Wednesday, November 20, 2013

How to Create an Effective Fundraising Environment

By: Samantha Swaim

More isn’t always more. Sometimes less can actually be more.

This is often true at fundraising events. Seems counterintuitive, right? The more people in the room the better, right?

It’s not the number of people in the room that will help you hit your targets, it’s who you have in the room that will help you create a great fundraising environment in which to achieve your goals. Everyone attending your event is actually costing you money. The food they’re eating, the chair they’re sitting in, the drinks they’re enjoying in some cases—those things are hard costs to your budget. The offset of that comes when the person in that seat gives back to you beyond what it cost for you to have them there.

If you have an intended focus for your fundraising program and then put too many uninvested people in that room, it can actually be distracting. Especially if those seats are filled with comp tickets. Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between someone who has paid to be at an event and them donating. If people have paid to be there, they are more likely to give you money. If they’re not invested, it becomes easy to chat with the person next to them at their table. Or even worse, they get up and start moving around the room during your special appeal.

And when one goes, it gives permission for everyone else to follow.

Make-A-Wish of Oregon switched things up this year and held an intimate dinner, live auction and special appeal with a curated crowd of 250 before their larger and lower-ticket price Wish Ball started upstairs with silent auction, raffles, photo booth and fun for everyone.

The process of shrinking their crowd for this intimate dinner allowed them to hone in on bringing their biggest donors together and moving those who were lower level supporters up to the Wish Ball. By making this split they were able to create a more exclusive room that catered to the interests of their major donors.

It also allowed the organization to reach directly across to those major donors and create a tight, focused program for them without worrying about the distraction of a big, unruly room that they had to keep bringing to attention. It gave invested donors an environment of peers who were as committed to the organization as they were. The pay off for the change in format was that then everyone could head up to the party and socialize, dance and celebrate the amazing fundraising that was already done.

Take a look at who comes to your event, identify your major donors and then craft your event with that crowd in mind. By catering to your donor base, you will increase the investment in your major donors and increase the fundraising.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Getting to the Heart of an Organization

We encourage organizations to start the program of their event with a video that we call the ‘who we are’ piece. It’s a great way to dim the lights and bring the attention of the room together. It’s also an easy way to tell the story of your organization in a condensed and engaging format so that everyone in the room is on the same page.

Often organizations come back to us and tell us about their budget constraints and the idea that there isn’t resource enough for a second video if they are already using video for their special appeal. But if you have photos and a computer, you can make a video that tells the story of your organization.

We made a video for PlayWrite@10, an anniversary gala for an arts non-profit in Portland. All we used were some photos that they already had on their website, some simple text and a great song that set the emotional trajectory we were looking for.

We started with the words first. What is good for a grant, may not be the best thing for storytelling. We looked at why this organization does what it does. We looked at what was the beating heart at its core. That process was about stripping away all of the jargon and program language and cutting to what the organization does on the simplest level: it listens to stories of young writers and facilitates them telling those stories on stage.

With a very simple script in place, we matched photos of their writers to the text. We made the story about the young writers involved. Showed them thinking, writing, playing, smiling and taking a bow for their work. We told a simple story in words and images that in just over two minutes told why PlayWrite does the very important work it does. Showed the faces of the lives it impacts every day.

The video worked really well at the event. It also worked really well for staff, encouraging them to simplify how they talk about their organization and to focus on the program’s emotional impact. It put the young writers front and center.

And the video can have a long life after the event. Staff and board members can play it on a tablet when meeting with donors to quickly engage them. It can become a multi-media piece to add to appeal emails and post-event electronic recaps to attendees. It can become your elevator speech. When you turn on the screen, people pay attention.

Take it as a challenge. Grab a piece of paper and a pen and see if you can get to the beating heart of your organization in 150 words. Let go of what you usually say, let go of what the website says, let go of language you’ve inherited. Pretend your audience is someone that has never heard of you. What would you tell them?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Real Stories About Real People Make a Difference

Your special appeal is the largest fundraising opportunity during your event.

Not the silent auction. Not the raffle. Not the wine wall.

The special appeal.

And because it is such a large opportunity, it is important to spend significant time and energy on it to yield that return. Your special appeal should not be about facts and figures or programs. Those are important things, but as soon as they are introduced, studies show that giving decreases by as much as 50%.

Your special appeal story should be about real people. A story that makes an emotional connection between your guests and the issue your organization is addressing. It should show how their trajectory was or will be significantly impacted by the work of your organization.

Basic Rights Oregon held its biggest gala yet with this year’s Ignite event. Their special appeal broke all records for their organization. This was as a result of time and strategy.

They created an amazing video to take the audience on a journey. It is the story of one couple. One journey. It is the very human story of love, and how after 42 years, Ed and Warren want to be married in Oregon.

The video of Ed and Warren that Basic Rights Oregon used in their appeal was a very carefully crafted piece focused on making the case for support.

It doesn’t delve into marriage protections.

It doesn’t talk about law.

There are no statistics in it.

There are voices. There are pictures. It simply tells the story of Ed and Warren and the incredible life they’ve crafted together out of love. And it makes a simple request for support so that Basic Rights Oregon can make that happen for them.

And the audience responded in a huge way. When we humanize what we do and make it about people giving to people, the response and giving will follow. Take the stories you have and simplify them, distil them down to what makes them human. The special appeal is that place to have emotional impact on your audience, the place to put your heart on your sleeve. And if you’ve done it well, your audience will give theirs back to you.