Events for major donors are not about fundraising.Non-profit leaders and board members, this one is for you.
Several weeks ago I got a call from a distraught Director of Development telling me she was at her wits’ end with the board of directors and her non-profit’s CEO.
She said, “Jeff, I’m not sure what to do. My board and the CEO are insistent that we hold this annual gala, and it’s so much work. I’m embarrassed to say it nets only $100,000 on a gross of over $400,000! It gets worse – the board won’t allow me to reach out to the folks they invite to this event because they say that those are their friends, and they don’t want me (or anyone) to solicit them further.”
Let’s just think about this for a minute. Obviously, if the organization is only netting ¼ of the total gross of this event, this is really about making the event “a thing” for the board members. It’s definitely not about the mission.
Secondly, the role of the board in major gifts is to help evangelize their sphere of influence to join the mission of the organization. The board member does this because they love the mission. In this case, the board is about entertaining their friends first and putting on a good party.
Sadly, this is not a rare occurrence in our industry. Richard and I hear stories like hers all the time.
Together we talked for quite a bit about the “game” her board has been playing, which is popular among wealthy donors all over the place – and it often gets the blessing of non-profit leadership.
You know this game. A donor invites his friends and colleagues to an event by your organization where he’s on the board, and everyone “pays” to have a good time. Then those friends and colleagues do the same thing to your board members. The event attendees rarely, if ever, become real donors who are inspired by your mission.
Yet non-profit leadership thinks this is major gift fundraising. This is why they allow so much time to be devoted to these lavish events.
What gets lost in this game is all of the time spent by the non-profit’s development team and major gift officers, who are required to put on the event. It’s an enormous amount of work. For the Development Director that called me, she said she must devote essentially two full months of her year to concentrate on this one event that nets her only $100,000.
This is tragic.
She would love to give up this event, because she knows that if she spent real time developing relationships with the organization’s existing major donors, she could bring in so much more money than the net amount this event brings in each year.
Sadly, this Development Director is making the choice to leave this organization, an organization that is very dear to her heart, because she can no longer “go along” with “the game” the leadership wants to play.
I want to be very clear. If you are an Executive Director, CEO or Board Member of a non-profit, you need to know that fundraising events have nothing to do with major gift fundraising.
Major gift fundraising is about building relationships with donors. It’s about understanding a donor’s passions and interests, so that you can help them find joy in giving to your organization’s programs and projects that are changing the world. In that pursuit, gifts of money are a result.
Events are a tactic to help cultivate a donor, make her feel good about your organization, and hopefully bring in some cash (unlike the story above). It’s not, however major gifts work per se. So if you see your major gift team spending a ton of time working on events, you are not using them correctly.
Instead, they need to be out with donors, forming relationships, and working with program people to come up with great offers to inspire your major donors to do something amazing for (and with) your non-profit.
Don’t get sucked into “the game.” That is not fundraising. It’s something else that has very little to do with your mission.
As a non-profit leader, if you get this right, your organization has a chance to soar – and you’ll have donors who will find joy in supporting your mission. This is what major gift fundraising is all about.
PS – We have lots more thoughts on Events and Major Gift Fundraising, including ways to best take advantage of events if you must do them. Click here for our free White Paper.