Nine Rules for Special Event Success

If you’ve read my book you know I’m not a fan of special event fundraising in a community college advancement program. I know that special events can play a limited role in four-year college programs that have already mastered the core programs of the collegiate advancement model. Those events serve a variety of niche purposes in the college or university program.

Despite these reservations, I have run many special events in my fundraising career and have formulated a few rules on how to make them successful. So, especially for those readers who do not come from the higher education sector, here are the nine rules for special event success…

1. Make the event rencontre 66 rencontre femme odessa rencontre chorégraphique 2013 miramas conocer hombres gordos dating site like twoo site de rencontre adolescent site de rencontres femmes malgaches electronic dating http://www.mylifept.com/?refriwerator=optimarkets-com&f11=a0 optimarkets com http://www.laderaranchdentistry.com/bistrota/1017 FUN! (…or otherwise emotionally compelling.)

2. Know your audience and appeal to their tastes. (Cowboys don’t do opera. Culture vultures don’t do tractor pulls. And nobody likes boring speeches.)

3. Recruit a large event committee (20 or more).

4. Make sure 3 or 4 core volunteers own the event.

5. Have board members make a ticket pledge.

6. Create the widest possible reach for ticket sales. (Call your mother. Ask her to bring friends.)

7. Sponsorships are where the big money is. (Start with your vendors.)

8. If there is even the slightest chance you are going to lose money, forget it. (An event must have a minimum return on investment of 100%. And 500% is optimal.

9. Be very clear about why you are doing the event. If the purpose is largely PR, it’s impeding more lucrative fundraising opportunities.

 

Avoid Over-Reliance on Special Events

One of the premises of my book is that a community college advancement program that is heavily dependent on special event revenue will yield a lower return on investment than one that uses what I call the collegiate model of advancement. This advancement model focuses on direct, person-to-person cultivation of major gifts and a varied Annual Fund program featuring five to seven product lines.

That said, I know that most community colleges are dependent on special events for a significant portion of their annual revenues. That worries me when I look at areas like major gift development and even employee annual giving.

Some community colleges make almost nothing on employee annual giving, while top performers raise more than $40,000 a year. What makes for the difference? Sometimes it’s little more than culture and tradition. Sometimes it’s the special event, especially when there are many staff and faculty attendees paying for premium tickets to attend the event.

Mark Drozdowski, former executive director of the Fitchburg State College Foundation, a four-year college located in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, referred to this dynamic in analyzing a golf tournament for The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“…When all the dust settles, we net anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000…That irks me for two reasons. First, we dedicate an inordinate amount of time to raising 10 grand. If you calculate the number of work hours involved, we barely break even. Staff members running the tournament spend months planning every detail, gathering auction items, selling sponsorships, producing brochures, and managing logistics…

Second, we cannibalize our own donors. Instead of asking a small company to contribute $750 for a day of golf, of which only $100 will be added to a scholarship pool, why not just ask them for the $750 outright?”[i]

So why not just ask our employees for stretch gifts outright, and not rely on them too much for the special event? I think it is a useful goal to target a 60 percent participation rate with a yield of over $30,000 in an employee giving program. Let the event budget recalibrate itself. I like to see 100 percent of the employee gift going to support the mission of the foundation, rather than perhaps up to 50 percent of it going to support dinner and event décor.

The same dynamic is at work in a community college major gifts program when an event, or multiple events, dominate the calendar. The ability to focus on major gifts cultivation and solicitation works better when the prospect is not being hit up for repeat, relatively low-value sponsorship gifts.

Kathy Breslin, executive director of Delaware County Community College Foundation, has come up with what I consider to be a best-in-class solution, one that I recommend in my book. She has formatted her special event function as that of a high-end donor recognition event. While she has a few sponsors, invitees are invited because of their record of support to the college, or because they are under cultivation as donors of potentially significant gifts. They don’t pay for dinner. Kathy can offer a number of stories about guests who make significant gifts after being exposed to this level of cultivation.

Cultivation events offer the college a venue to tell its story. Students, the president, donors, and other leaders can all offer unique, inspiring stories that motivate donors to give outright gifts, which produce return-on-investment yields far higher than those seen in special event-dominated advancement programs.

I’m not saying ditch your event without a plan. I’m saying that there are more avenues available to you than we might think to simply—as Mark Drozdowski puts it—ask for the gift outright.

It takes time and cultivation to accomplish that, but major gifts, based on direct, face-to-face asks, can equal the net of a special event by way of a single gift.

 

[i] Drozdowski, Mark J. “Teed Off.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 53(10), October 27, 2006, C3.

Don’t Overlook Employee Annual Giving

One of the most reliable Annual Fund activities is employee annual giving. Who better to understand the critical importance of timely emergency financial support than those who are closest to your students? Employee annual giving can play a role in every college’s annual campaign.

Consult “Fundraising Strategies for Community Colleges” for a presentation of a proven employee campaign model. Many colleges have found they can raise $25,000 to $50,000 per year (and more) for the Annual Fund through employee annual giving.

Fiscal Year-End Follow-up for the Annual Fund

Fiscal year-end follow-up for the Annual Fund means phoning donors who are in danger of going LYBUNT.

With about a week to go until the end of the fiscal year, it’s time to be in high-gear making phone calls to high-value Annual Fund donors who are about to go LYBUNT. Regardless of which renewal track they are on, now is the time to call.

Who should call? Start with the director of annual giving. That individual should have a good handle on the relationships in question. Others can call, too, especially if the donor is at the $2,500 or above level. At Dunwoody College of Technology, the president would make year-end Annual Fund follow-up calls to particularly high-value donors who had yet to make their gift. At Dunwoody, everyone in the advancement office was on deck to make calls as needed.

The script? “I just wanted to touch bases with you to let you know how close we are to making our Annual Fund goal, and how important your gift is to the college and to me personally. If you’d like to I could: take your credit card information over the phone, drop by to pick up the check later this week, or you could make your gift at our website.”

And then pause…as long as it takes.

One exception to this approach is if the donor routinely makes a gift via a credit card, then I would just go for the presumptive close, as you would during a phonathon. As soon as the donor says yes, just ask, “Which card would like to put that on?”

If you run a phonathon in the fall (and you should), have a student caller on hand in June to call $100 and up donors who are on the brink of LYBUNT-ship.

Ask donors who say they will get their check in the mail to please have it postmarked by June 30, and treat these gifts the same way you enter calendar year-end gifts for tax purposes. But don’t hold the year-end books open longer than a few days past the fiscal year. Most long-term donors will consider making two gifts the following year if they miss a fiscal year.

While the definition of a high-value Annual Fund gift varies, think seriously about having the director call anyone at the $500 a year level or above. Calls to donors below that level may well merit the few minutes it takes to have staff call as well.

Don’t get caught up in call reluctance because you think these donors have lost interest or they would have already given. People forget! I forget. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how many people are genuinely grateful that you helped keep them on track with their annual charitable gift plan.

This year-end drill is de rigueur when Annual Fund goals are real, and they matter, and the director of annual giving and the annual giving staff are held accountable for reaching them. When follow-up drills like this are not a priority, it says something about how serious you are about your program goals.

Donors who are contacted in this manner realize that their gifts are essential, that they are noticed, and that their failure to make a gift has consequences. Small organizations like community college foundations can easily make it apparent that these gifts matter.

It doesn’t take the loss of too many high-value gifts to torpedo Annual Fund goals, so take the time to close year-end gifts with strategic follow-up calls and watch your goal attainment go over the top as a result.

 

The Second Most Important Thing You Can Do to Strengthen Employee Annual Giving

[second in a two-part series]

The second most important thing you can do to strengthen Employee Annual Giving is to address the maximum number of faculty and staff at a single gathering.

I call this the “Kickoff Close.” The occasion offers the opportunity to make a concerted, personal pitch for Employee Annual Giving as you collect pledge cards.

Here’s how it works:

1) Find the occasion. It might be an all-employee meeting, in-service training day, or a welcome-back orientation. The key is to find an occasion that includes both faculty and staff. And the occasion has to be proximate to the desired window for a two- or three-week employee campaign.

2) Get 15 minutes on the agenda. This can be difficult, but you need this amount of time to build momentum for the message.

4) Distribute pledge cards and envelopes to attendees.

5) Use effective speakers with powerful messages. My preference is to open with the president, then offer a few words by a faculty or staff employee campaign chair, followed by the chief development officer, followed by a development staff member who pitches a raffle for a premium like an iPad or smart phone available to immediate donors. Each of these presentations must be short, short, short!

6) Lead with thank yous. A big part of the pitch is engaging and thanking donors. In fact, every speaker must thank donors. If you are using the sustaining membership program described in my last article, a significant number of your audience are already ongoing donors.

8) The CDO’s message: Tell employees what the foundation and the college accomplished with their gifts from last year. This includes scholarships, emergency assistance grants, and program improvements touching a variety of departments. If you want broad support, demonstrate broad impact.

Make the Ask. You need to make a succinct, heartfelt, compelling, personal Ask that establishes you as the college’s leader regarding philanthropy.

Don’t forget to ask nondonors to fill out their pledge cards on the spot.

9) Offer a raffle. Have a development officer close with a pitch for a raffle to anyone who turns in a pledge card within 24 hours of the meeting. I advise offering one compelling item. It could be an iPod or a Kindle reader, whatever, it’s worth it given the development staff time you will save by kicking off the campaign this way.

Allow entry to the raffle to anyone who fills out a pledge card whether or not they make a gift in order to comply with state and federal lottery or raffle regulations. However, you can automatically enter anyone who has already made on ongoing pledge. (Don’t worry, very few nondonor employees will take advantage of the offer.)

10) Send out a blast email the next day informing employees of the initial rate of donor participation. You may be pleasantly surprised to see how high this rate already is. Then announce the winner of the raffle item.

There you have it: 10 quick steps to success in Employee Annual Giving—just what you need as you embark on follow-up departmental and section meetings.

The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Strengthen Employee Annual Giving.

The most important thing you can do to strengthen Employee Annual Giving is to adopt the practice of offering only one type of employee pledge—the sustaining pledge.

The sustaining pledge is a pledge that goes on until the employee modifies or cancels it. It is a great alternative to an annual pledge.

National Public Radio pioneered this option with its sustaining membership option. NPR characterizes the effects of the option as “a great way to cut down on fundraising costs and provide a steady monthly income to your station.”

After many years of asking employees to renew their payroll pledges on an annual basis, I introduced the sustaining pledge at Normandale Community College. Justifying the benefits of the program with language similar to that used by Minnesota Public Radio for its sustaining membership program, I encountered no resistance. Employees liked having their gifts on autopilot. It allowed the development office to change its messaging from that of making an annual pitch to that of an extended “thankathon” that allowed us to focus on nondonors with the message to “join our sustainers in making a gift.”

When we offered a premium or a raffle, we made sure to include the names of our sustainers in the promotion—and we made sure they knew about it. This follows the practices of public radio stations that offer their sustaining members premiums like magazine subscriptions.

Occasionally, I encounter an aggressive development director who wants to ask for pledge upgrades every year, and thus prefers annual pledges. No problem; it’s easy to tell your sustainers, “You need do nothing to continue your gift, unless you would consider upgrading your pledge…here’s what your extra commitment will buy…”

I would much prefer to discuss an upgrade than I would a pledge renewal—the gift is already made—it’s just a question of the amount. One can imagine a host of marketing touches that could be directed toward promoting pledge upgrades.

Of course you also need to assure your donors that they can downgrade or cancel a pledge with a simple note to the development office. No muss, no fuss. And then get that cancellation notice to payroll ASAP; it’s a matter of program integrity.

Sustaining pledges allow an overtaxed development staff to focus on the margins—new employees and employees who in the past have not chosen to participate. Presenting to a departmental meeting is easier when the language revolves around joining the sustainers. It never hurts to state the percentage of people in the room who are sustainers. Ask one of them to say a few words about how easy it is.

Great Employee Annual Giving programs are built on building the base. Sustaining pledges are the best means by which to build and hold that base. It could be key to your shop achieving and exceeding the 50 percent participation threshold. And once you are exceeding the two-thirds participation rate, you are running a best-in-class Employee Annual Giving program.