I think of fundraising as playing the long game. Sure, there are moments that are short all-out sprints to the finish line, but I think of most of it as a marathon.
Your first year of putting on an event can feel a lot like a sprint.
You have to scramble to find people interested in attending, and often you also scramble to plan and organize the actual event. The whole thing can be exciting stress-tornado just picking you up and taking you along for the ride.
But even in that first sprint, you have to have bigger plans for development. Know that the first year, things probably aren't all going to be perfect. Maybe you're still figuring out how to run the event, maybe the promotion isn't streamlined, or maybe you want more of the community to be excited about it.
But the sprint method doesn’t always work
Galas are a great example of this. Often times, people dream of throwing their first gala and they think it will just be a super fancy party with glitter and donations falling from the sky.
Yes, you can achieve a very successful gala your first year out, but there's there’s an expert planner with a ton of strategy that goes behind that.
I see too many people who create events just because they think it would be amazing, but haven’t taken the time to really do any research or come up with a plan.
They just poor tons of their own money into events because they want to have it sooo badly. But they don't know how to create the community buy-in that they need, so they just keep pouring more into it, then wonder why it flopped.
I think that people get really frustrated at this point and usually get into the blame game.
The venue did this. My volunteers didn't listen. The community just doesn't care. This event isn't worth it.
Some events take longer to get off the ground than others, just because it takes time to get the word out.
This is where the marathon comes in.
To me, the most exciting part of having an event is revisiting it after it’s over. I love the mechanics of really breaking down what worked for the goal, what didn’t, and how I can make the next one even better. If something goes wrong, or just isn't as great as another part, I can easily separate those things out, compare, and adjust where I need to.
I've learned the “making it better part” doesn't actually start with choosing crazier, more over the top decorations. It starts with the people.
The best part of having an event- you now have a group of people who said they were interested and took action on it!
Meet your Tribe.
It’s very important to focus on strengthening ties with these Tribers in the time in between events.
Send them all thank you notes that tell them them about the difference they helped to make. Get feedback from them. If anyone was super excited about the event or brought people with them, chat with them to see if they want to volunteer. Invite them to other events.
The easiest way to strengthen and grow your fan base is to start with the people who already stood with you.
I've learned the hard way that if you don't keep up with people, the next year will feel a lot like starting over. You’ll have gone back to not having relationships with this group. You missed the opportunity to get to know them, so asking for supports again can feel kinda weird and lets the self doubt creep back in. Even like you're bothering them.
Just checking in with your Tribe every few months and finding a few ways to keep them engaged can work wonders for relationship building.
This also makes outreach to new people way less stressful. When you're having your next fundraiser, you can always go to the Tribe first. Something simple like asking them to share it with a friend who they think might be interested can make a huge difference. Chances are if they are passionate about a cause, a few other people close to them are as well.
This doesn't mean that you get to stop reaching out to new people, but it does make an uphill battle more of a nice stroll in the countryside (hiking is not my jam, but you get what I'm saying).
The Golden Rule: Treat funders as friends, treat planning as profit.
I know that this is far from sexy. I know we want to be able to bring in Scrooge McDuck money and let everybody swim around in it with us.
Yes, fundraising events can bring in a ton of quick money (I've seen a lot of people do it), but if you want to make a lasting impact, something that doesn't just help one time, but is strong and sustainable, pace yourself for the marathon.
Focus on building a stronger presence in the community, building authentic relationships, and over time you will be able to impact more people.
What do you think? Is love to hear more about your marathon. What are some foundational strategies that have helped take your fundraisers to the next level?
Comment below, or join the conversation in the facebook group.