24 Apr

The Courage to Kill It


We are in the height of fundraising season. Every week is packed with events between now and mid-June.

Your annual dinner is the focal point of the spring. You host it every April or May. From January on, it feels like all hands on deck for your event, getting the invites out, soliciting sponsors and ads, and ensuring every logistic is set. Even before January, you work hard to secure honorees and event chairs and to form a strong host committee. Immediately after last year’s event, you booked the venue and caterer. Events are a lot of work that is spread out over a long period of time.  They are exhausting and consuming. For smaller organizations, events often usurp most of the staff’s time.

So why do the collective “we” still have annual dinners or galas? Because we raise money at them. We bring our community together. We increase our brand.

We have them because we were trained to practice a transactional form of development, and we are scared to let them go. We might not raise the same amount. We might not get to see the donors who only come to the event and make their gift then. We won’t be able to get in front of 300 or 500 people.

We need to ask if the dinner or gala are worth all the effort and costs to raise the funds. Experts estimate an event costs $.50 for every dollar raised (as compared to $.05-$.10 for every dollar raised through major gifts). If you are really hitting it out of the park and getting a big return on your investment with your event, by all means, keep doing it.

However, if you are spending all your time on a transactional event for average or less than stellar dollars raised, then stop the insanity. Kill your annual event (or put it on hiatus) and save holding big galas or dinners for anniversaries or special occasions only. Instead, devote your time to truly relational fundraising.

What if you committed to having conversations with every one of your donors instead? What would happened if you spent the same number of professional and volunteer hours meeting with, engaging and stewarding your donors and prospects? Maybe you would raise the same or more money. You certainly would have a better understanding of whom your donors are, their interests and motivations. If some people need an event, ask a connector to host a small gathering that allows for real conversation, a two-way sharing of ideas and relationship building.

I promise that your donors won’t miss rushing after work to get to your event, having to find a babysitter mid-week or the delicious chicken or salmon dinner. They may even thank you.

But what about the people who buy tickets and come but aren’t donors?  The argument goes you will lose their support and miss the chance to convert them from event ticket buyers to donors.  Ask yourself how many event only goers you actually are converting to donors. You can create other opportunities for would be table captains to invite their contacts to and see your organization in action and interact with your community.

According to Raymond Lindquist, “Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.” Be courageous. Let go of the familiar. Try new things and be creative.  Stop filling seats and instead invest in nurturing relationships.

Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD, is President of Fridman Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, financial resource development, governance and leadership coaching for nonprofits. She is the author of On Board: What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know About Nonprofits & Board Service. She can be reached at

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  1. What’s Next? Beyond Annual Dinners | Nanette's Nonprofit Notes

    April 24, 2017

    […] this week I wrote a blog post entitled The Courage to Kill It that asked if organizations really are getting the ROI on their annual events to warrant continuing […]

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