5 Ways to Ruin a Fundraising Event

The October 7, 2010, Chronicle of Philanthropy recently conducted a survey of donors and asked them what’s important about fundraising events.  The survey provides some helpful insights.

Here are the top 5 ways to run a really terrible fundraising event according the survey:

1. Have really long speeches.

The worst fundraising event I ever attended was supposed to end at 9 (which was long enough in itself).  But the event was still going at 10:30pm and showed no signs of ending.  I left.  The problem?  Too many testimonials from people who didn’t know how long they had to speak.  It got so bad the emcee was actually pushing one person off the stage.

2. Make it Uncomfortable.

Overestimate the crowd for the room.  Top it off with bad ventilation.  Make it hot (and not with the fundraising appeal).  There’s nothing like a room full of sweating donors with not enough elbow room at their table.  That’s a recipe to surely produce a statement like, “I’m never come back to that event again!”

3. Lose sight of the mission.

Sometimes we get captivated by “cute” or “celebrity status.”  It’s great to have a draw in the form of a celebrity, but can they talk about your mission.  Sometimes I’ve seen ministries try to use skits or humor to their chagrin.  In one of our events, we had a celebrity who came late and then couldn’t pronounce the names of the organizations he was supposed to honor.  Keep the mission first!

4. Make it a sales pitch.

It’s fine to run a fundraising event.  It’s fine to ask for money, but know when to quit.  I attended one ministry event where they did three appeals for money:  the ministry leader, the ask, and the guy doing the closing prayer also did an ask.  Enough already!  Even if I thought about giving money, I was annoyed enough to not write a check.

5. Screw up the logistics.

It’s the little things that count.  In the survey, this included items like bad food or slow check in.  How about the center piece on the table that blocks your view of all the other guests?  I can forgive one technological mistake but not repeated ones.  Can anyone spell rehearsal?  Of course, the unforgivable is running out of food.  It’s not cool when your guests are counting their green beans.

The message in all of this?  If you have the expertise to run an event, run it with excellence.  If not, hire someone who’s been there before.

William F. High is the President/General Counsel of the Servant Christian Community Foundation (www.servantchristian.com).  Servant’s mission is to inspire, teach and facilitate revolutionary biblical generosity.  He may be reached at whigh@servantchristian.com.

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One Response to “5 Ways to Ruin a Fundraising Event”

  1. Eric Foley Says:

    Heh…great list here, William. Perhaps a good rule of thumb for all of us in non-profit ministry is to never hold a fundraising event at which we wouldn’t want to be a guest.


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