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Why are you having that fundraising event anyway?

July 8, 2013
by Terry Axelrod
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Who says nonprofits have to be in the special event business?

Am I the only one who has had it with labor-intensive, entertainment-style fundraising events like the airplane-pull, the polo match, the duck races, even the golf outings? Who says nonprofits have to be in the special event business? I thought the mission statement talks about providing behavioral healthcare services to those in need? I didn't see the word "polo" mentioned in the mission statement, nor the word "entertainment."

Here is our tried and true list of seventeen soul-searching questions to help you vet each potential event and ultimately "missionize" it or—better yet—eliminate it altogether. Unless, of course, it passes the test.

Right now, while you are alone reading this, without your staff, board, or event committee at your side, take the time to answer these questions honestly for each of the events your organization currently produces.

  1. Why are you really having the event, anyway?
  2. Is there really an expectation that this event will raise money?
  3. What have you said in the past to justify not reaching your dollar goal for this event?
  4. How attached are you and your organization to this type of event?
  5. What if someone just walked in and wrote you a check for your total goal? Would you still have the event?
  6. Thinking ahead to your next big event, if you don't make your goal, what will be the reason?
  7. If the event is supposed to be a fundraiser, do you know how much it actually nets?
  8. How many volunteers did it really take to put the event on?
  9. If you have a dedicated fundraising staff, what else could they have been doing with the same amount of time and energy to bring in more money than the event nets?
  10. For how many months in advance have you and your team been obsessing about the event?
  11. Do you know from the beginning that you have big fixed costs to meet?
  12. Is this the right kind of event for your organization?
  13. Does this type of event give you enough predictors of the results?
  14. Is this event the best way to maximize the giving potential of each donor?
  15. What would you think if you had to sit through that program?
  16. What are you building for future years by having this event?
  17. On a scale of one to ten, how excited are you about producing this event?

Now that you've had the opportunity to answer these questions, let's look a little deeper at each soul-searching question.

1. Why are you really having the event, anyway?

Don't be surprised if you don't really know or if there is more than one reason. Often, there is one "official" reason you tell the public. For example, to raise money for scholarships, to send more kids to camp, to honor the retiring founder or a visiting dignitary, etc. And then there is the real internal reason for having this event. Perhaps it is to please a particular person on the board or a key volunteer who loves planning this party every year. Or maybe it is just because you have been having the event for twenty-five years and no one would dare to stop it now.



Terry Axelrod

CEO, Benevon

Terry Axelrod



Terry Axelrod is founder and CEO of Benevon. She has more than thirty years of experience in the...

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