Tag Archives: Events

10 Ways for Nonprofits to Survive CoronaVirus Shutdowns

Whether you are concerned about your upcoming event, major donor appointments, or board meetings, the future is unknown. Here are some suggestions on what you can do if you and your nonprofit staff are working from home due to CoronaVirus Shutdowns. (And if you read this list and are still unsure what to do, we are offering free 30 minute consultations)

Stewardship during CoronaVirus Shutdowns

  • If we are all quarantined, donors may be easier to reach by phone. Use this time to call donors, check in on them. If they are in a good headspace, update or thank them. If they are worrying about a loved one or are sick themselves, consider if there is anything you could do to help like send some soup or a small package of easy to make groceries.
  • Encourage board members to make thank you or check-in calls. If everyone is home and looking for a little contact with the outside world, a thank you call will feel extra special.
  • Updates don’t have to stop. In fact, you might have more time to write up a story or work on a video when no one is stopping in your office. Share your latest and greatest accomplishments with pride.


  • This is probably obvious but make a plan B for all events. Most nonprofits cannot cancel do to CoronaVirus shutdowns without impacting their annual income. Will you have an un-gala or un-fundraiser? Will you invite people to dress up and meet virtually? Create a social media event? Move your paddle raise online? Consider sites like Greater Giving, Classy, OneCause, or Bidding For Good.
  • Check your contracts and insurance policies. If you do have to cancel a gala or conference, you may be able to reduce some of your losses. Are there any pieces that can be cancelled? If not, can you find a sponsor to underwrite the catering with promotion to your lists, your social media and your site?

Planning or re-evaluating your plan

  • Re-evaluate your Fundraising Plan and your budget. We don’t know how long it will be before we get back to any kind of normal. What fundraising can continue virtually and what needs to be postponed? What will your plan look like, assuming in-person fundraising doesn’t start up again until the fall or 2021? What are you doing to remind your donors, volunteers, and members that you are still worthy of their time, energy and financial support?

Help your employees work from home during CoronaVirus shutdowns:

  • Consider noise cancelling headphones, purchasing productivity planners, and/or a workout app for staff. As someone who has worked from home for more than 10 years, I know there are times that I am less productive than others. When I realize it, I go back to tried and true practices like re-reading a favorite productivity book.  Recently, I purchased a new Productivity Planner. If it is someone’s first time at home, it will not be easy to ignore the laundry, the phone, or kids looking for that set of markers they haven’t seen in months. Help them overcome the hurdles and feel positive about the experience.
  • Create strategies to connect staff to each other and the outside world. Creativity and collaboration are the backbones of many organizations. And most people don’t want to work on their own which is why they got a job in an office. Help them through this potentially isolating time. Choose a site like GoToWebinar, Zoom Meeting, or Google Hangouts to meet more often.
  • Hold meetings that have people on screen. Not that I have ever worked on one project while attending a webinar or on a large, group call, but focus may drift if people are not held accountable. It’s true, everyone will have to shower and get dressed (at least their top halves) but it will help you get more done.
  • Set hours and expectations but expect interruptions. Some people may need to shift hours if that is convenient – people will have to deal with kids at home when they are supposed to be at work – but just try to have everyone on the same page as much as possible.

This will be a tough time for all of us. Don’t let fear take over. And, stay healthy.

Mid-level donors count too!

Fundraisers love major donors. How could we not? They provide the necessary funds to keep our nonprofits running. We also love new donors. Bright, shiny and falling in love with our organization. In many ways, these two types of donors re-affirm our devotion to our job (or volunteer) choice. But, what about those mid-level donors?

I am talking about the donors in that range that gets them noticed above the entry-level gifts of $25 or $50 but not quite close to your major gift level. You diligently thank them each year – maybe even 7 times, but they can be so much more valuable to you. Mid-level donors may be the future of your organization.

Understanding mid-level donors

  1. Consider why they give that amount. Are they…
    • Major donors who use this as an entry-level gift to test your stewardship?
    • Giving because a friend—maybe one of your board members—asked them?
    • Someone who has just increased to this amount.
    • Donating to a specific fund or appeal?
  2. Do you already know them? Are they…
    • Volunteers who are showing their support?
    • Event attendees who have started to give additional support?
    • Friends and/or family of board members?
  3. How long have they been giving? This can tell you a lot. Let’s say you consider $200 as a minimum, mid-level gift. If…
    • It is a first-time gift (that is not part of crowdfunding or event-related*), this often indicates there is a greater gift potential and that they are testing the water with your nonprofit. Your stewardship and acknowledgement practices will be the reason that person continues to give or does not renew and turns to test another organization.
    • this is their second gift, they definitely should be on your radar. Donor retention for the win! They may not be ready for a significant upgrade, but they appreciate you and you should definitely let them know that you appreciate them. They may be your future major donors, long-time supporters, volunteers, board members, etc….  
    • They have given for 5 or more years. Celebrate them as you would a major donor. 5 years at $200 is a $1,000 donor. And consider whether they are ready for an upgrade beyond the 50%+ that you suggest in your annual appeal letters. Depending on their age, they may be prime prospects for a planned gift. And or a monthly gift.
  4. Why should you care so much about these donors?
    • If you had 20 donors who give $200 for 10 years, that would be $4,000 per year or $40,000 over 10 years – assuming you retained each of those donors with no increase nor decrease. How much work have you put into a $40,000 grant that you didn’t receive? These are people who already want to give to you. Again and again.
    • Imagine if you moved 50 or 100 of your entry-level donors into this category in the next two years.

In other words, it’s time to focus on these amazing donors. And once you have identified them and their giving habits, don’t forget to create a plan to deepen their engagement. Work to retain their gifts or upgrade them. And stop treating them like the $25 donors that we like, but don’t know enough about yet. (You should know any donors that have been giving for more than a few years but that is a whole other blog post.) Make them feel special and acknowledge them wherever and whenever you can.

As always, if you want help customizing your plan or understanding what these donors lifetime potential may be, email me or schedule a time to talk by clicking here.

*Crowdfunding and event-related gifts should be treated separately. You have the opportunity to convert some of these donors to life-long supporters, but some will only give because they are asked by a certain person for a one-time gift. Acknowledge and attempt to steward but don’t spend too much time on this group.

Q. Our nonprofit holds an annual fundraising gala that raises about $40,000 gross, $25,000 net, towards a $800,000 annual budget. The executive director and some board members feel that this fundraiser is ‘too small’ and ‘not worth our while’; how do we decide whether it is or not, and what then?

Annual fundraising gala by Jacek Dylag at Unsplash

A. We are often asked versions of this question. Annual fundraising galas and other similar benefits are wonderful friend-raisers and community builders, but rarely do they find balance on the financial scales when you consider the time and energy that could be spent on other methods of fundraising instead of the event. They are, in fact, one of the least cost-effective ways or raising money.

That is not to say you should never host a fundraising gala. Galas:

  • introduce new people to the organization
  • give people an excuse to celebrate and honor individuals, and
  • have a high-end cache that high-end volunteers want to be associated.

Just consider the tradeoffs.

When we recommend against a fundraising gala for an nonprofit, we often here these common objections:

“The administrative work is done by someone who was hired with this event listed in his/her responsibilities.” That may be true, but are there other areas that could use the extra dedicated hours? Could that person spend the same hours, intensively for months, working on stewarding, upgrading, and retaining donors? How would that impact your budget?

“Our annual fundraising gala is run by volunteers. It doesn’t really cost us anything to produce.”
What else could your volunteers be helping you achieve? If those who are committed to raising money were to join the development committee and work with major donors, it could easily exceed the $25,000. And how much staff time is used supervising the volunteers?

“But our volunteers like working on the annual fundraising gala because they like being a part of a marquee event.” There is no doubt that this aspect of their commitment is valuable to your organization, but it is valuable as community building and strengthening. If you have the staff, volunteers, time and funds to support these events, then, continue the event.

But, consider how to grow the relationships with the attendees. Starting with getting the contact information for everyone who attends by sitting at a donor’s table. Then you can think about how many of those in attendance are major donors or have the capacity to be? How can you turn each one into a major donor? And how you can you deepen their involvement beyond the event? 

Ultimately, the decision is yours as to whether to proceed or stop the event. Just make sure you know what the true benefits are for your organization.

Evaluating a Gala or Fundraising Event

Gala TableEach week, we write articles on topics that we think would interest the readers of this blog. This week, I would like to highlight someone else’s article. Someone I have never met. However, when I read the article dated July 16, 2016 in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, it was obvious that the writer offered something that is aligned with our goal to help you have a better understanding of fundraising and development. With a specialty in event planning, the author, Harry A. Freedman, focuses on evaluating a gala or fundraising event.

Galas can raise money, attract new donors and excite current donors, but they also tax volunteers who can be deployed in other areas, absorb staff time and cost a lot to create. It is the push-pull that any experienced fundraiser, nonprofit staff member or volunteer understands.

That is why I would recommend that you read the article, After the Ball: How to Evaluate the Success of Your Fundraising Event, and that you download the invaluable Event Evaluation Worksheet.

Now it’s true that you need a subscription, but if you have an annual gala (or you are considering one), find a way to read the full piece and get the download.

The worksheet, which comes as a Word document, currently has sections that include:

  • Attendance and Results
  • Timing
  • Committees
  • Location
  • Budget
  • Promotion
  • Registration
  • Food and Drink
  • Entertainment
  • Management and Staffing

The fact that it is a Word document is important because it means you can make, and he encourages, agency-specific changes. I would suggest that you add a Fundraising section that includes the following questions:

  • Did you know the name and contact information of everyone who was in attendance?
  • Was there an opportunity for people who were less familiar with your organization to request more information?
  • Was there a mechanism to donate at the auction? Was it in the form of a silent or live auction? Were there volunteers who were ready and able to take credit card donations at the event? Did donors find it easy to use?
  • If an auction was involved, did it overtax staff or volunteers? (One way to find out is to ask if they would be willing to help in the same way next year)
  • How did your goal and your net compare to each of the past 5 years of the event?
  • Were in-kind donors and volunteers thanked in an appropriate way at the event?
  • Were in-kind donors, volunteers and donors thanked within 48 hours of the event?
  • Do you have a follow up plan for those in attendance who did not give but may want to give post-event?
  • Do you have a follow up plan for those who are not ready to donate but may become donors in the future?

Summer may be event-free, but it can also be a perfect time to prepare for your next event. If you consider how you will answer all of these questions before the event you will, in all likelihood, help make the event more successful in every aspect. And have an better post-event evaluation.

MJA Challenge: Judging Your Nonprofit

Last week I posted 3 articles (see the links below) that questioned whether your nonprofit was being perceived in a planned way, or evolved in a haphazard and counterproductive fashion.  The articles, focused on judging your nonprofit, were brief in both their problems and solutions (trying to keep blog posts short, I have been told, is essential to ensure higher readership) but the strong interest in the articles implies that many of you are concerned about how your nonprofit is being judged.

Your challenge this week is to choose one the three areas discussed last week (by your board, your messaging or your gala) or another way in which you realize your organization’s image is not what you want it to be.  List at least 3 ways in which you can improve the situation.  If you share your suggested plan of action with us, we will post those that have the most universal application.

And, let us know if we can help you find your solution by emailing Abigail Harmon.

Judging a Nonprofit by its Gala

This is Part 2 in a mini-series that asks – how do people determine which organizations deserve their donations? While you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (or as a sign in my local library reminded me – you shouldn’t judge a book by its movie), should you judge a nonprofit by its direct mail?  Board?  Staff?  Physical Location?  Articles in the newspaper?  Facebook page?  Should you be judging a nonprofit by its gala?

Problem:  The volunteers for specific high profile events are often people who only work on that one event and may not be familiar with the entire breadth and depth of the organization.  Or, perhaps, they are acutely focused on an activity area that is mentioned at the event. This can translate into missing information or even misinformation provided to the many peripheral attendees and fellow volunteers.

Friends and fellow attendees might not understand the breadth and depth of you amazing work and determining whether you are a worthy investment of their donation based on very few facts.

Solution:  Provide an overview of the entire organization, its mission and goals during each and every meeting – even gala meetings. While this may seem like overkill, there are ways that this can be done that will seem inspirational to those in attendance.

There are many ways that this can be done but if you are going to do this on a regular basis – make sure to keep it brief and informative.  Share a couple of interesting stories that happened recently – in related and unrelated areas. Highlight a beneficiary (respecting any confidentiality issues) or special program that shows the spectrum of the organization’s reach (a little warm fuzzy feeling can go a long way).  Or, consider starting one well-attended meeting with a review of the overall mission of the organization.  Make sure to ask volunteers to talk about what the organization means to them.  It will highlight how many different perspectives there are as well as reminding everyone that in the middle of this massive amount of work, they are working for and towards a worthy goal.

For more ideas on how your organization is perceived, consider reading:  Judging a Nonprofit by its Messaging and Judging a Nonprofit by its Board


Engaging Prospects At A Nonprofit Event

Week 6 of 100 Donors in 90 Days focuses on events as new donor cultivation opportunities. Events bring out polar responses from fundraisers. Some love them, some hate them but almost all agree that events can be a major “time-suck.”

This week’s conversation with Shanon Doolittle explained how to be successful at engaging new donors – during an easy to run event. And, while the accompanying worksheet is an experienced event planner’s guide to success, I found her talk to be a perfect combination of best practices and creative ideas.

Here are a handful of her suggestions:

    1. “Know why you’re doing an event (hint: to find and cultivate new donors). Don’t overburden yourself with too many event goals. One is more than enough.” This will help you succeed at your one goal instead of trying to raise a large sum of money, while finding new donors, while creating new systems for data collection, while introducing a new board to some major donors, while ensuring corporate sponsors feel appreciated, while celebrating an anniversary, while – well you get the idea. Keep it simple.
    2. Integrate the mission into the experience. Hold a small fundraiser at a mission-related store to make planning easier and off-set costs with potential for in-kind donations in exchange for publicity. Or, encourage attendees to bring a mission-related item to donate (e.g. dog toys for an animal shelter or baby items for a family services organization). This will help attendees think about the mission before they come – even if they are only coming to network.
    3. Take pictures at the event and display pictures of past events. Shanon’s theory is simple – people like to see themselves in pictures. It’s both exciting and helps event-goers feel like they are special to the organization. Important enough to make the wall. And people who feel important to the organization will, in turn, put more value into the relationship.
    4. Put information and/or signage about the organization in the bathrooms. I thought this was incredibly clever. Almost every person will see it while waiting on line or drying their hands. Use your captive audience to inform, excite, and/or educate about your nonprofit.
    5. Follow up. While Shanon takes you through a step-by-step path to following up, I think it is important to highlight her last step. If, after three touch points, the prospect has not responded, place them on a separate events-only list. If they are not ready to give to the organization – you will only anger them by badgering them for a donation again and again. If they come to another event, you will have the opportunity to correspond with them again. But, if they are only interested in coming to events and never offering a straight donation – celebrate them for their role. Maybe they will bring friends who will contribute. Or maybe they will just help you sell tickets to events – either way allow them to develop a positive feeling about the organization and you will have the possibility of a long-term relationship on the donor’s terms.

Engaging prospects at a nonprofit event is stewardship, plain and simple.  And stewardship helps turn prospects into donors.


If you would like to hear Shanon or any of the other 11 fundraisers who share their best ideas in 100 Donors in 90 Days click here.

15 Questions You Should Ask About Your Gala

Three at a nonprofit fundraiserThe most recent MJA challenge was encouraging you to examine your gala/benefit results. Now it is time to get you to drill down a bit deeper to answer questions that will help you discover whether the event is creating the intended outcomes. As a reminder, we asked:

  1. What are three results you achieved by hosting your big event this past year?
  2. Are they different from previous years?
  3. Do you know what results you would like to achieve in the coming year?

If you can answer the first three questions, consider the following questions as a path to a deeper understanding of whether your event is truly successful. And consider – if an organization does not look better after a benefit, is it really a benefit?

If a substantial profit was on your list of results:

  1. Can you determine how many hours—staff and volunteer—went into the planning of the event?
  2. What didn’t happen in the office so that the event could occur?
  3. Is there anything else that could have produced a greater income if the time and energy was focused on a different aspect of fundraising?

If finding new donors was on your list of results:

  1. Were you able to introduce new potential donors to the organization during the event?
  2. Did you capture their information through a formal process?
  3. Did you have a plan before the event that outlined when and how you will next contact these new friends of the organization?

If engaging current donors in a more meaningful way was on your list of results:

  1. How many donors were new to the event planning process?
  2. How do they feel about the event and the organization after becoming more involved?
  3. Are there next steps to continue their involvement in the organization?

If having a fun, “friend-raiser” event for past, current and future donors was on your list of results:

  1. Did you encourage past donors to come in a special or targeted way?
  2. Were there special ways to ensure how guests who didn’t know anyone were engaged to maximize their enjoyment of the event?
  3. Did you have an “ask” at the event to remind attendees that you would like them to be donors?

If recognizing a person or people for their efforts to the organization was on your list of results:

  1. How did the people feel about the event – before, during and after?
  2. Were they recognized in a way that was special and particular to them?
  3. Are they continually contacted throughout the year to discuss next year’s event and how others could be recognized?

Hopefully it is evident that events can have many benefits beyond income. But whether the party is worth the organization’s efforts depends on the intended outcomes.

The Downside of Your Benefit or Gala

Nonprofit Gala Invitation to AnnoyUsually, we feature upbeat articles about how you can improve your nonprofit.   But, when it comes to benefits and galas it seems that the organizers often focus on the twinkly lights and forget about the substance.  While the inner circle of party-planners are busy congratulating themselves, they don’t always see the negative impact an event can have.

Perhaps this will read as the rant of an angry attendee, but maybe that’s okay.  I like going to events but I notice the details, and I suspect I am not the only one who feels this way.  The negative reviews of an event travel twice as far as the positive experiences, so use this piece to try to avoid the common problems that can decrease future donations instead of building new relationships.

Here are some things that I have seen go awry at these parties:

Everyone who has ever been involved in an event knows there are certain people at these parties who are pre-ordained targets for engagement by the board and staff.  But what about the rest of the people in the room?

At each of these events there are a certain percentage of people who know no one besides themselves or one other couple.  I have been at more than one event walking around the room, smiling at groups and wondering when I can leave.  I am pretty outgoing and often I will start a conversation at the bar, around food or even the restroom but not everyone is willing to go out of their way to talk to strangers.  Create something for them to focus on – a silent auction (even a few items will do the trick), a trivia contest, stations for food that are spread out around a room, or any reason that will encourage people to separate from their groups and move around the room.

If the party is anywhere between 5pm and 9pm, people expect to be fed enough for dinner.  Heavy appetizers are fine, as long as there are truly enough that guests don’t feel like they are attacking the wait-staff or standing in lines again and again.  The food can be fancy, kitschy or basic, but I hate leaving an event hungry.  It has happened to me more often than you think considering I am an average size woman who eats an average amount.

You don’t need a full bar to make a good impression but too long a line can make a bad one.  Signature drinks are all the rage but I have seen bartenders struggling continually to create complicated drinks, blue and green cocktails shunned and odd combinations of food left untouched that do not connect to the organization or the event.   I would also suggest that signature drinks should not be too strong.  A person can have a few glasses of wine over an evening and still walk out without embarrassment, a drink with too much alcohol that tastes like Kool-Aid could end up embarrassing a donor who didn’t realize she was consuming such a high alcohol content.   Drinks should enhance the atmosphere, not leave people questioning what the event organizers were thinking.

Most people understand, Black tie, Black tie optional, cocktail and the like.  Outside of the ultra-hip, urban areas Haute Hippy, Creative Conservative and Festive leave the majority of people confused and unsure what to wear.  If expression through dress is important to the organizers, give it as an option so the rest of the guests will know whether a tie is necessary or if the dress should be long or short, sparkly or suit-like.

MJA Challenge: Fundraisers – Is Your Event Worth The Time And Energy?

Tis the season for galas and benefits. The question is, after years of doing your annual event, are you still getting the results you desire? Do you know what you want to achieve?

This month’s Challenge:

  1. What are three results you achieved by hosting your big event this past year?
  2. Are they different from previous years?
  3. Do you know what results you would like to achieve in the coming year?

Organizations often shift into autopilot. We feel we cannot live without the money raised but rarely consider the true cost (beyond dollars) of continuing the event. We want you to examine all considerations when planning for next year (or a spring event).

**Look for next week’s post focusing on the potential costs and benefits of these events that you may not have considered.