NONPROFIT: Branding, Awareness and Fundraising: Why Events Matter

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By Kristen Blessman, Vice President of Marketing Goodwill Industries of Denver
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Hosting a large event can be expensive; not to mention, event planners often deal with unforeseen costs and occasional mishaps. The truth is, if events are done right, they’re integral to the growth and sustainability of a nonprofit’s operations. Without a marketing plan that includes events, a nonprofit runs the risk of losing their most engaged supporters.

At Goodwill Industries of Denver, our strategic marketing plan includes a few key events and the execution of an excellent business development and marketing staff to keep our organization connected to the community.  In order to ensure an event’s success you need to ensure your sales staff is selling the event and incorporate media relations, e-marketing and direct mail to effectively promote the event.

Perhaps the most important aspect of event planning is assessing what you want a particular event to accomplish. Not every event is built for the same purpose.  Some are to raise awareness for the nonprofit and its mission and others are to raise money specifically for programs.   

The most common types of nonprofit events are those that raise money for the nonprofit’s cause. Ticket sales, live and silent auctions, and direct asks for financial donations are all ways to generate revenues through an event. Incorporating your organization’s cause and making it extremely engaging is crucial to the success of this type of event.  This can be done in a number of ways.  Goodwill has incorporated video production to show how the organization has helped the community.  We’ve also asked participants in our program to speak at events, testifying to how Goodwill has helped them change their lives.  Examples of effective fundraising events are evening galas, golf tournaments, luncheons and even low-cost cocktail parties.

Brand-awareness and brand-building events are a very effective way to shape your public image or introduce new markets to your brand.  By introducing a new potential stakeholder to your organization, you are cultivating a valuable future donor, volunteer and advocate while elevating your organizations public image.

Brand awareness events require a little more creativity than say a fundraising event because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all-model. In order to effectively represent your brand, the event needs to be creative and specific – think The Dumb Friends League’s annual “Furry Scurry.”  Or Goodwill has their annual “Good Exchange for Change,” an event that’s a clothing swap and repurposed clothing fashion show unique to Goodwill. 

So, how do you pay for your event?  Sponsorships, in-kind donations, donated services from your support base and internal budgeting are all ways to foot the bill for an event. Keep close track of your budget and do what you can to raise money to cover your up-front costs. For example, consider approaching a photographer who already volunteers for your non-profit to take pictures for free or at a discounted rate. Ask a venue to donate the space to your organization to host its event in return for the organization giving them added promotion.

Finally, as a nonprofit, you are accountable to your donors and need to ensure you’ve held them with the utmost fiscal responsibility.  In addition, it’s very important to track your return on investment, or ROI.  As you plan your event and tally its success, keep in mind your initial goal for the event – fundraising, branding or mission awareness. Do your best to implement a system to track how successful your event was at accomplishing its larger goal. For example if your goal was fundraising, set a financial goal prior to starting the event planning process. Keep track of your progress leading up to the event and the day or night of.  If it was brand and mission awareness, survey the attendees afterwards and see if their awareness of your cause was greater.

No matter the goal or outcome of your event, keep in mind events are meant to be fun. Pay attention to details and make sure to add in elements that make your event memorable for your guests to ensure they save the date for next year. And remember, at the end of the day you helped further the cause of your nonprofit and ensured you were able to serve many more individuals in the future.

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