As one of the founders of Accelevents and the Fall Formal fundraiser in Boston, I have had my fair share of exposure to fundraising. Even though I consider myself to have deep knowledge in certain areas of the fundraising space, I know that there is always room to improve!
When focusing on improving your future fundraising efforts, one of the best places to start is the past. By reflecting on your past fundraising endeavors, you may be able to find patterns or areas where you can improve.
Take my own experience for example. In 2014, my good friend (and co-founder of Accelevents) and I decided to organize our own fundraiser in Boston. To be honest, we had no idea what we were getting into. Nonetheless, we worked extremely hard, and ended up with an 850+ person event which donated over $65,000 to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in its first year.
Since the first event in 2014, we have grown the Fall Formal, while also launching our own fundraising technology company. Through these experiences, we’ve learned an incredible amount about fundraising.
So…even though it’s only been a few years since my first major fundraising experience, I would love to team up with Doc Brown and take the Dolorean back in time to give my younger fundraising self some advice.
The destination? Our first fundraiser planning meeting in 2014.
And if I could make this journey back in time, what one piece of advice would I give to my younger fundraising self?
Don’t limit yourself! Think big and think outside the box!
While this may seem like an obvious piece of advice, it is something the committee and I could definitely have used to make the most our first fundraising event. Furthermore, it is a great piece of advice for anyone involved in the fundraising event / special events space.
Now, when I think about typical limitations to fundraising events, there are two areas where I would like to focus, each of which I will relate to our inaugural fundraiser in 2014:
1. Size of your event / attendees
When we first began planning the original Fall Formal event, we were hoping to attract maybe 185 people, 250 if we were lucky. In hindsight, I realize we had absolutely no reason to limit ourselves to this number.
If I could go back in time, I would have told my younger fundraising self to think bigger in terms of the size of the event, while also taking advantage of all of the great tools out there to deliver an impactful large-scale event. This means both the attendee goal for the physical event as well as increasing the fundraiser’s reach by making the event accessible to those who may not be able to physically attend.
At first, these tools could be anything from social media and email scheduling tools. Eventually, however, these tools would expand for our fundraising team to include mobile fundraising tools.
And this is where it gets really interesting.
During our first event, we planned on running a traditional silent auction – paper bid sheets and all. We quickly realized how difficult this would be given we were at our venue’s capacity. What’s more, is that a physical silent auction would also limit our potential audience!
Eventually, we would transition to the Accelevents mobile fundraising solution in order to power our silent auction. This provided huge operational and organizational efficiencies while also allowing us to reach a much larger audience – we could now tap into a donor base without them attending the event.!
Pretty soon, we were collecting donation from our friends and family outside of Boston, and across the country.
Had I told my younger fundraising self this advice, I would have saved hours of stress and planning!
The second area that my advice would have helped with is regarding the time period in which our first fundraiser encouraged our supporters to donate.
Beyond event ticket sales, the majority of donations (whether from the silent auction or elsewhere) took place the night of our fundraising event.
While this seems rather obvious, my younger fundraising self was oblivious to this limitation. Through my experiences in the fundraising community, I have learned a great deal about acquiring, engaging, and retaining donors. One of the easiest ways to acquire and retain your donors is to eliminate as many barriers to donation as possible!
To that end, consider my comment above about raising most of our proceeds on the night of our fundraising event. While I am truly thankful to our supporters that night, there was clearly a huge opportunity missed – we should have encouraged donations and support all week (or month)!
Again, using some of the amazing online and mobile fundraising tools out there, we could have reduced barriers for our supporters and made it just as easy for them to donate before our event as it was on the night of the event.
Eventually, we used this strategy for future events, but not before learning a lesson from our first event!
In conclusion, while my younger fundraising self may have been a little shocked (and worried) to see me show up in a car from the future, he certainly would have been pleased to hear some of the advice I could provide on fundraising events.
In a similar way, when planning your next fundraising event, always try to push the limits. Whether this means increasing your attendance / reach or simply extending the time that you will be accepting donations, try to innovate and think outside the box.
Today’s fundraising landscape offers incredible tools for you to take advantage of in order to improve your next fundraising event in both of these areas!