The Best Kept Secrets of Unbelievably Successful Fundraising Events

I thought twice about writing the headline for this article. It sounds a little like the title for a sales pitch, but it’s not. I couldn’t figure out a way to convey the idea any better… so here it is:

Over the past couple of years, I have seen a number of non-profits increase the fundraising revenue for their biggest annual event by 50% or more, year over year. In my mind, that’s an unbelievably successful event. Each of these non-profits used tactics that are available to every organization, but that aren’t used by many. These strategies are “secrets,” not because someone is trying to hide them, but because so few organizations know and use them.

In this article, I’d like to share the three tactics all of these non-profits are using to hold super successful fundraising events, and that you can use too at your own organization.

#1 – Year Round Event Fundraising

Non-profits that increase their event revenue by 10%+ or more per year see event fundraising as a year round activity. Within a month after the lights go out for their big annual dinner or gala, these organizations are putting plans together for next year’s event, even though it is 11 months away. And they aren’t putting together plans for the menu or the flowers… they are thinking about fundraising for the event.

If you don’t pick up the phone to call last year’s event sponsors until 3 weeks before this year’s invitations go out in the mail, you are already sunk. You may raise the same amount as last year, or a little more, but you’re not going to double your revenue from the event year over year. Instead, cultivate your event sponsors year round. Get them involved. Meet with them. Talk with them. Communicate with event attendees. Year round. Start thinking about next year before this year’s checks have been deposited.

#2 – Pick Up the Phone

One of the beautiful things about fundraising events is that you just send out invitations and the money comes rolling in… easy peasey, right? Wrong. If you want to raise dramatically more money at your next fundraising event, you need to pick up the phone and start making calls. Or better yet, get out there and make asks in person.

I know this sounds like heresy to many fundraisers. But the truth is that great fundraising is built through great relationships… and great relationships do NOT come from pretty invitations or nice envelopes. Relationships are built through personal interaction.

Call your sponsors and ask them to move up a level this year. Call you invitees and make sure they are coming. Ask them to bring a friend along, too. Call your board members and event host committee members and make sure they are working the phones and making asks. Pick up the phone and use it for your next event. You’ll be glad you did.

#3 – Two Asks

Really good event fundraisers see every event prospect as the opportunity for two asks. The first ask is for the person or company to provide a sponsorship or buy a ticket. Then, later on (and assuming you are communicating with your event donors year round), you can make a second ask… for referrals.

Think about it. Once someone sponsors your event, they are showing their commitment and want the event to succeed (plus they often want as much recognition as possible). What better way to make it a better event than giving them the opportunity to help you find more sponsors or attendees? The same goes for people who are just attending the event. Once they buy a ticket, what if they got a call asking them who else they know that might like to come? Or, perhaps, they would like to put together a whole table. You don’t know until you ask.

Reach out to your sponsors. Ask them for referrals to other companies and families that might want to sponsor the event. Reach out to your attendees. Ask them for referrals to other people who might want to buy tickets. Organizations that use this one simple strategy see amazing results. (For more on getting your donors to make referrals, read The Best Place to Find New Donor Prospects for Your Non-Profit.)


Photo Credit: UC Davis College of Engineering