You’ve observed it for years, maybe decades. In our community, there are literally hundreds of fundraising events every year. You may have attended two or three in one week.
It is well-known among nonprofit leaders that event fundraising requires enormous investments of board and staff time, as well as other resources, typically resulting in the lowest return-on-investment (ROI) of all fundraising methods. From a business perspective, events are the least desirable way to raise the critical funds that make it possible to fulfill our mission and impact thousands of lives.
Yet, it remains one of the most popular. Even during the pandemic, many of us have rushed to reschedule our annual events as soon as we hoped and prayed it might be safe and legal to do so.
We are desperate to return to our events. It’s clear we’ve become dependent on them. Here are three reasons why:
- Events are fun. If the event is fabulous enough, people who don’t know much about the cause will attend to be entertained, enjoy the emotional rewards of giving, and maybe walk away with an autographed basketball from the silent auction.
- Events are comfortable. For many boards of directors and volunteer fundraisers, selling event tickets is more comfortable than asking for donations. Many of us grew up selling Girl Scout Cookies or wrapping paper. So, we’ve had lots of practice!
- Events raise friends. This is the greatest value of event fundraising, in my opinion, because events offer a concentrated opportunity to meet and get to know people who have a connection to your cause. Many major donors, key volunteers, and rock star board members started out as event guests.
It is becoming clearer every day that the pandemic will continue to negatively impact fundraising events. The good news is that shifting our time and attention away from events offers an opportunity to focus on other ways to raise money, execute our mission, and honor our donors.
WARM’s Executive Committee recently made the difficult decision to cancel our Silver Celebration Gala which would have celebrated WARM’s 25th anniversary.
Our dedicated sponsors have agreed to shift their dollars from event expenses to program and awareness expenses. Their investment will be put to work right away, and their generosity recognized in this calendar year. Here are a few examples:
. Instead of paying for event expenses, these sponsorship dollars will go directly to assisting families on WARM’s waiting list. A sign with the company logo will be displayed on the front yard of a WARM rebuild; photos/videos of the rebuild (including the sign) will be posted on WARM’s social media channels and provided to the company for their use. We also invite their employees to volunteer.
Instead of advertising the gala, these sponsors help pay for advertisements to reach potential WARM homeowners, volunteers, and donors. These sponsors want their money to help grow WARM’s mission, so they underwrite billboards and Biz Journal ads; their logos are included with ours.
. Several of our sponsors told us to convert their sponsorships to donations; they didn’t want any benefits in return.
All our sponsors made one thing clear: they were looking for more than a fun night out when they wrote the check. I was moved to tears when they told me how much they love WARM’s
mission and trust
its leaders to make wise decisions about how their charitable dollars are spent. That love and trust will help us survive the pandemic and they may be the very things that break our event dependency.
Hardworking volunteers help stretch funds from Truist and other Rebuild Sponsors.
JC Lyle has served as WARM’s Executive Director since January 2009. Under her leadership, WARM's annual revenue and productivity have more than quadrupled. Prior to working in the nonprofit sector, Lyle worked at McKim & Creed on subdivision design, rezoning and permitting throughout coastal North Carolina. Lyle earned her Master of Business Administration from UNCW's Cameron School of Business and has presented workshops on affordable housing issues and nonprofit management at state-level conferences. Lyle serves on the Planning Commission for the City of Wilmington and the North Carolina Housing Partnership, the board that oversees the state's housing trust fund. In 2012, Lyle was named Wilma Magazine's first Woman to Watch in the Nonprofit Category. In 2014, she accepted WARM's Coastal Entrepreneur Award in the Nonprofit Category, given by the Greater Wilmington Business Journal and UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. In 2018, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Cape Fear Chapter named her Outstanding Fundraiser of the Year.