Articles About Fundraising by Carol Weisman

3 Steps to Getting Your Board To Commit to Your Special Event

            You can have special events for many different reasons and with different people in charge of the event. You can have a special event to:

  • Build membership
  • Get clients
  • Introduce prospective donors to your cause
  • Thank current donors
  • Earn big bucks.

You can also have a number of people in charge of your event. You might have an event where:

  • The staff is totally responsible
  • An outside group is having an event and giving you the money
  • Partner with another nonprofit
  • Hire a party planner
  • A committee of non-board members is in charge
  • Your board is expected to take a leadership role.

If you plan to have your board committed to your event and if the purpose is to raise a lot of money, there are three steps you need to implement, otherwise the scenario will be something like this:

            A board member proposes an event such as a golf tournament or gala. The board is thrilled. There is a vote. It is unanimous. Go forth and plan. 8 weeks before the event, the chair of the event starts to contact the board for their lists. He uses e-mail. No response. Another two weeks goes by. He starts to call. Then the curtain starts to unveil a picture that isn’t pretty. The board had assumed the event chair was going to do all the work. You get every excuse from, “I can’t bring a foursome to the golf tournament because the country club was racially segregated in the 1950’s” to “You know we always go to Florida this time of the year” when in fact, no one knew. The chair hears everything but , “The dog ate my calendar. ” Three weeks before the event, the chair is aware he is in it alone. He is thrilled that he comes from a big family or has a lot of employees. Everyone is conscripted. Despite everything, the event is a modest success. The next year, everyone assumes he is doing it again.

Here are three steps to get off this hamster wheel if you expect your board to be a major part of your events:

  1. Don’t just take a vote whether to do the event or not. Spend a few more minutes and ask each board member for a specific commitment. Ask what they will do to make this a success. Forget about asking everyone to sell a specific number of tickets. It won’t happen. Some people can sell 150 tickets while others can get your food or entertainment or venue for free. Some people are great at process management and can set up stations, be responsible for flow, check-in and check-out. Others can “work the room” and share with your guests what your charity does and why it is a great philanthropic investment. If people are not excited, willing to commit and are specific about what they will do, pull the plug immediately. You can hire a professional to plan the event, but that person normally will be involved in logistics and won’t bring in guests or auction items.
  2. After your event, debrief. I call this an “M and M” conference. This stands for morbidity and mortality. Doctors have these meetings to discuss their cases. Most don’t have candy M&Ms. You should. Ask your staff how much time this took them. Look at what you earned. Determine what was great and should be retained if you do the event again the next year. Decide what should be different. Write a one page report. Determine if your fundraiser was a money-maker or a friend-raiser and if that is OK for next year.
  3. If you decide this will be an annual signature event, put your expectations regarding participation in your board commitment letter so that new board members know that this is a part of their work as a board member.

Special events are time consuming. They can be frustrating and exhausting. Great events are fun to hold and attend, fill your donor pipeline and make a lot of money. If your board, the people closest to the mission other than your clients, can’t commit, think twice about having it. There are other ways to fund your mission.


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