This past weekend I watched two organizations I support go through the motions of their “annual” events. As a fundraising consultant, it was almost painful to watch these organizations burn their volunteer enthusiasm and goodwill like newspaper in a fire. Events are tough, they are hard on volunteers, they are hard on staff, and they require a lot of things to go right at the same time. The reward can be fantastic, creating goodwill among the volunteers, raising awareness and affinity among the attendees, and hopefully raising needed capital for a project or operating budget. Failure has the opposite effect, creating disenchantment among volunteers and staff, and harming the relationship the organization has with its constituency.
I understand that a year by year evaluation of an event might not be feasible, as many of these programs are planned more than 12 months out, but a 3 year assessment should be mandatory.
1) Does this event raise as much money, awareness, or goodwill as it used to? How is your attendance? How have the dollars raised trended? Is it taking you more upfront money to raise the same amount or less? One year of bad numbers doesn’t mean you scrap the entire project, but if your last three years have declined, it might signal a time to re-invent or change your event entirely.
2) Just because you have had an event every year for the past 10 years, does not mean you should keep doing it. Maybe this event has outlived its usefulness? Maybe your constituency has changed, and the young people who were your key demographic 10 years ago are now married with children and cannot attend the event? Maybe your volunteer base has diminished and this event is no longer viable, or the volunteer “muscle” could be used in other ways. Realize that running an event past its natural life-span is far worse than ending an event in decline and disappointing patrons.
3) Is every year too often? Yes, colleges and universities run reunions every year, but they typically only have each class’ reunion every five years. Build up anticipation, give yourself more time than “annually.” Have you ever thought that running this event every two years could raise more money than every year? Realize you are cutting your costs in half, and if more people attend bi-annually you are raising more money for each dollar spent.
4) Finally, if you do an assessment and everything is running smoothly, keep looking for ways to improve. My local life sciences museum raises (rumor has it) 60% of its operating budget during a Santa train each year. It continues to improve this event year after year. Recently they created an early sign up for high level donors. The event fills up quickly, they have made sure early registration is a key benefit to their premier membership groups, and made sure their key donors get to attend ahead of all others. They continue to push this already phenomenally successful event to be better each year.
Having an event for the simple reason that “we’ve always had this event,” is not good practice. Reviewing the success and viability of your programs will only make your organization stronger and potentially make your events better too. What do you think? Do you have event fatigue? Do you have some great ideas to share that keep your events and programs fresh each year?