When Jim and I started Better Fundraising and the organizations we served started raising more money, they began to ask us to help with their gala fundraising events.
We had them apply four principles from direct response fundraising. The results were a resounding success, and here they are in case they’re helpful to you:
- Figure out the Ask first. The first thing that most successful events do is to figure out exactly what the Ask is going to be. Then they structure the event/run of show so that the entire event delivers the Ask with as much power as possible. It’s the same in direct response: figure out the ask or the offer, then write and design the letter/email to deliver it as powerfully as possible.
- Don’t just Ask for support, use an Offer. An event will raise more money if it asks donors to fund something specific, as opposed to just “supporting” the organization.
- Be comfortable sharing a need. Most of the events we worked on used to share nothing but good news. It sounded like everyone had been helped, and that things were going great. We encouraged them to mention (but not dwell in) that people or the cause need help today, and to be specific about the help that’s needed. Their donors – now that they had a fuller understanding of the situation – gave more.
- Echo & Reinforce. If the event features a reply card where the donor either fills in their info or grabs the QR code/giving URL, make sure the headline and ask on the reply card echoes and reinforces the wording of the Ask from stage. A direct mail reply card that doesn’t match the letter will lower response, and an event reply card that doesn’t reinforce what’s said from stage will also lower response.
There are of course some ways that event fundraising is different than direct response. For instance, you have people’s attention for so much longer that you can go deeper into the issues and make a more thorough case. You don’t have to get to the point so quickly. You can tell longer stories. You can even use a little jargon.
But in our experience, borrowing these four principles from direct mail fundraising will help your event raise more money.