Thinking about doing a “non-event” event where no one has to attend? It sounds great on the face of it. After all, Penelope Burk’s research revealed that many donors reported they like to receive invitations to events; they just prefer not to attend them. Win/win?
Not so much. It depends why you’re hosting the event in the first place. If it’s your only method of fundraising for the entire year, then fine. Go right ahead. Whether folks attend or not doesn’t much matter. You’ve made your single annual ask, received your gift and you’re done. All you wanted was money. Once. Right? Hold on!
A single annual ask is not a recommended strategy if you want to sustain your supporters over time. You should be asking multiple times – soft, hard, implied – for annual support, project support, legacy gifts and everything else that will sustain your organization over the long haul. You should be thanking multiple times. You should be offering opportunities for engagement multiple times. In short, you should be building a relationship. That’s what keeps people connected.
And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with “no-show” events. They don’t build relationships. They don’t create community. They don’t result in a warm, fuzzy ‘feel good’ that reflects back on the donor the love they’ve shared with you and your constituents by virtue of their gift. And that’s what ‘philanthropy‘ is all about. Love of humankind.
When you host a non-event you rob folks of the opportunity for meaningful, face-to-face connection with you, their peers and the cause they are helping. And back to Penelope Burk’s research – take it with a large shaker of salt. It’s self-reported. And folks notoriously self report in a manner they believe reflects well upon them (i.e., “Oh, no. I don’t need fancy events or any kind of donor recognition”). The most famous research in this regard asked folks what magazines they read. People reported what they thought were high-falutin, intellectual periodicals. When researchers then searched their trash cans they found something else entirely.
My hunch is that you have plenty of supporters who would enjoy attending your event. Even if they tell you now they don’t want to come, once they get there they’ll have a good time. And they’ll feel better – about your organization and about themselves. Ever feel like all you wanted to do was stay home, but then you forced yourself to go out? Chances are you were glad you did. We’re social animals. We crave human connection. It fuels our spirits.
Survival, it turns out, depends on the power of the group… the tribe… the community. An past article in Newsweek on why humans need a tribe discussed the way the group provides social meaning in a chaotic world. It’s fascinating and particularly interesting for those who work in the philanthropic sector. It boils down to us having the same drives, needs and yearnings as prehistoric tribes. It’s not just about survival. Darwin wrote about survival of the most empathic. We long for connection and meaning. In other words, it’s not just about the “fittest” but about the “fitting.” Philanthropy provides that “fit opportunity” in spades (or, more aptly, in hearts).
When you hold a non-event, what message are you really conveying? It’s a bit of “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” You may think it’s donor-centered, but you’re most likely reading your supporters wrong. Don’t listen to what they say; look at what they do. Unless they’re the rare hermit, give them the gift of connection. Don’t make it all about money. Make it about love.
If you don’t want to build true relationships, don’t be surprised when your friends are only of the fly-by-night variety.
Image courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net
I’ve never seen an org offer an either/or no show….wonder if that would work? ie… come if you’d like… OR …buy a “no show” ticket to support us (maybe at a little lower price?) hmmmm…. just thinking!
Ask yourself what message you’d be sending with an either/or event. We don’t really care if you come or not… just mostly want your money. I like my donors to feel I really, truly want to see them. It just wouldn’t be a party without them! Money is secondary at this point. If you do your relationship-building job right, the money will follow. And it will keep coming.
You give excellent advice here on how to build good relationships with donors and a good insight that explains why it’s important. Collecting frequent donations requires a great deal of confidence and patience, but it can certainly be done. Great post! Thanks so much for sharing!
I always counsel that special events be seen as operating within an overall context of a total strategic development plan. If all you want is a one-time infusion of money, then fine. But that won’t sustain most non-profits over the long haul. Thanks for commenting!
I understand asking multiple times throughout the year, cultivating with different touches, etc., but what are you referring to by “non-event” or “no-show” event?
Sorry for the delay in responding Amy. I’m talking about using the conceit of hosting a special event to masquerade as a fundraising appeal — essentially inviting folks to a non-existent event. The subliminal message is this: “The main thing we want is your money. No need to show up. We don’t need to see you, talk to you or give you anything. Just send money.”
Sometimes nonprofits will do this to (1) avoid the expense/work of putting on an event,(2) cater to donors who prefer to give, rather than see their resources spent on a meal and entertainment, and/or (3) “protect” donors from the agony of having to attend an event. This is all fine if you’re just wanting to send a fundraising appeal. However, if you want to cultivate donors by bringing them together, creating a sense of community, giving them tangible links to the beneficiaries of their philanthropy, giving them personal links to you and the folks associated with your organization, and creating a moving emotional experience, these “no-show” events miss the mark.
BTW: If you want just an appeal for money, a standard fundraising appeal does this better (because it focuses on the need being addressed rather than the way the money is being raised).