Big Fundraising Gala or Small Event?

from, an excellent school fundraising strategy…

Time for a Smaller Ask Event?

Has your annual Ask Event become a burden? Does it seem like nearly as much work as putting on your former gala or auction? Here’s a radical thought: maybe it’s time to focus on quality, not quantity, and significantly reduce the size of your next Ask Event.

Time for a Smaller Ask Event?Consider the number one measure of a successful Benevon Free One-Hour Ask Event: At least 40% of the people in attendance must have attended a Point of Entry in the prior year. When was the last time your group met that benchmark?

Next, consider this measure from our Sustainable Funding Scorecard: 10% of Ask Event guests join your Multiple-Year Giving Society (pledging at least $1,000 for five years) newly each year. When was the last time that ten out of every 100 guests at your Ask Event joined your Giving Society at one of these levels?

If you are not meeting both of these benchmarks, it’s time to reduce the size of your Ask Event. The ideal Ask Event you are aiming for has 200-300 guests.

As an example of how this problem can happen gradually over time, we work with an organization that had gotten so carried away with having their Ask Event be the biggest one in town that they had lost sight of the real objective. Their event had grown to nearly 700 people. Although they met our official formula for Ask Event success (a 700-person event would generate at least $350,000 in gifts and pledges), it was largely due to the Leadership Gift from the same corporate donor every year for $200,000. That meant their 700 people actually gave only $150,000, far less than the formula calls for. Likewise, they added only eight new donors to their Multiple-Year Giving Society.

The purpose of the Ask Event is to grow your Multiple-Year Giving Society significantly, annually, so as to have a larger pool of donors to cultivate and grow and to draw from for larger major gift, capital, and endowment campaigns. The purpose of the Ask Event is NOT to put on a great feel-good event to thank and reconnect with your donors. The purpose of the Ask Event is to harvest the newly ripened fruit, namely the guests who attended your Point of Entry Events in the year leading up to each Ask Event.

Here’s what I recommend to get your organization’s implementation of the Benevon Model back on track:

  • Bite the bullet and cut your Ask Event back from 700 people (in this example) to 250-300 people.
  • Do an analysis of how much more money was given at your last Ask Event, on average, by people who had attended a Point of Entry in the year prior to the Ask Event versus those who hadn’t. You will probably be surprised at the difference.
  • As you call last year’s Table Captains, share your results with them.
    • Tell them that the event is not raising the money it needs to raise, largely because you are focusing on quantity over quality. As wonderful as the event was, it has veered away from its original purpose—to ask well-cultivated donors to make five-year pledges to join your Giving Society. It has become more of a social gathering for long-time supporters of the organization.
    • Tell them the statistics about the average gift size from those who had attended recent Points of Entry versus those who hadn’t.
    • Tell them that you are changing the process for next year, so as to allow your team to focus on adding more long-term donors and free up time for cultivating the donors you now have in your Multiple-Year Giving Society.
    • Tell them you will be offering two special Free Feel-Good Cultivation Events in the next year for your loyal donors (including those who attend the Ask Event more as a social event now).
  • Rather than recruiting Table Captains a few weeks before your Ask Event, expecting them to fill a table of ten, focus on recruiting passionate Ambassadors who will follow through and have at least ten people attend Points of Entry in the year prior to the Ask Event. About eight to ten weeks prior to the Ask Event, invite those Ambassadors to become Table Captains and encourage them to invite their Point of Entry guests to sit at their tables.
  • To get started recruiting Ambassadors, go back to the Table Captains from your most recent Ask Event and ask each of them to host a Point of Entry. They could invite the people who sat at their table at your most recent Ask Event, yet who had never attended a Point of Entry Event.
  • Aim for 80% ripened fruit at your next Ask Event, not 40%. There will be attrition. 40% is your absolute minimum.
  • When it comes time for them to invite people to their Ask Event tables, supplement their guest lists with any additional Point of Entry guests who may not otherwise have someone to sit with.
  • In the meantime, get back to basics with your own Points of Entry. Set a goal of finding one new Ambassador during your Follow-Up Calls from every Point of Entry Event. Keep using your Treasure Map to identify groups of people who would naturally want to learn more about your organization.
  • Be sure to secure your Leadership or Challenge Gift just like you did last year. Going into your next Ask Event, knowing you have that large gift in hand will give you confidence—and inspire additional giving from the 40% or more of your well-cultivated audience.

Finally, imagine having a 200-person Ask Event with 80% Ripened Fruit. That would be a good use of everyone’s time! Focus on the ripened fruit percentage, not the total number of guests in attendance.

If your emphasis is on having the biggest event in town, you have deviated from the Benevon Model.


About Gary Coiro

Nonprofit & Church Leader Nonprofit Leader and Consultant since 2004, following 15 years as a pastor. Competencies include board development, fundraising, staff development and management, strategic planning, church work, Bible teaching, and capital campaigns. Currently consulting and serving on the Church Ministries Management Team for a large multi-cultural evangelical church.
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