With the pandemic ebbing to a degree where in-person events are now possible, it’s time to start thinking about planning that special event. While I know fundraisers have a love/hate relationship with events, the fact of the matter is that a well planned special event builds both revenue *and* community.

And personally, I really like special events- I’m fairly outgoing, and a good executed special event can be fun for the donor and beneficial to the organization at the same time.

And I actually plan events too. While it’s been some time, I had the pleasure of helping organize the Player’s Charity Championship IV, a virtual golf tournament/fundraising event that has been held about once every four years.

A Virtual Golf Tournament, you say? Yes, you heard that right- for the last 12+ years I have been helping Virtual Golfers for UnderDogs, an actual 501c organization which raises funds for under-served nonprofit organizations.

We raise funds by holding a special fundraising tournament once every approximately 4 years, where over 100 people gathered from across the country compete in a “PGA” style golf tournament- you can even win cash and prizes. But instead of hitting a golf ball with a club, these professionals (many make a real living playing this video game year round!), swing and hit a trackball that creates their shots around a virtual golf course on the screen. It’s called Golden Tee, the most successful coin-operated video game in history, even more successful than Pac-Man!

Top 10 Fundraising Tips
$42,296.88 raised for charity from just 83 golfers. That’s me in the
center (blue cap on). The guy in the pink suit dared his donors to give,
and if they did he would wear that ridiculous outfit. Guess who won?

And these guys are good. For just 18 holes, scores average -24 under par. Yes, that’s right- 24 strokes under par.

In the beginning, I was one of these professionals, earning some meaningful money and even making a World Championship in 2004. Alas, time, work, and family obligations led me to hang up my virtual clubs, but I’m still involved with the charity side.

And we raise money- over the years we’ve raised over $150,000 for charities!

While the name and the cause might be a little different from your typical special event, almost everything else was the same. This included coordinating planning committees, volunteers, vendors, donation collections, and of course running the actual event itself.

Here are the Top 10 Tips for Special Event Fundraising:

  1. It’s never too early to start planning. We started 9 months prior, and we could have used an additional 2-3 months.
  2. Your volunteers will change over time. People get interested, but then have to leave. Plan on attrition ahead of time so you don’t get upset.
  3. Only show the results vs. the goal when you have raised at least 20%-25% of the total. People like to think that there are “other people at the party” before they give, and it’s a phenomenon called ‘social proof’. (And is the same reason why people will wait in their cars to attend a party before they see other people show up…no one wants to be the first to a party, or in this case the first to donate), so don’t show your current progress unless you have already raised 20-25% of the goal.
  4. It is much more important to release a press release correctly than to write a press release correctly. Have a multi-channel strategy to get the word out.
  5. There’s no such thing as over-communication. Donors never say, “You know what, my favorite nonprofit over communicated about this event!”. Instead what happens is that donors say, “I’m surprised they didn’t remind me about the event.”, costing your organization money and good will!
  6. If a volunteer offers an idea and it’s good, have them run it and get out of the way- no one likes a micromanager and you’ll get better results. If it’s not good, let them know you need to talk to others first.
  7. Always over-estimate the cost of everything. Always underestimate your revenue.
  8. Speak directly into the microphone where your lips almost touch it. If it’s too loud for you, it’s likely perfect for the majority of attendees and the back of the room.
  9. Keep your remarks short. Brevity is the soul of wit. It’s easy to lose the crowd when any one speaker talks for longer than 90 seconds. If anyone speaks longer than that, it’s best to have someone speak who directly benefits from the organization, and teenagers/kids are the best in communicating real benefits that translate into additional revenue (and tears!) during the event.
  10. When the event is over, send an immediate thank you summary to your constituents that connects the amount raised with your mission. Donors want to know how their efforts made a difference.

Good luck with your future fundraising events- I see “revenge event donors” increasing as donors want to get back to normal life, and a well planned event can make that happen.

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