How Special Events Can Benefit Your Major Gift Program
Adapted from a presentation by Michelle Casserly, Director of Special Events, Hackensack Meridian Health, Meridian Health Foundation and Jennifer L. Smith, Senior Executive Director, Riverview Medical Center Foundation and Bayshore Medical Center Foundation, at the 2017 AHP Annual International Conference
For years, special events were the backbone of a hospital foundation’s fundraising activity. From traditional events like galas and golf tournaments to more inventive occasions like fishing tournaments and fashion shows, a well-executed event can energize your stakeholders and serve as a positive touchpoint.
Over the years, however, many foundations have shifted to a development strategy centered around major gifts, a focus that consistently generates higher returns than a strategy driven by special events or annual giving.
Is there still a place for special events in a high-performing development operation? Absolutely. In fact, a good major gift strategy will incorporate special events as a key piece of the foundation’s cultivation and stewardship activities.
Redefining your special event focus means changing the way you evaluate the success of your events. In the past, common metrics included the amount of money raised, the number of attendees or the number of tables sold. Foundation leaders would happily report to their boards that old favorite line, “A good time was had by all.”
Instead, build your evaluation around how the event advances your major gift strategy. Some potential areas around which you can develop measurements include:
- Amount raised through event AND potential major gifts
- Hitting a budget goal, which is part of the bigger picture
- Quality of attendees
- Advancing mission and message
- Meaningful conversations
Here are three ways to infuse your events with a major gift mentality:
1. Be mission-focused when planning the event.
Your organization hardly benefits if your attendees enjoy the dinner, gala or golf tournament but fail to remember which organization the event supported. Just as you would when meeting with a major donor, find ways to integrate your mission into the event planning and program. Creating memorable mission-related moments — like displaying a da Vinci robotic surgery system at your gala or recruiting physicians for a Top Chef-style cooking competition — will help your organization and mission stick in attendees’ minds well after the night ends.
2. Select committee leaders and event honorees wisely.
As you find the best candidates to lead your committee efforts, be sure to take into consideration any effect your choices may have on your major gift ask strategy. Are your candidates current or potential major gift donors? Will it impact an ask if they feel they have to make a big gift to the event? If they open their Rolodex for the event, will it hinder or help future major gift connections?
3. Refocus the pre-event briefing.
Pre-event briefings typically focus on event logistics, such as attire, flow, the agenda, speeches and guest lists. Consider adding a prospect research element to these briefings by discussing which key prospects will be attending, which staff members and volunteers are assigned to each prospects and post-event follow-up expectations.