Check Out the Competition
I live in a city with a strong tradition of philanthropy, and we have a monthly lifestyle newspaper that covers the social scene with a vengeance. Currents’ stated mission is to “support the volunteers who, by their efforts, contribute millions of dollars to charity and the arts.” One way they do that is by giving pre- and post- coverage to just about every charity event in town. As soon as Currents arrives, I sit down and read it from cover to cover. It’s like a mini-course in event planning, with a local spin.
Last month, for example, Currents’ Benefit Beat previewed 40 events scheduled between September 22 and October 22. Obviously, with a social calendar that crowded (there were five events alone on Saturday, September 25), the task of garnering our share of the philanthropic pie is a bit daunting. By reading the post-event coverage I get a handle on which organizations are actually bringing in the big bucks and how they’re doing it.
After years of observation, I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t just about what the organizations are doing. It’s also about who’s doing it. While the 40 events listed in last month’s Benefits Beat had a variety of interesting themes, they really all fell into a few tried and true categories: 5 organizations posted preview parties for sales or shows, 5 listed dinner dances, 6 are hosting luncheons with speakers or fashion shows, 8 are holding food or wine tastings, and 16 are counting on dinner or cocktails with speakers or entertainment to bring in the money. Fifteen of the posted events included live and/or silent auctions. Lots of good events, but nothing really new.
Each one of these benefits will draw an audience, but only a select few will top the charts, bringing in hundreds of people and raising over $100,000 for their causes. If history serves, key people will show up on the committee lists or in the pictures taken at those events, as they have year after year. How does an organization go from good events to great events? Clever ideas, good planning, great PR, and a lot of hard work are all essential, but without that person who can command an audience – you know what I mean, the person who can say “I’m going” and that alone makes others want to be there – it’s tough to make it to the next level. I speak from experience.
Here at PetFix, we have an amazing fundraising committee. They consistently come up with creative, even WOW, events and execute them well, getting as much as possible donated and garnering significant sponsorship to cover unavoidable costs. Our events are always very well received and they always make money, but we seem to be stuck at the level of about 200 attendees and a net of about $30,000, no matter what we plan. Our immediate goal is to jump to 300 people and $50,000 net.
Obviously, our challenge is to reach beyond our current circle of friends and supporters and bring new people to the table – people who can take us to that next level. Frankly, I’m not quite sure how to do that. In fact, I think it’s mostly serendipity when those people appear, but, in an effort to create fertile ground for serendipity to thrive, I’m about to go back to an old standby – person-to-person gatherings in private homes. (We have a nice little document on hosting small-group meetings at ASPCApro.org.) I’m hoping that by getting just a few good friends of the organization to invite their friends in to learn why they think we’re worth supporting, we might just connect with that individual whose forte is getting the people to the party. Stay tuned.