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Chapter Leadership Brief 2.13.2020

Chapter Leadership Brief 2.13.2020

This is my first Chapter Leadership Brief and I pondered for weeks on what I wanted to write. Should I share some cheeky advice on loving donors, volunteers, board members or your co-workers in honor of Valentine’s Day? Or delve into the current status of diversity in fundraising in a nod to Black History Month? Both are certainly worthy topics to explore; however my thoughts are in the vice grip of event planning…. Gala season is upon us!

My team and I are once again faced with the increasingly complex task of creating an event that is not just another “charity chicken dinner” as one of my esteemed fundraising colleagues recently and accurately described the never-ending stream of sit-down dinners littering the New York City social calendar. Early last month my fellow panelists and I discussed the complex challenge of executing exciting events at the AFP-NYC 2020 Annual Meeting at Current at Chelsea Piers, and throughout the lively discussion, there was one common thread and shared frustration – how to make your event stand out among the competition so that new donors will be interested enough to stay for the mission pitch and existing donors will remain engaged year after year.

Whether your gala is your largest annual fundraiser or the event that your board insists on keeping because “we’ve always done it”, there is always an opportunity to make it new and exciting. Consider the following when planning your big event.

  • Keep it Fresh. Stay on top of trends and new technologies that can improve upon tried and true fundraising tools, and don’t be afraid to take a chance on trying something new.
  • Cater to Your Audience. If you know your attendees love to network, build in the time for them to do that. But be sure to dispatch well-trained staff and volunteers to interact with them.
  • Steward on Purpose. You’d be surprised at how many organizations do not have a “play book” when walking into their event. Your entire staff should know all of the key players in the room. Greeting someone by name without having to look it up can go a long way toward making a guest feel special, and that feeling will be remembered. Be sure to provide your staff and board members with talking points and targeted lists and seat locations of donors to cultivate at the event.
  • Recap Immediately. Find out what worked and what didn’t, and share information while it’s fresh. Have a staff member compile notes and share them back out to the team for review.
  • Survey Your Event Volunteers. They often have great insight and a fresh perspective to share.
  • Streamline Your Program. Pay attention to whether or not your guests are leaving before the program ends. Use video to introduce honorees for efficient time management and to change it up. Try not to have the same person on stage for long periods of time, like the Oscars but shorter.

When all is said and done, remember that the gala is the hook. You want to make your guests fall in love with the mission and want to expand giving beyond the event. We all know that a well-diversified revenue stream is the ultimate goal. To that end, I invite you to attend our next professional advancement event30 Ways to Move Your Donors: Cultivation Ideas and Tactics to Move Your Donors to the Next Level of Givingthat the chapter has planned this year where you can learn from industry leaders about corporate social responsibility, capital campaigns, tips for closing the ask and much more.

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