Holding an Event is NOT Your Whole Fundraising Strategy

I like fundraising events. I’ve managed (literally) hundreds of them during my fundraising career, from $500,000 galas to $10,000 hosted events and everything in between. Heck, I’ve even written a handbook on a certain kind of fundraising event. So… I’m not one of those “fundraising events aren’t worth the effort” snobs.

Still, it makes me cringe when I’m talking with a non-profit about some fundraising difficulties they are having, or some new program they want to launch, and everyone agrees, “We’ll just hold a fundraising event!” In many of these meetings, once the word “event” is mentioned, everyone thinks the fundraising question is settled… we’ll hold an event to raise the money. Can’t go wrong. Move on to the next topic.

It makes me want to scream, “Stop!” Sometimes I do scream, “Stop!” Holding an event is NOT your whole fundraising strategy. It never can be. It can be part of your strategy, sure, but not the whole strategy, and not even the most important part.

Why People Revert to Events

It’s easy for non-profits to revert to events. It’s painless to throw out an event as the answer to all of your fundraising woes. Why is it easy? Because an event is easily understood. Everyone knows that lots of non-profits have success with holding events, maybe your non-profit has had success with events. Everyone knows (or thinks they know) how to hold an event. So that must be the answer. Case closed!

Similarly, in many cases, people want to hold an event because they think people like to come to events so much that what matters is the food, drink, and entertainment… this lets the non-profit off the hook, and allows the staff and volunteers to avoid the really hard work of fundraising, which is thinking big, casting a big vision and building strong relationships with people who buy in to that vision.

But hold on a second…

What Really Makes a Fundraising Strategy?

What really makes a fundraising strategy is building a strong foundation for your non-profit, one that gets buy-in for your mission and your vision. What really makes a strong strategy is building a fundraising network. Cultivating donors, and making asks.

Fundraising events can be a small or large part of that strategy. You can use fundraising events to prospect for new donors, cultivate your prospects, or make asks. But the event has to be part of a larger strategy, a strategy that includes a strong case for support, a strong fundraising plan, and the creation of strong relationships with your donors.

The next time you are in a meeting and someone suggests that you hold a fundraising event, ask where that event falls into your overall fundraising strategy. Better yet, write a knowledgeable fundraising plan in advance that spells out where events (and all other tactics) will come into play. That’s a fundraising strategy that lasts.


Photo Credit: ProjectExploration