Putting more “Purpose” to your “Party”

Blog post by Daniel Billingsley, Vice President of External Affairs

If you asked most seasoned development professionals their favorite parts of the job, they would probably answer “spending time with donors.”

If you asked about their least favorite part of the job, many would answer “special events.”

“Oh no, not another auction.”
“Another gala? Count me out!”
“Please – no more golf tournaments.”
“Fun run? More like Slog Jog.”
“I can’t do one more rubber chicken at a hotel event.”

And yet, these are the places where we SHOULD be spending time with donors. Special events are a necessary part of the overall fundraising and development process. And yet, most professionals loathe having to plan and execute various special events. What is worse, is that longer-term professionals and volunteers sometimes end up “going through the motions,” just to get through another black-tie gala or patrons party.

We need to re-think events and put the “fun” back into the fundraising. More importantly, we need to look at a well-executed event as a way to not only raise money and people for an organization but to steward our donors and those in attendance.

Proper planning and organization are keys to great events, but so are creativity, originality and personality. The must-go-to events are those that are “exclusive,” “mission-focused,” “unique” and “experiential.”

The first Monday in May is the Met Gala in New York City. For more than two decades, Vogue editor Anna Wintour has been at the helm. The guest list is curated. The rules are enforced. There is a strict dress code according to a theme. It feels exclusive (and it is – you can’t just buy a ticket!). This exclusivity is a key marker of a great event. Make donors feel like they are part of something special when they attend.

Your special event MUST have a mission moment or be very mission-focused. I was recently talking with a board member of an organization working with persons who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. They created a silent movie night and used the opportunity to spotlight their mission and the population they serve. Every event must have some mechanism for helping those in attendance understand why they were asked to join.

If everyone does a black-tie gala and hands out an award to a wealthy philanthropist each year, the events begin to run into one another quickly. Don’t let your event get stale or look like everyone else’s. And while you can lift ideas from other events, don’t just copy another event because it seemed more fun. The best and most attended events (and those that raise the most money) are unique and original.

Great events leave attendees with an experience. My friends at the OKC Ballet recently had a couple of noteworthy events. Earlier this spring they hosted an 80s prom. Artistic director Robert Mills and Executive Director Jo Jones dressed up as the “faculty chaperones” (Robert complete with a coach’s whistle in case the dancing got too heated). They later had their “Tickled Pink” annual gala, complete with performances from the dancers. These are experiences that are unforgettable.

We’ll talk more about putting more purpose into your parties, including how to get more from your steering committees, how to raise more money, plan better events and work smarter to boost sponsorships and attendance at our upcoming “Parties with a Purpose” summits in May and June.

Register for Parties with a Purpose today!

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Marnie Taylor