In the sci-fi series “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,”( Douglas Adams),  programmers task the galaxy’s largest supercomputer with finding the answer to the ultimate question about the meaning of life, the whole universe and everything.  After 7.5 million years of processing, the computer reaches an answer: 42.

Only then do the programmers realize that nobody knew the question the program was supposed to answer.

When planning for fundraising event, many, most, of my clients start with the answer: we want/need to raise money, rather than why they need to do it. 

The focus becomes on the now, rather than how the event and the money it raises fits into the overall scheme of what you want to do.

The right question is not how much you wish to make, but how this event and its proceeds are part of your overall goals. 

Ask some different questions

That answers only the immediate question of what you want to do for this event, only. The bigger  more overall questions still need to be asked. 

Consider these: 

Why

Why are you doing this, what is the purpose of the event?

Sure, you need funds to operate, pay bills and staff, but what do you really want to get out of this

  • What is the larger purpose, how will this help your organization, its members, clients and constituents?  
  • What else is this event supposed to do? What are the other maybe less obvious, but no less important, goals do you have?

Some possible answers:

  1. Provide a sense of community
  2. Showcase great volunteers or leaders
  3. Encourage/sell memberships
  4. Educate & engage about your cause
  5. Make them want to come back next year

* As the newly formed nonprofit for the animal shelter, we discovered that the vast majority of people were not aware the city even had its own shelter. Fundraising had to take a back seat to basic knowledge that we existed, first. 

We decided that for our first event, our main goal was to simply increase  awareness of the shelter, not raise money, not encourage volunteering, just to let our residents know were there. Taking the need for income off the table allowed us to focus on making sure the awareness of the shelter was the main takeaway. 

 

What will make our event different and more memorable?

How many horrible chicken dinners with honorees, repetitive speeches and a silent auction have you been to? How many times do you cringe at opening a thick invitation envelope or sparkly evite email?

Even if I support the cause and group, I dread the busy fall gala season. There may be a change in faces and vocabulary, but they seem so much the same. Show up, have a drink, look at the silent auction stuff, eat, listen to the presentations, or pretend to,  and bolt. And don’t think about it again until next year when the invitation arrives. 

Some questions to consider:

  • What can you do differently to this standard program to make yours stand out?
  • What additional ideas can you include that your guests won’t expect?
  • Is there one little extra thing that will keep this event more special?

One year we really struggled to make our ticket numbers, and finally got just enough  to make our minimum. Of course, the board members, most of whom would rather chew off an arm than ask for donations, were attending and sitting at their reserved tables.

That year, we asked board members to create a ‘thanks for coming line’ ( opposite of a reception line) for our guests as they were leaving. Each board member thanked the guests for coming, for their support and time as they left. 

It was a nice surprise for the guests, the board didn’t have to ask for money and got to have direct contact with our supporters.  Being of offered personal thanks by board members after attending a fundraiser gave many guests a more positive feeling about how their participation  and support was valued. 

 

Who is coming to this thing? 

Depending on the type of event, its cost and timing, there will be different demographics; know your audience. Are they older or younger, more men than women, wealthy or not so much? Do they work, are they parents or pet owners, members or visitors? Your audience is more than the general public, find out why they are supporting you, what their engagement is, what they expect from you. 

Then, answer these questions: 

  • What is the message do you want to convey to them?
  • What do you want them to do? 
  • What do they want from you? 
  • What feeling do you want them to leave with? 

Design the event with the nature of the guests in mind.  Consider their their interest, reasons for engagement, language to adjust your presentations to speak to those qualities. 

What’s In The Auction?

Not sure who invented these things, but they can vary from very cool to a total snooze. The standard dinner, massage and haircut gift certificates are always great, but rarely very exciting. 

Think about the type of people who will be attending, what will be interesting to them?  Make an effort to find things are are a little unusual, a little different. Change it up, men’s stuff, kid’s stuff, adventures and experiences will cause people to pay a little more attention to the auction items. The point of the auction is to enhance the income of the event, make it worthwhile by finding items that are a little different and interesting. 

The husband of one of the committee chairs was lamenting having to attend the upcoming banquet. “ They are so tedious, the same thing year in and year out and never anything I want to buy at the auction.”

That year we really focused our donation efforts on items from hardware and sports stores.  There was never more attention paid to those tables, we actually had a bidding war over the nail gun! 

TL;DR    The Bottom Line

Take a step back from the trees and contemplate the forest. The event is more than a fundraiser, it is a opportunity to convey the most important information about you, your cause, those you serve and how you do it. It is the chance to show your guests you are paying as much attention to them as you want them to pay to you. We all appreciate being considered and heard, show you you are listening and considering them.

Consider these questions: 
  • How do we want our guests to feel about the event after it is over?
  • What would you want to overhear a guest tell someone else about your organization, your work and the event? 
  • What do you want your guests to do before the next event (other than show up)?
Think about what it is that you really want to get from the event- more than the money. 

While of course it is about the money, it is also much more because this is how others see you.  There is always more than simple income that you will get from producing a fundraising event: direct contact, a shared sense of purpose and community. Investing in the particular cares of your guests will pay great dividends.

So, what do I want you to take away from this blog

Have a little fun with your event planning, think of things that look or sound different,  a new way to schedule parts of it, end it with more than thanks, see you next year, bland message. 

Take the time to figure out what you really want to get out of your event, not simply money. 

Think about bigger questions than what will be in the goody bag and engineer your event to produce the true value and income that it can provide. 

 

Just In Case You Wondered: 

It takes Deep Thought, the supercomputer 7½ million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be 42. Deep Thought points out that the answer seems meaningless because the beings who instructed it never actually knew what the Ultimate Question was in the first place. So many years of computing and the answer is some arbitrary number. How could it be?? There must be some meaning for the Number! Turns out it was a joke.

Many theories were proposed, including that 42 is 101010 in binary code, that light refracts off water by 42 degrees to create a rainbow, that light requires 10−42 seconds to cross the diameter of a proton. The author Douglas Adams rejected them all. He was quoted as saying – “The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base 13, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought ’42 will do’. I typed it out. End of story.”

image credit: https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/the-answer-to-life-the-universe-and-everythin