruit several more well connected runners, putting us forward and canvassing internally for his corporate charity of the year, he sold tables at our black tie gala dinner, he advised us on a rebrand, volunteered for us and set up a regular gift. Pretty much every area of the organisation benefited in some way from Simon’s involvement. In total he was responsible for around £50,000 of income but in reality that would have reached far more through his network, not to mention the value of the awareness he raised. His legacy continued to impact our work as it was because of him that we started looking at event participants as much more holistic supporters.
Simon approached the charity because of our marathon places but if we only ever sold him runs and treks he’d only ever have done those events before switching off pretty quickly. The key was to play a long game, involve him and treat him like a major donor, allowing him to tell us what he wanted and listening to how he could help, with careful stewardship and cultivation. It struck us there would be many more like him whose true potential we were massively under-utilising.
My whole mission as a consultant is helping charities reframe their events activity in order for it to unlock more sustainable income. Many charities I come into contact with today are still working in traditional silos dictated by income streams which mean absolutely nothing to a supporter. In a 2015 Blackbaud survey, 92% of event participants surveyed said they would take on another activity for the charity, but a whopping 44% of them had not been asked to! I’d like to think that would be far lower if the survey was conducted today but I fear not as much as we would like.
Events are the key to unlocking so much potential within charities. I have recently finished a project with a client where we completely reframed the traditional ‘special events’ model in order to better serve the organisation. A brand new event, with no fundraising ask or income expectation was created. Post event several guests reported they would be upping their financial support as a result of feeling so much more informed about the work of the charity, and another guest, who had already committed to leaving a legacy, instantly sent in a cheque. A big pharmaceutical company who attended requested a meeting with the team to find out other ways of working together. This was on the back of one single event which cost the charity a couple of thousand quid to deliver.
A rising tide does indeed lift all boats, just as a well-executed events strategy can lift all of fundraising.