Crashing the Party: Evaluating Your Fundraising Events

Another great conference, another great session. NTEN introduced us to Heather Gallant and Angela Crist, a nonprofit leader and marketing strategist, respectively. Heather and Angela talk us through how to ensure you’re hosting a true fundraiser, not just a party, and how to ensure that fundraising event is truly worth your organization’s time and money.

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Before getting into the specifics of a fundraising event versus a party, it’s important to assess your event and ask yourself “is it worth it?” Heather and Angela share some key questions to ask yourself as you begin planning your next fundraising event to ensure it’s as successful as can be.

  1. What’s the goal?
    What’s the biggest thing you need to accomplish?
  2. Is an event the answer?
    Do people need to get together in person to achieve this goal? Events should be one element of your organization’s fundraising strategy, but not the only one. Fundraising activities such as direct mail appeals, social media appeals, and asking for major gifts and legacy gifts raise money too. Are you building relationships with your donors after the event and inviting them to support your mission in these other ways?
  3. What kind of event do you need?
    Not all events are fundraisers. What kind of event do you really need?
  4. How does every event component align with your goals?
    Keep your goals front and center and be intentional in all that you do.

Once you’ve decided on a fundraising event, how do you make sure you’re achieving your financial goals, advancing your mission, and not just hosting a party?

Transactional – simply selling stuff.
Philanthropic – building your mission.
People attend just to hang out.
People gather to reinforce your mission and goals.
You break even (or maybe not).
You make money after setting specific goals.
Your event stands alone; there’s no follow up or ongoing experience.
You provide thoughtful follow up that’s part of a larger, long-term plan.

Money Maker
One of the key differences here is whether or not you’re making money. That is, after all, the goal of fundraising. It can sometimes be easy to look at the funds raised during your event and frame that as pure profit. Unfortunately, putting on an incredible event for your donors and community doesn’t necessarily come cheap. It’s important to take into account both the hard expenses (table rentals, food costs, entertainment, etc.) and soft expenses (staff time, for example) when hosting an event. While you may raise $40,000 at your main event each year, your expenses could be $60,000, putting you at a net loss of $20,000. Yikes!

So, ask yourself, “is it worth it?”

Tracking your event from one year to the next allows you to see whether your annual event is becoming better and therefore less expensive to raise each dollar, or more expensive to raise each dollar. It also allows you to compare your event to other fundraising activities your organization hosts, like mailers, online giving, etc., to see if other activities might be more cost-effective.

Take a look to see if you’re really getting a good return for how much your organization is investing in the event planning and execution.

And what happens if you’re not making money? It’s time to change things up. If your fundraising event simply isn’t benefitting your organization and is continually missing the mark there are two options:

Ditch it.
Communicate the change with your donors so they’re not caught off guard when they don’t receive an invitation they’ve come to expect. We’ve talked before about transparent communication with your donors – don’t be afraid to let them know that you’re making a change to better achieve your mission and goals. Use the donor lists from past events to really get to know your donors, get them involved, and ask them for a larger gift that relates to both your mission and their personal interests.


Decide it’s worthwhile.
Sometimes a few tweaks and adjustments to your events can turn things around. But this can’t be a quick, Band-Aid™ fix. You’ll need to be prepared to invest time and money to raise the potential for future events. What would make it worthwhile to keep the event if it’s not currently making you money?

Fundraising events can be a critical component of your overall fundraising efforts. In fact, 51% of those who give do so in person1, so there is no shortage of opportunity. A well-positioned event with clear money-making goals that align with your mission can boost your visibility, your community and your funding. Just remember to spend a little time evaluating the costs associated with your event to ensure you’re on track year over year.

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Heather Gallant
With expertise in fundraising strategy, founder-leader transitions, strategic problem-solving during times of uncertainty, and organizational change processes, Heather Gallant has helped hundreds of organizations move their missions forward. Grassroots nonprofits, large educational institutions, chapter-based nonprofits and everything in between, Heather strives to help organizations and people realize their full potential.

She started her career as an AmeriCorps VISTA, where she built a comprehensive, and sustainable collegiate community service program from scratch. From there, she served in nearly every role in a nonprofit organization and then as a consultant with a nonprofit consulting firm. In her current role as the Executive Director of The 577 Foundation, Heather works every day to spark people’s passions and build closer connections with each other and the environment.

Angela Crist is a strategic leader, who is passionate about leading marketing initiatives to engage with customers, build brand awareness, generate leads, and secure brand loyalty.

Angela has worked closely with Fortune 50 executives, entrepreneurs, artists, doctors, students, educators, social workers and IT professionals – sometimes all in the same day! Her career has moved her in and out of different sectors, each time adding a layer of new perspective and transferable skills. This variety of views and expertise has built her into the skilled professional she is today., 2016 Connected Nonprofit Report