10 Rules for a Successful Small Fundraiser

Successful Small Fundraiser

One more thought. Wait until the glasses are empty before making the pitch.

A reader writes in response to last week’s post about how to make special events really special:

Dear Joan,

Thanks for this. We’re not the size where we’re having events that fill a big room, sit down dinner style. We’re gearing up for 4-6 cocktail hours, house parties, breakfasts (some with silent auctions and live music). Any tips on how to nail the smaller event like this appreciated.

He wasn’t the only one to share this concern. For now, he can only dream of a big gala with 200 people, no less 2000.

His request was urgent as has a series of events this month (as many of you do) and the first one is THIS Thursday. So I’d best get to it.

Here are 10 things you can do to put the “special” into your next small fundraising event.

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How To Create a Successful Special Event

The big takeaway: your guests are special. Make sure they feel that way.

The big takeaway: your guests are special. Make sure they feel that way.

One of the best measures of a successful special event is the Monday morning debrief. You sit with your special events person and you find out how many apology notes you have to write or calls you have to make.

The shorter the list, the more successful the evening.

Oh, there are just SO many ways to screw up a special event. Today, I’d like to focus on five things you can do to insure that the odds are always in your favor. Continue Reading

Before You Fire Your Development Director

fire development director

Let’s start off with two questions.

1) What should Executive Directors and board chairs care most about?

2) What do EDs and board chairs often seem to care most about?

If your answer to #1 was, “The impact of the organization’s work,” 10 points for you.

And if you answered #2 with, “Will we hit our numbers?” You’re 2 for 2.

The reason for this is probably obvious. If the organization misses its numbers it can become a lot more difficult to have the desired impact. A focus on the numbers is hardly unfounded.

One more question… Who is most often the individual held accountable if the numbers fall short?

The Common Answer: The Development Director.

Sometimes it’s even the right answer. Sometimes.

So how do you decide when it’s time to prepare a severance document? Or is there a better solution here?

Read on for my “Before You Fire Your Development Director Checklist.”

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Girl Scout Fundraising is Very Unhealthy

You don't need cookies to be a good fundraiser.

You don’t need cookies to be a good fundraiser.

Every spring they come a-callin’. You salivate over the brochure and place your order.  It’s usually a very big order. I think maybe Weight Watchers owns stock in the cookie manufacturer. You are delighted.  So is the cute little girl in the green outfit with the sash.

The girl smiles an earnest smile and walks away. You shut the door, dreaming of Samoas.  Just one quick question: except for the possibility of the cost of the uniforms and maybe the cookies themselves…

Do you have any idea how the Girl Scouts will spend your money?

I’m gonna go with ‘no’ on that one.  And how about this question:  If the Girl Scouts came a callin’ without cookies, would you make a donation?  I think I know the answer to that one, too.

You see, for decades, we’ve all been trained.  Make a donation and get a box of cookies. This is unhealthy. And I’m not just talking about the sweets. It might just be better for the company to fund raise the haloxyl skin care product.

They have trained us all into believing that people won’t give to causes unless there are treats.

But guess what? You don’t need treats to be a successful fundraiser!

Here’s what you DO need!

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How to Increase Your Special Event Revenue

Q: When is a special event really special? A: When the event is bait.

Q: When is a special event really special?
A: When the event is bait.

When I started my gig at GLAAD, we had a $1.8 million budget. Special events represented $1.2 million of that total. But I was sure that our event franchise, The GLAAD Media Awards, if used strategically, could build other kinds of donor support and diversify our development portfolio.

I was excited. I reached out to the Development Committee. “So a month after these big events, we start asking attendees to become major donors, right?”  “We capitalize on the good will the event created to engage them in a year round basis, right?”

Nope, they told me. “We try not to fundraise for several months before and several months after the event for fear of siphoning event revenue.”


It is at times like these that executive directors need to call upon their reserves of diplomacy.  And so I did.  I respectfully disagreed and I taught my board something very important.

The success of a special event is not about the money you make at it. It’s about the money that follows.

Here is my six-step plan for capitalizing on the power of special events. Try it on.

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Worst Case Scenarios: Asking For Money

Securing resources for the organization you love can be fun.

True story.

I’m at a major donor event.  I am a brand new executive director. There are prospects to engage and current donors to appreciate.

I am well prepped by my Development staff. I have an index card folded in my breast pocket. Handwritten notes like “Patrick O’Donnell, lawyer, $2,500 ask” and “Suzie Johnson and Bob Mellman, thank you, major donors for 10 years.”

I find Patrick, like the obedient ED I am. He is lovely and he seems very knowledgeable about the organization. But he is not looking at me. He is staring at my breast pocket.  This goes for on uncomfortably long time. Finally, I can’t take it any longer.

“Are you reading my pocket?” I ask sheepishly.  He smiles. “Sure am.”  I have figured it out without looking. I have folded the card the wrong way. I try to compose myself.  He is still smiling. I ask the obvious question. “So what does my pocket say?”  He reads clearly. “Patrick should be a major donor.”  So what did Patrick say next?

Time for you to guess the answer.

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Our Mission

If you have an interest in effective nonprofit leadership, I’m sure glad you’re here. I have a lot I want to share.

Nonprofit organizations are messy. It’s inherent in the formula: A + B + C + intense passion = messy!

A) A poorly paid and overworked group (staff) who…

B) Relies on the efforts of people who get paid nothing (volunteers) and is overseen by…

C) Another group of volunteers who get paid nothing and who are supposed to give and get lots of money (board).

All of this is in the service of something that every single one of them cares passionately about. Wow. Now that is a recipe for messy. And that organization you care so deeply about can get messier still if not led and managed well.

This is where I hope my blog can be of value.

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