Thursday, September 24, 2015

Event Attendees or Donors?

Events, most of our non profit organizations have them. They come to your soirée and may even bring a friend. But are they donors or event attendees? My argument would be that not all fundraising event attendees are donors. When someone signs up for your luncheon, dinner, cocktail party or race, do they simply pay the fee or do they also buy an auction item, make a donation on top of their ticket or demonstrate other charitable behavior? Or do they come and go without additional support?

We know that event fundraising is the least effective means of fundraising, and often times it doesn't bring the awareness that a nonprofit might want. See this article on event fundraising here.

So how do you focus your time on those who come to your events that can turn into charitable donors and not just remain event attendees? You must examine their behavior. Do you have someone that purchases a seat every year for say 4-6 years but never anything else? That's an event attendee. Their engagement isn't as deep as someone who purchases a ticket, makes an on site donation and also buys an auction item. Better yet someone who does all of that and buys a table or brings guests every year, expanding your potential. 

You have to prioritize your time. Are you spending all of your time speaking with people who repeatedly attend an event as a "guest of" someone but never contribute? Place your focus elsewhere. In order to grow your donors and expand your base, you have to spend time and effort on those who are philanthropic, not those that just buy a ticket. Some of these folks are a net loss to our organizations, meaning their ticket doesn't cover the cost of their attendance. This is not raising awareness, it's costing us money. 

Have you evaluated your events in these terms? Have you prioritized the folks that have spent time at your events?

I hope you will think about this the next time you survey room chock full of event attendees. Is it better to have 500 attendees or 250 donors in a room. I would take the latter. I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.



  1. I think you are on the right path Lynn!
    In many cases I think people (fundraisers, volunteers, board members etc) like going the 'event route' because they are afraid of a face to face ask... in their eyes they feel it is easier to ask someone for support when they are giving something in return...(ie sponsorship benefits, attend and event/dinner etc).
    In many cases the transaction lacks meaning from a relationship perspective. They see themselves as donors, but by the time event costs are deducted the charitable gift portion can be minute.

  2. Thank you so much for posting on this subject. I was just in my ED's office yesterday when he implied we needed an event in April for more cash flow. Luckily I was saved by the bell (or rather phone call) and didn't have time to go down the "events are not money-makers, can we please top doing these" path. I have printed the article you referenced, made some highlights, and am taking it to our meeting in 5 minutes. Thank you! This could not have been more timely for me!

  3. Such great thoughts as always Lynne! Luckily we have moved away from event fundraising for most events. We define our events by which DR pillar they should fall under and then building the purpose accordingly. It greatly helps us to determine if an event is worth the time and money it takes. We have also started blessing and releasing some regular attendees that are not giving as they should be. A big event is not always the best event.

  4. At Skidmore College, we have a tradition of a 36-year-long summer gala attended by about 450 guests and 50 donors. We have developed ways to make it profitable by gearing underwriting opportunities to community members and institutional vendors, folks who wouldn't support us otherwise. Is it a huge drain on staff time? Yep. Could we use the staff resources to engage donors? You bet. But this event isn't going anywhere and I'm proud that we do net as much as $200K from folks with little other engagement with our institution.

  5. This is such a complicated topic for me, as an annual fund fundraiser. We host two large events which raise in total $4M+ annually, representing more than 25% of dollars raised. Nearly 600 guests attend each of the two events (with probably 25% overlap). Unless you purchase the table or make a gift at the event (we only do an ask at one of the events, DO NOT GET ME STARTED ON THIS), we do not collect your contact information. We don't do auctions or raffles at either event (the cheaper of the two events is $500 a ticket), so how do we possibly build a donor base? These are warm prospects as we do a really great job of telling our story (donors have said we put on the best events in town). When I ask our event team why we don't collect contact information of guests, we're told, 'it's too difficult' or 'we don't want to bother the donor'. I say, let the guests decide how they interact with us, and let's have a targeted plan for these attendees (yes, don't spend tons of time on them, BUT they are excellent acquisition prospects, and we're not giving them the opportunity to give and stay involved). Essentially, we've become party planners, not fundraisers because we're being overprotective to the fault of the kids we serve and our mission. Yes, some people are just there for the party. BUT, if we are doing our job well, everyone can do their part, and we can structure our communications with them accordingly. There has to be a happy medium.