In January 2015, I moved from a private boarding school fundraising department to a small national charity. Having only worked at the boarding school, I admit, I was ill prepared to start planning events at my new organisation. However, hindsight is 20:20 and the best thing I can do now is share the lessons I learnt along the way!
- Don’t try to plan an event for an organisation you’ve been at for 5 minutes!
Looking back, I don’t know what I thought I was doing – some sort of donor cultivation plan I guess! However, in my first few weeks at my new organisation, I decided what we really needed was to throw a summer BBQ for supporters! I did not fully appreciate how little contact our donors had really had with the organisation, or how insignificant past communications had been. I naively thought cultivation had occurred at a level that would make an event like this easy to host – it hadn’t! Before planning an event at a new organisation, do your research on how often donors have been contacted and not just how many times they’ve been asked for money! Find out when the last event was and how successful it was. Do NOT jump the gun and dive straight in!
- Don’t ignore advice from those around you, even if it isn’t what you want to hear!
When I first pitched the idea of a summer BBQ to my new colleagues I was met with scoffs, awkward silences and a sea of negative comments. At the time, I put this down to the fact that many of my colleagues have been in post for over 10 years and are unaccustomed to change. While this is still partly true and I am a big advocate for being the positive and determined influence, I did not fully take time to consider other reasons why they were hesitant. Other factors included concerns over deciding on the location, choosing who to invite, finding a speaker and having a clear reason to host the event in the first place. Consider these things before you start planning and listen to advice from colleagues who may have seen previous attempts of similar events in the past.
- Understand your audience!
When looking for venues (because I was ploughing on regardless of concerns from my colleagues) I wanted to host a fantastic event which was what I considered reasonably priced. It was only afterwards that I realised I was still operating with the mind set of what is affordable for the families I had worked for in my previous role (privately educated, high earning families). I had not fully understood the now painfully clear fact that sadly, many of the beneficiaries of the work my current organisation does are poor families of low income. Therefore, my ‘reasonably priced’ event out-priced many people who may have wanted to come along. Understand WHO you are inviting and really knowing what they want is key to a successful event!
- Take time to plan and understand
I had not taken time to really research, prepare for or understand the event I was trying to host – I was too busy trying to prove that I knew best! Sadly but unsurprisingly, I had to cancel this event, which was a big blow at the time! However, it gave me the chance to reassess what I wanted to achieve from an event and understand more about our organisation, supporters, beneficiaries and volunteers! I realigned my expectations and a few months later hosted an ‘open house’ drinks reception in our tired and tatty office, which engaged some of our fantastic supporters, gave us the chance to share a life changing story from one of our beneficiaries and raised us over £1600 even though no ask for money was made! We also repeated this event again earlier this summer with an incredible turn-out, great follow up and fantastic £6,000 total donations!
I now feel confident that if I ever decided to try and host an event similar to the one I envisioned back when I first started at my current organisation, I would have realistic expectations, I would listen to my colleagues’ feedback, I would understand my audience and I would be able to deliver a successful event! But the only way I know these things is by making that phenomenal error in the first place! As long as you learn from your mistakes you are continuing to be a great fundraiser!
Have you ever had to learn lessons the hard way? What tips would you have in hindsight? Get in touch – I’d love to hear from you!