Special Events – A Blessing or A Curse?


If you’ve been in the fundraising profession for a while, more than likely you have executed a few special events! We all have. Special events are a very high priority for some organizations and they certainly have a role to play in the fundraising mix.

Over the years, special events have become increasingly larger, more high tech (have you gone to an auction lately and successfully used the bidding app?). Many special events have become huge social affairs that are permanently affixed to a community’s calendar.

But after the decorations have been created, the sponsors and volunteers recruited, tickets sold, and all the logistics planned, does the revenue from your event justify the effort? Below are important elements to the fundraising success of your event. How well does your event address each component?

1: Fundraising events are still fundraising ~ and all of the rules of fundraising apply.

2: Who you have on your team matters.  Seek out host committee members and board members who will take ownership of some of the fundraising for the event by selling sponsorships and tickets.  Then, provide them with the training and materials they need.

3: Money saved is money earned.  Your focus should be on “net revenue” not gross revenue. Net revenue will be the money you raise after eventsall the expenses are paid – and only the net revenue will be available for your organization to spend in supporting its mission.   Monitor expenses closely and don’t forget the impact of gift-in-kind donations.

4: Keep the focus on revenue.  There are lots of decisions to make with special events, including decorations, party favors, color schemes, and gift baskets to put together. Don’t allow your committee to get lost in the details.

5: Sponsorships ~ Ticket Sales ~ Other Revenue Streams. Focus on sponsorships.  Then focus on ticket sales.  Then focus on added revenue streams, in that order.  Use the 80/20 rule.  Focus 80% of your time on the 20% of activities that will raise the majority of the money for your event.

6: A BIG event requires a BIG effort.  A BIG annual event requires BIG annual efforts.  You need to start cultivating this year’s event donors for next year’s event.  Go see them.  Thank them.  Ask them who else might be interested in sponsoring the event.  Stay in touch with them.  Steward them.  Add new prospects.  Build new relationships.

7: Relationships matter.  You know that fundraising is all about relationships.  Fundraising events are all about relationships too.  Many non-profits have corporate sponsors that donate to events year after year, yet the organization never cultivates a relationship with anyone at the company. Similarly, many charities never reach out to event attendees or silent auction item donors after the event, until it comes time to make an ask for next year’s event.

8: Event revenue grows over time. Events, when properly run, show a compounding effect.  If you hold a great event, your guests will tell their friends and bring them to the event next year.  If your silent auction gets press coverage, more businesses will want to be featured in the auction next year.  If you treat sponsors really well and cultivate them over the course of the year, they will introduce you to other businesses in their network that may want to sponsor your event.  Treat your donors and guests right, and your event will grow year after year.

Special events require a lot of work, a lot of resources and commitment from staff, boards and volunteers. Make sure you maximize your events by keeping the focus on fundraising and relationships. Remember, it’s never too soon to begin planning for your next big event!


Brenda Long Mauldin