Your Fall Event: Planning for “What If” by Focusing on What Works

Written by Glen Fladeboe

Though it still feels like summer outside, the planning for fall events is in full swing. The first fall event for our team is less than three weeks away! And, of course, the big question on our minds right now is “how will the Delta variant affect fundraising events for the fall of 2021?”

So many things can change in a month, a week, or even a few days. At the time of writing, most of our fall clients are staying with an in-person event, yet some have concerns. We never assert that we have all the “right” answers, but the one thing we are confident about: fundraising events – regardless of the format — can (and will) still be successful this fall. Here are our tips for the how and why.

Many fundraising elements work both in-person and online

The pandemic of 2020 taught us the core set of fundraising best practices for in-person, virtual, and hybrid events is essentially the same:

  • Use a campaign model for fundraising

This model focuses less on a single event and more on a period of giving. Efforts are made to raise a significant amount of funds ahead of any “capstone” event, which can then be used to motivate others to reach a final goal.

  • Make sure your message is strong and inspiring

Whether spoken live from stage or via video, the message motivates. Boil it down to the key elements and make sure it is delivered in a heartfelt manner.

  • Rally “advocates” to encourage attendance (or viewing) and giving

This group is critical for sharing their passion and creating excitement for your mission. Their energy and support builds trust and influences the actions of others.

Supporters believe in your mission

People are ultimately motivated by the mission, not the event itself. They want to see you succeed and continue doing your great work. Don’t be afraid to ask supporters if they will commit to supporting you no matter what the format ends up being. My guess is most people will say, “Yes, absolutely!”

What you should be doing, no matter what

Keep supporters updated about your mission throughout the year. When someone gives of time, talent, or treasure, part of the “reward” of doing so is knowing those efforts made a difference. Thoughtfully updating your supporters on the outcomes of the organization’s work should be done on a consistent basis. Then, as you move into future campaigns/events, supporters know what has been accomplished and are more likely to support you again.

Let our team guide you on options

Though we can’t make the decision on what type of event to hold, we can offer ideas for, and feedback on, the options you are considering. Our job is to help you fundraise, whether in a ballroom or online. Fundraising shouldn’t stop. You can do it! Reach out to learn how we at Fladeboe Advancement can help.

 

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Glen Fladeboe, Principal Partner and Auctioneer, has been the driving force in building Fladeboe Advancement into a premier benefit auction and donor engagement consulting company. With nearly 25 years of experience as a professional auctioneer and fundraiser, he is proud to be part of a second-generation, family-owned business. He holds a degree in communications from Hamline University and lives with his wife, two young daughters, and dog in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He enjoys marathon running, hunting, driving tractor, and spending time at his cabin on the south shore of Lake Superior

 

 

Three Reports, One Recommendation

Written by: Kimberly Proffitt

Early summer is the season for fundraising reports and surveys. It’s almost like Christmas when some of the national reports come out, full of data about giving in the past year and predictions for the current year. (Well, maybe not for everyone, but definitely for this data geek.) In June our team reviewed three reports, and all of them keep us optimistic about fundraising in 2021:

  • Giving USA 2021, one the largest and longest-running studies in the US of giving from individuals (including bequests), corporations, and foundations
  • Burk Donor Survey 2021 (pre-release) (BDS) – a survey asking more than 20,000 donors how they gave in the past year and how they expect to give in the coming year
  • Fundraising Effectiveness Project Q1 2021 (FEP Q1/21) – a quarterly report providing statistics on donors, dollars, and retention across more than 241 million donation transactions
Why are we optimistic? Consider these select toplines:
  • Overall giving grew in 2020 by 3.8% (Giving USA) – donors stepped up in a time of uncertainty
  • Giving in 2020 was a record 2.3% of the US gross domestic product (Giving USA) – especially significant given we were in a recession (which normally leads to a fall in giving)
  • 56% of donors gave more in 2020 than they did in 2019 (BDS) – the highest percentage reported since 2009 and a 19 percentage-point jump over 2019
  • 79% of donors who gave in 2020 plan to give the same or more in 2021 (BDS) – giving in 2020 wasn’t just a “one-time” thing for many donors
  • The number of donors grew by 10% in Q1 2021 compared with Q1 2020 (FEP Q1/21)– the highest growth ever seen in the data in a normally lackluster quarter 
  • Total dollars given are up 6% in Q1 2021 compared with Q1 2020 (FEP Q1/2021) – driven by those giving less than $500
Where should you focus?

Our optimism is tempered by one thing all these reports had in common: the recommendation (dare we say imperative?) to focus on donor retention. The generous outpouring of giving in 2020, from both established and new donors, was a big deal given all the uncertainty of the year. Yet with the overall donor retention rate in the US at 43.6% and the new donor retention rate at 19.3%, there is a lot of turnover among our donors. This, in turn, is not good for long-term organizational sustainability and growth. Now that things are more stable, can we sustain the growth of 2020? We know economic recovery has not impacted everyone (or all nonprofits) equally, with some doing very well and others struggling. The economy has a large influence on giving, and this will continue to be the case throughout 2021.

What’s happening in 2021 so far?

One piece of good news already in 2021: the FEP report for Q1 2021 shows a slight overall increase in retention (compared to Q1 2020). Leading the charge on this increase are donors who were new in 2020 (up 13.6%!) – a traditionally difficult segment to retain! Progress? Yes – and let’s keep it up! We are huge proponents of retention work and have added to our consulting services over the past few years to focus on just that. Ask about what we have been doing!

Watch for upcoming blogs with more detail on each of the reports. You can also access the reports using the following links:

Burk Donor Survey 2021 (releases in July 2021, fee for report)  

Fundraising Effectiveness Project Q1 2021 Report (provide email for a free copy)

Giving USA 2021 (infographic free, fee for full report)

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Kimberly Proffitt, Research, Analysis, and Donor Engagement Consultant at Fladeboe Advancement, has worked in the nonprofit sector her entire career, focusing on fundraising and philanthropy for the past 22 years. She takes a special interest in helping organizations understand the stories data tell, strategizing on developing long-term relationships with donors, and reframing fundraising from “asking for money” to engaging with the passions and values of donors.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Engaging Supporters with Pre-Event Communications

Written by: Kimberly Proffitt

A few weeks ago, Glen Fladeboe and I presented a webinar for the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits (MCN). MCN members wanted to learn more about engaging supporters before, during, and after their events. It’s a big topic and made for a jam-packed hour of information and ideas!

One of our focuses for pre-event engagement was the importance of communications in the virtual and hybrid realms. Using communications to inspire, inform, and invite people to be a part of an event has become a cornerstone of our event consulting. Here are just a few of the recommendations highlighted during our presentation:

Have a communications plan! It can be as simple or detailed as you want to make it. Yet most important is that it is well-thought-out. Consider:

  • What channels will we use? (Hint: though the use of digital has seen a huge increase in the past year, multi-channel is still most effective.)
  • What is the most critical information we need to convey? Both the “how” of participating and “why” it is important should be included.
  • How often do we need to communicate? What is the right balance between quality and quantity? In our experiments, we’ve received everything from zero (yes, zero!) communications to more than 40 for a single event. 
  • Are there others who can help spread the word? We encourage the use of an “advocate team” that can provide information and drive attendance by sharing with their personal networks.

Remember every touchpoint is part of the “journey” a supporter (or potential supporter) takes with you. Think about interactions from the point of view of the person receiving the communications. Would you feel welcome…excited…inspired…overwhelmed…confused…annoyed? One of the best pre-event emails I received this spring welcomed and thanked me for registering for the event, provided information on what to expect in the coming weeks, listed a contact name/number if I had questions, AND provided a link to a mission-based educational video (potentially something of “value” to me as someone with interest in the mission). Short, simple, and effective.

Share your mission, not just event information. Try to include something mission-related in your communications: a quote, a photo, a link to a video. By reminding people about your mission, the impact you have, and the need that is out there, you are “priming” them to think about how they can help.

Think outside of the box! Though we often think otherwise, today’s world of communication isn’t limited to email, social media, and texts. Snail mail, phone calls, and one-on-one interaction are often welcome surprises in a digital world. We’ve seen organizations send event registrants a “thank-you-for-registering-can’t-wait-to-have-you-tune-in” postcard; have staff, board members, and volunteers deliver/hand out party boxes, taking a few minutes to thank and connect with supporters; and even heard rumors of the telephone (!) being used to welcome registrants and remind them of the event.

Communications are essential for driving people to your event and inspiring them to be part of your mission. Be thoughtful…and throw a little creativity in!

The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits is the largest state association of nonprofits in the United States. They are committed to providing professional development, public policy education, cost-saving partnerships, nonprofit research, and advocacy for their members. A wonderful resource for our nonprofit community!

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Kimberly Proffitt, Research, Analysis, and Donor Engagement Consultant at Fladeboe Advancement, has worked in the nonprofit sector her entire career, focusing on fundraising and philanthropy for the past 22 years. She takes a special interest in helping organizations understand the stories data tell, strategizing on developing long-term relationships with donors, and reframing fundraising from “asking for money” to engaging with the passions and values of donors.

Image by Cheska Poon from Pixabay

Five Pillars of Hybrid Events

 

Written by: Kimberly Proffitt

Thinking about a hybrid event? With both in-person and virtual guests, there is a lot to consider in the planning. We believe there are “five pillars” critical to hybrid event success:

Program Length

The “shared” program should be a maximum of 40 minutes. This is enough time to conduct key fundraising elements, yet short enough to hold attention. Most importantly, the program must start on time! Falling behind schedule at the in-person event is not an option. Online viewers will be ready and waiting for the shared program to begin.

Program Content

The shared program should be mission-based. This is the time to highlight the need, show impact, and tell supporters how they can make a difference. The program elements you’ll want to include, in order, are:

  • Welcome
  • Mission remarks
  • Fund-a-Need speaker/lead-in
  • Fund-a-Need
  • Live auction
  • Non-fundraising elements such as entertainment, awards, and sponsor recognition

Given the short length of the program, being concise is important! Focus on your one core message and build the script around this.

Bidding Technology

The bidding platform plays a significant role in the guest experience during a hybrid event. Technology companies are working quickly to design software to make bidding and donating as seamless as possible for participants. Consider the various ways guests and viewers might choose to give or bid (for example, via mobile phone, tablet, computer, text-2-give, and even traditional bid cards). Quickly capturing bids and donations and feeding this information to your hosts will require some extra back-end work. Make sure to do some practice sessions!

Fund-a-Need and Auction Execution

Hybrid fund-a-need and auction best practices are similar to in-person or virtual-only events. For the fund-a-need, online and in-person “momentum” donors set the tone. A match can be a great motivator. Auction items – and we recommend just a few – should appeal to a wide audience. Enthusiasm is generated by spirited bidding and giving, no matter where you are watching from!

The key to hybrid execution is making sure both audiences know what is happening—and can participate in real-time. Live guests might see a thermometer on a big screen, just as online guests see the same on their TV or computer screen. The auctioneer will take bids and donations from both audiences. Having a professional auctioneer¾someone used to bids coming from all directions, keeping things moving, and creating fun for all involved¾will truly make a difference.

Including Everyone

Whether participating in-person or online, everyone should feel a part of the program and have a great experience. Welcome and thank ALL guests. When acknowledging gifts or bids, thank donors/bidders equally, whether “in the room” or online. Incorporate both in-person guests and online viewers into some of the program elements. Use different camera angles to speak to both sets of guests. Include fun elements that everyone can participate in, regardless of how they are viewing.

Our team continues to gather hybrid ideas incorporating creativity, fun, clean and easy execution, and, of course, great fundraising. Contact us to ensure all your pillars are strong and lead to a successful event!

Special thanks to team members Stacey McCurnin and Andy Imholte for providing insights for this post!

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Kimberly Proffitt, Research, Analysis, and Donor Engagement Consultant at Fladeboe Advancement, has worked in the nonprofit sector her entire career, focusing on fundraising and philanthropy for the past 22 years. She takes a special interest in helping organizations understand the stories data tell, strategizing on developing long-term relationships with donors, and reframing fundraising from “asking for money” to engaging with the passions and values of donors.

 

Three Things to Do the Week After Your Event

Written by: Kimberly Proffitt

Looking for ways to further engage your donors and supporters once your event ends? It’s a given that a fabulous thank you letter will be sent, the sooner the better. Here are a few additional ideas for building connections:

Call donors and supporters to thank them

Phone calls are one of the most underutilized tools for thanking donors. This is surprising, given studies have shown how effective they are for influencing donors to give again:

  • Fundraising expert Penelope Burk found 34% of donors receiving a thank you phone call said their decision to give again was influenced by that callNew donors receiving a thank you call from a board member within 48 hours of making a gift increased their next gift by an average of 39%!
  • Donor management software company Bloomerang studied the data of their client base and found retention of new donors increased from 33% to 41% if one thank you call was made. Additionally, the size of the second gift from these donors nearly doubled!

How often do we receive a pure thank you call, with no ask attached? In the era of automation, it feels special. Even leaving a voicemail has the same positive effects. Gather your board, committee members, staff, and volunteers and start dialing!

Email registrants with a thank you and update 

Imagine going to the movies and having the theatre shut the projector off ten minutes before the end of the film. No one wants to be left guessing how the story ends! Guests at events can feel the same way if the event closes without announcing the total raised or showing a thermometer.

After they’ve invested the time to watch, we owe it to our supporters to let them know the results. Send an email thanking them for participating and sharing how much was raised. Emphasize how their support is truly furthering the mission.

And if you didn’t make your goal? Be open about that. It may inspire someone to give again, share your organization’s story, or become more involved.

Send a short survey to event registrants

Another easy way to engage supporters is by asking for feedback. Who doesn’t like to offer an opinion?

Send a short survey (no more than five questions) within a few days of the event, so the experience is still fresh in the minds of registrants. Include questions such as what they enjoyed, what wasn’t as interesting, and whether they’d attend a virtual event in the future. Most important, ask if they would like to receive further information or be more involved.

Those who say “yes!” to further involvement – even if it is just receiving a newsletter — are some of your best prospects for a deeper relationship. Make sure to note their interests and preferences, and continue to reach out in the coming months.

The work of engagement and building relationships with donors is ongoing and should have a solid plan behind it. Remember to thank often and authentically, connect donors with opportunities to be further involved, and report back on the difference donations have made. It’s the small steps that often have the longest-lasting reward.

Need help crafting a stewardship and engagement plan for donors? Reach out to learn how we at Fladeboe Advancement can help you get started! 

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Kimberly Proffitt, Research, Analysis, and Donor Engagement Consultant at Fladeboe Advancement, has worked in the nonprofit sector her entire career, focusing on fundraising and philanthropy for the past 22 years. She takes a special interest in helping organizations understand the stories data tell, strategizing on developing long-term relationships with donors, and reframing fundraising from “asking for money” to engaging with the passions and values of donors.

The Motivating Power of a Thermometer

Written by: Kimberly Proffitt

How can we create an atmosphere of excitement around giving during a virtual event?

At an in-person event, the energy of the auctioneer, the applause of the guests, and the thrill of watching bid cards go up in the air make a person want to jump right in. This is more challenging virtually.

Enter the thermometer.

One of the psychological factors for giving is proximity to a goal. Supporters want you to reach your fundraising target. Studies show the closer you get to the goal, the more excited people are to give. You can feel the anticipation – even virtually – as the thermometer keeps going up. Who wouldn’t want to help take the fundraising “over the top?”

Yet, it’s not enough to put the thermometer (or another visual tracker) on the giving page and expect it to go up. The thermometer needs a strategy behind it. There’s an art to “helping” the amount rise. You must consider your overall goal, the amount of money you’ve already raised, the giving culture of your organization, and how many people have registered for the event. 

For example, a good strategy is to start your event with some dollars already in the “pot.” This is similar to what organizations do with a capital campaign. Often, a set percentage of the goal is raised before launching the campaign publicly. You may choose to include some or all sponsorship dollars and pre-raised gifts in the thermometer early on. If virtual viewers see there is already progress to the goal, they are more motivated to get to (or even surpass) that number. 

The visual effect of the thermometer is something we naturally gravitate toward. Make sure it is in a prominent place on your giving page. And keep it graphically simple! Your thermometer or tracker should be easily understood.

The thermometer is just one of several tools to engage virtual event viewers. We expect to continue using it as we move into hybrid events, and it may even make its way into in-person events in the future! Our team is here to help you in developing a goal and thermometer strategy. We’ll guide you about pre-raising funds and how to best show that revenue, verbally and visually, throughout your campaign and during your program.

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Kimberly Proffitt, Research, Analysis, and Donor Engagement Consultant at Fladeboe Advancement, has worked in the nonprofit sector her entire career, focusing on fundraising and philanthropy for the past 22 years. She takes special interest in helping organizations understand the stories data tell, strategizing on developing long-term relationships with donors and reframing fundraising from “asking for money” to engaging with the passions and values of donors.

Special thanks to team member Kate Pearce for her contributions to this post!