Special Events: Are They Worth It?

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And I know it’s a tough discussion because you all love them so much.  You love the initial planning with board members who have 52 ideas EACH on how the event should go, you love spending your advertising budget on finding interns, volunteers and others who can help you pull it off, you love gathering items for silent and live auctions, managing 15 different and equally annoying committees, managing your staff and you love the idea of starting your Saturday at 6am and ending it by lugging centerpieces, decorations and unclaimed auction items back to your office 18 hours later.  Many of you in heels.  I can’t imagine why you don’t want to do more of them.

The question is:  Are you getting everything out of your special event that you put in to it?  Have you ever asked your staff to log how many hours a day they spend just on ONE special event?  If you aren’t, you should be and that should go in to your budget for expenses.  You should also factor in the amount of time your development staff is being pulled from prospecting major donors and taking care of the ones they already have.  Time is money and money is scarce these days.

Inevitably special events don’t just end after the last ask of the evening or when your drunken committee members are done dancing.  It takes weeks to settle outstanding balances on auctions, come up with final numbers and wrap up any loose ends to even begin to see if it was all worth it.  And every minute you spend wrapping up should be added in to next years budget.

I know that some of you may argue that it’s an excellent tool to draw new donors in to your organizations.  And I’ll only agree with that if you can honestly tell me that you have a policy in place that your board members are responsible for bringing a set amount of new donors or guests to these events.  If you and your staff are the ones, individually and through the media alone, reaching out to donors to try to get them to your events you had better turn those people in to million-dollar donors overnight.

The bottom line is that your special event had better worth it.  Not only financially but for the sanity of yourself, your staff and your Board of Directors.  If you’re breaking your back and overburdening your organization to the point of exhaustion, you may want to rethink your strategy.  You also need to have a very precise plan as to how you’re going to bring in new donors, stay within budget and hold on to your mental stability.  Otherwise, you’re all taking a ride down the road to complete total burnout and the populations you’re trying to serve are going to suffer for it.

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