Miss the beginning of the series? Go to Building A Dream Part 1: Finding Courage To Cross The River.
Once your nonprofit event is over, you’re supposed to pop open a bottle of wine, kick off your shoes, and relax, right? I wish this were the case. Alas, there is still much to be done. The work you do after the event is not when all the fun happens, but it’s the last two percent that can turn your successful event into a total knockout.
Taking the necessary steps to create a great event is only part of the battle; the rest is having a plan for what comes next and leveraging your momentum for long-term success. This means evaluating your event and launching your donor relations plan.
Evaluating Your Operation
After your event, there are a few technical aspects that need to be evaluated. Did you stay within your projected budget? What was your most successful avenue for collecting money at the event? What worked, what failed, and what will you do differently next time?
Nonprofits aim to stick to their budgets, but in some cases, there may be some A/V needs that result in more necessary services, or perhaps those darn centerpieces cost you more than you bargained for. I get it; expenses can sneak up. So from the start, build in a little wiggle room, a.k.a emergency funds, within your event budget, just in case you find yourself in a bind. Typically, 5-10% of your total budget is a good place to start. This way you don’t hamstring your event or bankrupt your nonprofit when the unexpected happens. After your event, be sure to prepare an event budget recap for your board that compares your projected and actual spending. This will give you and your organization’s leaders a more accurate picture of what things cost so you can make more educated decisions for your next event.
How much did you raise? In addition to reviewing your budget, you will also want to evaluate all of the income from the event, including ticket sales, sponsorships, onsite donations, and pledges. Did you meet your goals? Did you find that one avenue had greater success than others? Are there things you would like to change next time?
It also helps to conduct either a formal post-event survey or wrap-up meeting with your leaders, key volunteers, and board so they can share their opinions of the event and their ideas for next time.
For example, how did your check-in go? If your guests are able to complete a game of Monopoly before making their way into your event, then it’s time to improve your check-in process. I thought Kulungu for Congo did an amazing job with check-in. There were two sets of tables with two volunteers at each table ready with two differently sorted lists. One list was sorted alphabetically while the other was sorted by table, in case attendees were part of a group. While this method kept the line moving quickly, KFC identified in their post-event analysis that they could improve it even more for their next event. Instead of using hard-copy lists, they will use computers and have a shared Google doc open for volunteers to track attendance digitally, which will also help them avoid manually compiling attendance information after the event.
Post-event analysis is your chance to axe anything that didn’t work and decide on a better solution for next year while your memory is fresh. Make a plan to sit down with a group of folks who were heavily involved in the planning as well as those outside the planning posse. Pick their brains to see what they preferred and what they felt could have been done better. Sometimes it helps to poke your head above the tall grass to get another perspective.
If you found that your event didn’t get as many donations or RSVPs as you planned, or you weren’t as organized as you should have been, don’t sweat it! Take all the mistakes and missed opportunities, and turn those into motivation to make the next event even better. We’re all human; you live and you learn. Ideally, it’s always better to get it right the first time, but unless you’re a robot, that’s not exactly feasible.
Preparing Event Recon
Putting on an event is a great opportunity to network and meet new supporters. But to really leverage your event for great donor relationships, you need to take advantage of the opportunity to collect the right information from people so you can follow up with them after the fact.
Sometimes I’ll run into a long-lost friend around town. We’ll have a great little chat and then leave on terms of, “Oh I’ll text you and we’ll have lunch.” But as I’m walking away, I realize I never asked for their number or gave them mine. Then I think, well, are they on Facebook? Twitter? But of course I can’t remember their last name, so I’m out of luck.
This can happen if you don’t collect the right information from your donors when they give you a donation at your event. Having a cash box at your event or running donations through a payment platform that doesn’t capture their contact information may help you collect extra cash, but it also ultimately limits your ability to build a relationship. How will you say thank you for their support? You can’t.
Your best prospect for long-term donors will be those individuals who donated at your event because they already indicated a willingness to support your cause. This is usually where donation cards or electronic payment methods come in handy. In order to follow up with donors after the event, all you need are four basic pieces of information about them: their name, email address, mailing address, and phone number.
The Kulungu for Congo team planned ahead and captured this information for almost all people who bought tickets and donated at the event, and it made a world of difference. When Doug sat down to write thank you notes, it helped him to personalize the message because he knew the exact amount of each donation and could add each donor to his donor relations list for more in-depth follow-up later.
Developing An Attack
Following up with donors to say thank you is a time-sensitive job, but it’s also a great opportunity to be creative and show your organization’s personality. A quick email to all attendees shortly after your event can remind them of the energy they experienced, connect them to the larger cause, and help them feel like they are a part of the organization’s success.
A really fun thank you email trend is the use of video clips of folks expressing their gratitude. Get your team together, grab a camera, and tell your donors how much you appreciate their support. The email below was sent by a different local nonprofit that supports West Africa. They did a brilliant job of continuing the energy of their fundraising event by explaining how their donors helped the organization reach its goal.
You even have oodles of fun content to turn into blog posts and share over time. Need help knowing what to write about? Check out WiredImpact’s article on 25 blog post ideas about your event to get started.
But of course, nothing replaces a handwritten letter from you or a board member. Even if you send a bulk email, it’s still a good idea to send the classic thank you note as well. Your donors are probably used to the same old email or letter by mail, so try to add something that makes it stand out and reinforce your cause. For instance, if your nonprofit is a dog shelter, you could slip in a picture of a dog and sign it with their pawprint.
Leave No Donor Behind
Now that you have all of these new supporters, it’s time to launch your plan for donor relations to keep them invested in the success of your cause. This means keeping in touch with your donors, giving them updates, and sending results of what you’ve been accomplishing, as well as occasionally giving them other opportunities to be involved.
You worked your tail off to get your donors to rally around your cause. Now you have to work just as hard to keep them around. Set reminders on your calendar to let you know when to reach out to certain donors. Keep notes on all of your conversations and key information so you can pick up right where you left off.
You can do all of this manually through your calendar or an Excel spreadsheet, but there are also many options for donor relations software, including Aplos. So check them out and find out which one will best help you start building relationships with your supporters.
In this series, we’ve talked through a variety of topics, including how to attract an audience, how to make an impact, how to make the ask, and how to do a painless wrap-up. You should be ready to start planning your event now, right?
I want to thank you for following this story. I hope my tips and personal examples left you feeling entertained and informed about how to plan a nonprofit event. If you ever have any questions or need advice about your event, shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.