By: Dan Campbell, Fundraising Auctioneer
Compared to previous virus strains, Covid has been a resilient and perplexing pandemic that seems to never end. I imagine this same effect was felt by many after the onset of the Spanish Flu over 100 years ago. As we all know, a vaccine was eventually developed to help us manage the flu in the modern world, and even though we still see the effects of flu like outcomes, we eventually had to accept that the flu is here to stay, and a part of our lives.
I presume we are in the same situation now with Covid, as new variants come along to add complexity to our daily lives. The medical world is working feverishly to help control the onset of Covid, at least to a manageable level of risk and outcomes as we did with other viruses in the past. Is it safe to say that at some point we all will need to come to grips with this new norm, and allow this new norm to be part of our lives?
I certainly do not intend to make a political statement with this article, but instead a proclamation that our non-profit missions are essential to helping save lives in so many ways. Collectively, our non-profit missions will far exceed the impact of Covid, assuming we can survive and continue our mission.
For now, we all need to find creative ways to build fundraising strategies that can co-exist in this era of pandemia. Non-profits over the years have been brave throughout their initial launch, going where no one has gone before them to achieve incredible results. From the first donors and supporters who believed in the mission, to a fully fledged non-profit that is making a difference in hundreds, if not thousands of lives, your NPO is so important to SO many people; we NEED you more than ever!
I think of the demise of polio as a result of a worldwide effort in fundraising to find cures and protection against polio. Diseases such as the Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Whooping Cough, Tetanus (Lockjaw) are a few of the fatal diseases we have successfully got under control with vaccines. We see significant progress on causes such as cystic fibrosis malaria around the world through advancement in medicine as well.
Which brings us to the intended matter at hand. How do we continue serving our donor base with opportunities to give and serve and celebrate our success and our mission in a meaningful way? Namely, can we still provide fundraising events that inspire donors and supporters in a safe and impactful way?
It is true that the past 18 months have seen a host of alternative solutions to address this need, including virtual galas, hybrid events, virtual game nights, more digital content access, etc. Each one has shown varied success. It seems the secret sauce to a successful fundraising event is your connection to donors. At the end of the day, if we put the hard work into connecting with our donors, we will see some positive results from our efforts.
This past fall, we saw a return to in-person galas, with 51 in-person events (we still served 5 virtual events as well this fall). These in-person events have morphed into smaller more intimate experiences, and fortunately, with extremely positive results. This might indicate that the adage of “less is more” is a truth serum for all of us. Maybe we have tried so hard the past several years getting as many people connected to our missions, that we have missed the more valuable strategy of keeping your most important donors and supporters (MIDS) well fed and well connected.
Analytics will show in most cases that 80% of your fundraising is a result of your MIDS base. The other 20% will come from the rest of those supporters, some of which are indifferent except for the marquee speaker or entertainer you hire, or show up to be seen, or just show up to party. We can live with this, because we have convinced ourselves that the additional buzz of a large crowd provides energy to our MIDS base….but does it? Is it possible those in the back of the room are instead a distraction (noisy, inebriated), and might even be a disruptor to your fundraising momentum that night?
The RIGHT crowd for your event is not a specific number, other than the support financially “per seat” you have attending. Recently, we had an event that normally includes 400+ attendees, raising $350,000 at their gala each year, switching in 2021 to a smaller, more intimate event with only 104 guests attending. The larger crowd had a reputation for partying hard, and being a very noisy event, hard to hear speakers, lack of crowd focus during videos. The result of the smaller event? This smaller intimate crowd of 104 guests received a much nicer dining experience in a nicer environment and raised $525,000 at their gala! WOW!
Just to show this is no anomaly, another non-profit we worked with who was used to raising $750,000 with 800 attendees, went to smaller, more intimate events with 300 attendees….and raised over $1 million at their event! Again, WOW!
The suggestion here is that going forward, we STILL need to raise money for our causes. We cannot lose touch with our donor base, ESPECIALLY our MIDS base. As we navigate the new norm of this Covid world, we just may have to reset our perception of a fundraising event and see outcomes we never thought possible before. Let’s discuss with you ways to re-think your gala strategies, and make 2022 your best fundraising year ever!