Volunteers Hellbent on Events

Dear Kim,

I have been fundraising in a number of different capacities for 13 years. One of the challenges I seem to face more often than I’d like is the illusion that events are the best way to raise money. I present the fundraising statistics, talk about the riskiness of events, etc, but no one changes. I appreciate that events can be great for building morale and for public relations, but I have problems with volunteers who would rather sell tickets than ask for a donation outright. What successful techniques do you have to redirect energies into long term successful fundraising approaches with volunteers who are hellbent on events?
—Not Dressed Up Because I Don’t Want to Go

Dear Not Dressed,

I totally sympathize with you. And, to be truthful, I only have a couple of suggestions for moving people away from events to other fundraising strategies. The first suggestion is to stop presenting reasonable arguments about using events for fundraising. The reasonable argument says that for the amount of time you put into an event, the amount of money you will raise will be less than putting the same amount of time into, for example, face to face solicitation. But, what people want for the time they put into fundraising is the least amount of discomfort and embarrassment for their effort. A friend recently told me that she would rather put 500 hours into a garage sale that would net $500 than spend one hour meeting with someone and asking for $500! I felt that her admission was one of the most honest things anyone had ever told me. Reason cannot trump irrationality, and honestly recognizing what is keeping people from exploring other strategies gives you something to work with.

My second suggestion is get volunteers to focus on what it is like to be invited to a lot of events. The feedback from donors is often that they would rather just give the money than have to go to an event, or they wonder about spending so much money on an event and would rather their donation went directly to program, or they feel nickel-and-dimed to death with lots of little events and would rather make one large donation. Looking at events from the point of view of the person attending the event rather than the event organizer often moves people to realize that while they would rather sell a ticket than ask for a donation, many people would rather give a donation than buy a ticket.

Having said all this, in my experience, some volunteers will never ask for money unless their request is tied to a ticket to an event or a T-shirt or something. The only way you can get them to raise any money is to let them organize an event. Let them do that, and just make sure that the event does all the things that an event CAN do — create visibility, get publicity, bring new people into the organization, and so on.

Fortunately, some volunteers — generally those who have had a lot of experience with events — are willing to move into some other fundraising strategies. Work with those people and negotiate with them about what they are willing to do. Make calls? Write personal notes to friends? Ask a friend for a gift in person?

An ideal fundraising plan has a lot of elements, and events are one element. Focus on getting a diverse group of volunteers and you should be able to keep events to just one element among many.