By Jordan Lappin
For years, one of the most effective ways a nonprofit could raise money was through large in-person fundraising events - a fancy gala, a charity luncheon, or a live auction full of desirable memorabilia and a free 7-day trip to the Caribbean. However, fast forward to 2020, when the pandemic literally put the brakes on all large in-person events for nearly a year and a half, many nonprofit organizations had no idea where to turn to raise money when their annual fundraiser was canceled. Today, organizations and institutions across the US are operating business as usual. This now begs the question, are large fundraising events making a comeback? Or are they gone for good?
A few weeks ago, the nonprofit organization that I work at had its first in-person fundraising event since 2019. It was so awesome to have all of the people who make the organization run on a day to day basis - donors, volunteers, families, and friends - in the same room celebrating our mission.
In the months prior, the Head of the Organization, the Director of Development, and I met a number of times to plan this event. The two years without our annual gala gave us an opportunity to take a look at the event we put on in previous years and evaluate it with a fresh set of eyes - do we really like the structure? What about the theme? After some thought, my colleagues and I came to the conclusion that our annual gala was probably dreaded by most of our donors - the classic Friday night event with a subpar chicken dinner and just too much small talk. So we decided to take a new approach and structure an entirely new event. This turned out to be a massive success: we were able to reach our fundraising goal, engage new donors, and reconnect with ones we had lost over the course of the pandemic. The success we had leads me to this conclusion: In person fundraising events are BACK, but now is the time to innovate.
As I mentioned before, most nonprofit fundraising events are strikingly similar, and oftentimes dreaded by donors and volunteers alike who attend out of pure obligation. If you are going to bring back these large in-person fundraising events, you should evaluate your previous events with a fresh set of eyes and innovate. The pandemic revealed to most people that as human beings, it is wired into us that we want to gather, be together, and celebrate. Capitalizing on the opportunity to gather again in person gives your organization an opportunity to celebrate your mission, present your dreams for the future, and raise money. Here are two ideas for a new in-person fundraising event:
SPORTING EVENT - Sports bring people together. Instead of the dreaded chicken dinner and guest speaker combination, what about organizing a golf tournament? Or a kick-ball tournament?
PERFORMANCE - People love entertainment. If you plan on having a gala type event, add some entertainment to the nightly program. Perhaps a comedian, a band, a play, or even a trivia night!
During the pandemic, a number of nonprofit organizations created virtual events to try and make up for the absence of their annual in person gala. As we turn back to these in-person events, you might be wondering - should we do away with all virtual fundraising? At Triangle Cares, we believe that you should utilize all resources to maximize your fundraising abilities. While we value connecting with our donors and volunteers face to face, a virtual fundraising event or a Giving Day is a great way to supplement your annual in-person event and raise even more money for your organization.
Jordan Hannan and Jordan Lappin