The question I am asked most often when it comes to putting on a benefit fundraiser is, “When should we have it? Is there a better day? A better time?” If you were to ask five different people who have put on benefits in the past, you would probably get five different answers which would really confuse you, right?
For my money, and to make the most money, I am partial to Saturday nights from 5-10pm. Before I give you the pluses of a Saturday night, let me give you the negatives of other nights. There are some who think Friday night would be a great time for a benefit. Their rationale is that people have had a hard week at work, they’re thrilled it’s finally Friday (TGIF!), and they’re ready to party and spend. The drawback to Friday is that most of your guests are probably still at work at 5pm when your event begins and even if they want to attend your fundraiser, they first have to make the drive home, freshen up and change out of the clothes they’ve lived in all day. Some may even need to grab a bite to eat before they leave knowing there is a long night ahead. Thus, they may not arrive until 6:30 or 7. The long night ahead creates another issue. These folks have been up since 6am and off to work by 7. Will they really be in the mood to party and bid until 10?
Sunday presents a different set of challenges. True, you would not have to rush around as you did on Friday and perhaps you could even bring the kids. But partying, spending and drinking until 10 is out of the question for most people. Monday morning is just around the corner and it’s not only a work day, but for 9 months out of the year it’s a school day as well.
Which brings me to Saturday. Mom and Dad have had a leisurely day of perhaps grocery shopping, catching up on housework and doing some yardwork. At about 3 in the afternoon, Mom can begin to get ready for the benefit with a shower or bath and have all the time in the world to put on makeup and party clothes – all with the help of a wine in hand! There is no rush and your guests are in a mood to reward themselves after working around the house all day. They can come early, spend lots, stay late and then sleep late!
What about Sunday morning church service, you ask. Most people will rationalize skipping service after having done such a good deed the night before!
Fundraising is just like advertising: a recession is no time to cut back.
Actually, fundraising is advertising. But instead of selling a product or service for your own profit, you’re selling the satisfaction of helping a good cause–warm fuzzies, if you will. Warm fuzzies are relatively easy to sell in a strong economy, as Americans tend to be generous and like to share our good fortune. In a weak economy, however, warm fuzzies are a harder sell.
2008 may be shaping up to be a difficult year for fundraisers. The economic slowdown is a good reason to be concerned about giving; when people are having to stretch their discretionary dollars, charitable giving is one thing that’s easy to “just say no” to. In addition to recession fears, with 2008 being a presidential election year, people’s charitable giving may be redirected to political campaigns.
If you’re a nonprofit, however, don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is the time to cut back on your fundraising efforts. What these gloomy indicators mean is that nonprofits need to increase–not decrease–their fundraising efforts. You need to stay in front of your donor base so that when they’re ready to give, they’ll think of you first.
Here are some ways to do just that:
1. Build an e-mail list and start a newsletter or autoresponder series.
2. Start a blog and invite your list to participate.
3. Push emotional hot buttons–people understand that as they suffer, others suffer more.
According to the January 21, 2008 edition of DM News, “[Direct marketing] use [is] up at nonprofits. As the economy flags, nonprofits are seeking direct tactic and seeing success, according to the latest study from the Direct Marketing Association on its nonprofit members.” The article reports the following numbers:
This is encouraging news for fundraisers in a time of economic hardship!
The key to fundraising success in tough times is to increase mailing efforts–not decrease them. Of course, your pieces–letter, newsletter, autoresponder series–need to be crafted in a way that will generate maximum response; this is a job for a professional marketing writer, because fundraising is essentially marketing a deeply personal investment in a good cause. Fundraising, done right, can be done successfully in 2008.