ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Donor and Fund-Raising Events: Spectacular or Mediocre?

Before I start let me inform you that the goals of each of the three events I am about to discuss were similar.  They were both fund-raising and donor thank you events.  They each wanted to grow their constituency. 

The event in Santa Barbara was a donor “thank you” event by Reason Foundation.  They hold similar events annually and whenever I can, I do attend.  They do everything right – from the venue, to the food, to the speakers and the social time built in.   

When I wrote my fund-raising book (The “Please” and Thank You” of Fund-Raising) ten years ago, I wrote about an earlier experience at a Reason Foundation event.  I want to quote myself here:

Every once in a while you attend an event that is so perfectly executed, you can’t wait to attend again the following year.  I just came back from my third weekend with a group that knows how to say “Please” and “Thank You” to its donors.  During each of the three years I’ve attended, everything that could go right did.
The place selected was lovely, the food marvelous, the speakers diverse and interesting, housekeeping details handled effectively, and opportunities for socializing with the other donors was marvelous.  This is fund-raising at its best. 

Years later, my sentiments are the same.  Volunteers and staff are all dedicated to making sure that every tiny detail is handled in the best way possible.  No corners are cut.  Those of us who attend talk for weeks – if not months – about it to others  - thus growing their audience and donors each time.
A few months ago I attended another event that was spectacular.  This was the Valentine Day’s dinner for the Santa Clara Rotary.  It was held at Justin’s Restaurant in Santa Clara with an outside caterer that served a fabulous gourmet seven course meal with all the accompanying wines.  The cost to each of us:  $125.00.   I mention the cost because I am about to compare it to another donor/fund-raising event that I go to each year that is just OK – ordinary – nothing special – nothing to want to invite others to attend.

Each year one of the organizations I support (and I won’t mention their name so as not to embarrass anyone involved) holds two fund-raising and donor appreciation events.  Although the venues selected are nice, they are hardly spectacular.  The catering gets worse each year – last year for example,  the dinner rolls were still frozen – and even the table-settings are the cheapest imaginable (I know I just washed and sorted the “silverware”.)  The entertainment is usually just one or two political speakers and thus there is no desire on the part of the attendees to invite their friends to participate the following year.

The event coordinator seems more concerned with saving money (although we are charged $100.00 each for the dinner) than in making sure the quality is so outstanding that people talk about it and invite others.  I’ve been told that the $100.00 price tag doesn’t even pay for the cost of the event.  This is surprising – and why I mentioned the cost of the Valentine Day’s dinner.  Also, at these events there are sponsors who pay a minimum of $1,000.00 to attend – so why couldn’t the quality be improved?  I don’t understand.

The major point I made in my fund-raising book was the importance of creating events that entice people to want to come back for more and to bring others with them. 

Mediocre doesn’t get free advertising.  Spectacular does.

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