Well… If You Don’t Want New Guests (or Donors)

As the New Year opens I identify how I will support local non-profits in Austin. This year I decided to make decisions about which fundraising and volunteering events to participate in during 2012. But it occurred to me that I don’t know about all of the opportunities and organizations I could support. I am aware of a large handful of organizations I know do good work in their issue area and are strong stewards of community effort and money. But there are thousands of NPOs in Austin. I decided to build a list of events to explore this year and learn more about some other organizations in Austin. But it seems that some don’t want new people to explore their events or organization. Weird, right?

I know events are hard; working in non-profits isn’t easy and these events are all-hands-on-deck affairs. But I also know they are incredibly public opportunities to not only raise money and awareness, but to introduce your organization and mission to new constituents. It’s an opportunity to engage new community members – and if you do it right, you may bring a new supporter to your cause.

But it cuts both ways. If you give a poor showing of your ability to run the organization’s highest profile events you may miss the chance to introduce new people to your event and organization. Or begin with the challenge of needing to convince them you can be a good steward of their support of the organization. It’s about moving someone new from viewing the event as a “party” to an opportunity to learn more about and become involved with your organization. Events should culminate in re-energizing supporters who have been part of your growth and  enthusiastic new supporters. It sounds harsh, I know, but it’s also true.

I started visiting the websites of non-profits I knew had upcoming events, clicking through links being sent to the community to promote them. However, I discovered some missed opportunities to engage me as a new guest or donor. And these were events that support causes and issues I believe in and have supported in the past.

Some things to keep in mind when you publicize your event to help you capture new guests (and donors):

1.         A great-looking landing page that makes a statement is a great start. But if that page doesn’t give me information about the event or easily link me to a page that does, it’s not useful. Don’t make me dissect your URL in order to back track to the home page of your organization in hopes of finding details of the event. We know the fewer clicks you ask site visitors to make before the call-to-action, the higher success rate you have – in this case you want them to purchase a ticket. But if I don’t know the information about what I can expect as an attendee, it is harder to convince me that I should buy a ticket. There are a lot of events in this town and a lot of organizations – some that even have overlapping goals – that I can support.  You need to sell your event and if I can’t find basic details about what to expect, it suggests to me that you are only interested in those that are already familiar with the event.  And you have missed the opportunity to introduce me to what makes your organization unique and worthy of my support.

2.         The devil is in the details. When you post information about the event, include the basic details, especially if the event is within the next month. While I think it can be assumed that something called a “gala” is going to be an evening-long event, a lack of basics such as the who, what, when, where, and why suggests the event hasn’t been planned. And while missing details such as who your live band will be, who is a part of your auction, or who is catering your event are all details we can assume will be filled in later, if you can’t tell me what time the event will start, there may be a lot more about the event is up in the air. This gives the appearance that it is possibly not very well planned – for a ticket price of almost $300, I’d like to know what I am getting into.

3.         Checks and balances. Please do a quality assurance check on the links in your event sponsorship and ticket purchase pages. In fact, be sure to do the link checks all across the site by taking the time to read the content after you have put the web pages together. Balance it out by having someone else read through it as well. One of the hardest parts of putting together a website or set of web pages is the content after you have written the material for other collateral. While writing a sponsorship package (and many other types of content) you live with it for so long that you start to see what you intended rather than what is on the page. Then it gets put into different mediums (a sponsorship package, an email solicitation, and a web page) at some point you stop seeing what is actually live on the page and instead what you intended to have there. And then you end up with sponsorship benefits misaligned to their sponsorship value. Yikes!

4.         Fish or cut bait. Please make a decision about what your event is before you post a web page or publicize the event. If you want to rebrand or make changes to the themes of an event, do a complete re-haul of the event before you kick it off. Nothing looks sloppier and more fundamentally unprofessional than an event with two themes that contrast each other. It is acceptable to prepare a rebrand of an event for a year before launching it; taking the time to set it up right can launch a new event with enormous success! Otherwise it is just plain confusing to your guests, supporters, and community members unfamiliar with your event or organization.

I know putting together a large fundraising event is not easy. To be done right, planning for these events need to start about a week after you close the previous year’s event. There is a reason the large fundraising event is still going – it is a high profile opportunity to tell the community about the mission of the organization in order to gain support. Be sure you are doing everything to gain supporters by introducing people to an organization they would be proud to be a part of and associated with: the good stewards of their money, reputation, and efforts that you know you are!

If you are interested in learning about organizations I think are doing it right – let me know, send me an email!
Looking for some tips? Check out GivingCity’s article in Issue #8.

Good luck all – and happy fundraising!

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