4 Steps to Replace Special Event Fundraising with Virtual Giving

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by Amy Eisenstein

One of the things fundraisers complain most about is fundraising events — because such events take up so much time and energy. They also put a strain on donors and volunteers.

Who really wants to attend another rubber chicken dinner anyway?

An Opportunity to Replace Special Event Fundraising

These unprecedented times provide your big chance to eliminate some of your fundraising events and prove to your boss (and yourself) once and for all that major gift fundraising is more effective than event fundraising.

In the age of Coronavirus, I’ve received hundreds of questions over the last few months about how to take your events virtual.

The truth is, I’ve never been a huge fan of fundraising events. Yes, they serve a purpose, but they are expensive and time-consuming! And, if you have more than one fundraising event per year, that’s probably one more than necessary.

The pandemic has provided you with the perfect out. This is your chance to get rid of your events — at least some of them — once and for all.

This pandemic handed you a gift on a silver platter: The opportunity to ditch some of your most dreaded events.

4 Steps to Ask Virtually in Lieu of In-Person Event Fundraising

So how can you raise the funds you need while getting rid of those time-consuming and labor-intensive special events?

Step 1: Calculate the net revenue you’d lose.

Calculate the net revenue from last year’s event. That’s what your organization actually gets to use (keep) after paying expenses.

Let’s say your gala last year raised $100K. But once you paid for the venue, food, invitations, plaques, and a sound system, the net revenue was actually closer to $50K.

So that’s your goal — to replace last year’s gala net revenue of $50K (not gross revenue which was $100K. This year, you don’t have any of the direct costs associated with an in-person event.

Step 2: Find your highest event donors.

Begin with a list of gala attendees from the last 3 years. Find the 20 highest donors (sponsors, table buyers, auction winners, etc.) from all three years. Yes, include auction winners on your list.

Step 3: Ask these top donors for a gift, virtually.

Reach out to let them know you won’t be having an event this year and ask for an outright gift instead. Feel free to send an email in advance, or simply pick up the phone and reach out to your donors.

You should also be prepared to send something in writing for them to consider.

Sample language when asking for a gift:

Hi, my name is Amy from XYZ Organization.

I’m calling because you’ve been a loyal gala sponsor (attendee) for the last several years. Do you have a moment to talk? How are you and your family doing during this challenging time? (Engage in some small talk and offer an ear.)

As you can imagine, we’re not having our gala this year for obvious reasons, and we’ve decided not to take it virtual either. Instead, we’re reaching out to past attendees, like yourself, to ask for outright gifts to help us continue our most critical programs and services.

Last year you spent approximately $1,500 at our event. Would you consider a gift of $2,000 to help with Covid-related emergency needs?

Let them know your goal is to raise the same amount you raised last year, but without having the event.

Then, wait for their reply.

Once they respond, ask them if they’d like to go online and make the gift while you’re still on the phone. Or, if they would prefer you to send them an envelope.

Step 4: Follow up with each donor.

Follow up immediately with an email and/or a handwritten thank-you note. It’s not the formal tax receipt (especially if they haven’t made the gift yet) — just a thank-you note to remind each donor of their commitment.

Even if they can’t do much (or anything at all), be sure to thank them for their time and consideration, and for being such a loyal supporter in the past.

Repeat These 4 Steps With Your Entire List of Attendees

Once you’ve reached out to your biggest donors, keep going through your entire attendee list. If it’s a big list, go ahead and send emails or letters to the remainder of your list, rather than reaching out by phone or video chat. Keep going through your list until you’ve reached out to all event participants.

Voila! Simple enough, right?

When it’s all said and done, you’ll likely have raised more than you raised at your event last year. But only if you ask — and only if you ask for more than they gave last year.

The biggest benefit of this approach (apart from keeping your and your donors safe during a pandemic) is that you’ll get to your goal much more quickly than if you did the live in-person event. That’s because you won’t need to raise additional money to cover all those pesky event-related costs.

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