While many charity fundraising events are now in hiatus, Andrew Sadauskas presents four ways to ensure yours return bigger and better than ever.

The EventRaise conference has come and gone for another year, running for two days beginning 11 March.

EventRaise is Australia’s only annual conference dedicated to charity fundraising events, with over 150 people attending this year.

Unfortunately, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means that many traditional charity fundraising events will be placed on ice over the short term.

An upshot of this, however, is that the current period presents a good opportunity to re-calibrate and refresh your longstanding events for long-term success.

Here are four tips from EventRaise that can help ensure your events come back bigger and better than ever after the crisis:

1. Focus more on supporter journeys and less on marketing hype

More Strategic Director Gavin Coopey revealed the results of the latest peer-to-peer research at EventRaise.

The research was conducted by Blackbaud, Everyday Hero and More Strategic. The results were based on data from organisations in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

One of the more surprising findings Coopey presented was that marketing and PR are not the main focus for the most successful event organisers.

“When we asked event fundraisers: ‘what areas do you most need to work on in the next year?’, we found something that was slightly counterintuitive,” Coopey said.

“Basically, the people increased [revenue and participation] were less likely to say: ‘we’re going to focus on marketing’, less likely to focus on PR and media, and less likely to focus on acquisition.

“Does this actually suggest that they’ve already sorted that, and that’s why they’re increased? Because they’ve actually got their acquisition, marketing and PR media sorted? Well, no.

“What they are working on is participant analysis, supporter journey and financial analysis.

“So the key, that we would say is very important is focusing on participant journey, customer experience, the things that really drive the top value of event engagement.

“We know so the ones that are increasing are putting more of their time into those sorts of activities are likely to have ongoing continuous success.”

2. Getting the right committee members for your charity fundraising events

Kate Bonser, Executive Producer, Tuxedo Event Management, has been producing one of Australia’s most prestigious black-tie charity balls for 14 years.

Bonser shared countless insights into what made the Tuxedo Junction events such a big success.

One of those insights was how she went about finding the right volunteers for the gala ball’s senior committee.

First, you need a very clear picture of what you want to achieve.

“We have a measurable, inspirational goal that we can go to people and say: ‘We’re going to do this, we’re gonna raise $200,000. We’re going to raise it for cancer research, and we want you to be a part of it.’

Then you need to get the right  people on the bus. Bonser gave an example for one particular event.

“We needed senior level executives who had experience in the field, and who had networks they could draw on in order to build an audience for our event.”

Honing in responsibilities is also important.

“We needed to ask them to commit to certain accountabilities, so they are very clear about what exactly they’re there to do, and they’re volunteers.

“That means saying to them: ‘I need you to sell three tables. I need 25 items for the live auction. I need you to donate. If there’s nothing happening on your table on the night, I want you to start the bidding on something at $500.”

Bonser also shared some tips for working with volunteers who don’t feel confident asking for ticket sales or donations.

She said that although it’s a hard conversation, you have to get across to them that making these asks are a critical part of a volunteer’s contribution.

“I personally get around that by saying, ‘Well, I will train you to do that. I will resource you to do that. I promise you it will be fun.’ It’s a privilege to us. It’s a privilege to be asked. And if people can get that really profound contribution from you, people will get over that asking stuff.”

3. Beware of focus groups in charity fundraising events

A major highlight of the conference was a look at applying insights from design thinking to charity fundraising events. The session was presented by Marlene Cirillo, Head of Innovation & Business Improvement at Cancer Council Victoria.

Cirillo urged charities and nonprofits to conduct extensive research into what supporters want from an event.

However, she warned that running large focus groups is not the best methodology for getting feedback.

“Group discussions tend to be dominated by the loudest voice in the room,” Cirillo said.

“Groupthink is likely to occur as soon as the first opinion is voiced. People naturally want to achieve consensus and peace in the room subconsciously. You won’t actually get much insight in a group setting.

“Focus groups will often tell you what you want to hear, and assure you they would be interested in your events, they would buy a ticket, or they would be interested in making a donation at a particular price point.”

If you’re looking for feedback from your supporters, Cirillo says one-on-one interviews is, by far, a better option.

She adds that it is then important to conduct small scale tests of any creative your charity generates, based on feedback from supporters.

“You never really know until you put those insights into the real world and you see how supporters respond. This is where test and learn loops come in.”

4. Love your complainers

Cirillo also urged event fundraisers to listen to another valuable source of feedback for fundraising events: complaints from angry supporters.

“We often squirm when we hear that a complaint has made it through to the hotline, through to the CEO,” she said.

“I’m here to tell you to love your complainer. Complaints are a treasure trove of information.

“We tend to play down complaints as outliers, or make ourselves feel better by saying: ‘Well, it was the only complaint out of 150 supporters, so that’s a pretty good strike rate’.

“The reality is that one complaint probably represents a number of supporters who all thought up the same way. But only one of them is passionate or angry enough to pick up the phone and tell you.”

In terms of dealing with supporters who complain, Cirillo highlighted the importance of listening and engaging.

“Our supporters often don’t want to be critical, even if they are annoyed with our events.

“They don’t want to be seen as criticising the charity or seeming mean spirited, or they think that as a charity, we’re understaffed and we’re trying our best.

“It’s our job to really listen to that supporter’s feedback. If you can engage proactively with that disgruntled supporter, and tease out the real reasons why they’re complaining.

“Often, they actually have a really deep commitment to your cause. So apologise and thank them for they’re insights. Go on to show them you’ve fixed it. If you really, truly embrace innovating your event, put your supporters at the heart of your event.

“And I’m willing to bet you’ve also turned around that complaint.”

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