The 80-20 Rule for Giving Events

17386266452_34198b4026_k
This band performed at a Crescent City Farmers Market fundraiser.

Only 20 percent of the actual actions in a fundraiser should actually occur during a giving day or event. Just 20 percent. The other 80 percent should be spent getting ready for the event (50 or 60 percent) and then post-event follow-up (20-30 percent).

Follow-up is more than a thank you. It consists of making sure you fulfill your promises, and cultivate the relationships that you just invested so much energy in consummating or renewing.

Yet most people are super worried about the day of. And rightly so, it is the most public aspect of your giving event.

Over-focusing on the day of can create a failure. The day becomes a panicked scurry to try and turn the tide. If your organization manages to be successful in spite of its lack of preparation, but you fail to follow up with savvy community oriented communications, then expect a one and done success. More than 95 percent of those donors will disappear into the night.

A giving day or an event should not be a heart attack moment. If your event is well planned and the footwork is done well, then you will find yourself in the middle of a success. The fundraiser should be more relaxed, something you enjoy, and execute with confidence. In an ideal situation, day of brainstorming focuses on how to extend positive momentum, and maximize efforts to make sure that money isn’t left on the table.

The Majority of the Work Happens Before the Fundraiser

Pre-Event

I like to tell people a fundraiser is made or lost before it begins. It is the preparation that causes a fundraiser succeeds. A strategic approach:

  • Breaks away from vanilla fundraising best practices
  • Identifies a clear goal
  • Hardwires mission into the fundraiser to build awareness
  • Fundraising walls (dead spaces in your giving day)
  • Anticipates the need for community, and builds its efforts three to six months in advance
  • Recruits the necessary third party players well in advance
  • Gamifies the event to make it as fun as possible for all parties
  • Develops a crisis communications plan because, yes, things happen

There are endless days of lists, check sheets, email opt-ins, preparations, materials development, behind the scenes interactions, partner preparations, and private meetings with core stakeholders. In the context of a pie chart, the actual giving event’s actions minute in comparison to amount of pre-event communications.

The best made plans and all of the footwork cannot guarantee a success. But they come damn close, particularly if a nonprofit or company knows its issue or market, respectively, and understands what motivates its community.

Yes, crises happen, too. And it’s always good to be prepared for three types of crises:

  • Internal team error or act
  • Extended party (vendor such as giving platform, internet host, etc.) failure or event
  • Larger world issues
    • One major event I had the privilege of working on in DC experienced a serious crises. We were all ready for a massive fundraiser at the Kennedy Center. Things were pointing the right way, but it was tight. Then Ronald Reagan passed away, and the deceased president’s state viewing at the U.S. Capital was scheduled to begin two hours before our event. Unbelievable. We were sunk. Lemonade was made, but there was little we could do.

      Such crises events are relatively unusual. In all, I have seen three of them on giving days and fundraisers, and have read about a half dozen more. So walk forward with confidence, but have your ducks in a row.

      Finish Strong

      27964859650_a10e503fff_k

      Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of any giving event is the post-fundraiser cultivation. This is the difference between a transactional moment when you lose the customer or donor immediately following the event, or retain a healthy portion of participants as valued members of your community.

      It’s so easy to be short-sighted here.

      I know many start-ups don’t have the infrastructure to execute a smart automation strategy. Nonprofits are often stuck with that inflexible database nonprofit software company who shall remain unnamed.

      Are you really going to send impersonal communications to them? Blanket solicitations and generalized thank yous with vague report backs on progress? Most Kickstarters and other fundraising events have to do that much, but most nonprofits don’t even report results. How crazy is that?

      If you are talking about a fundraiser that’s in excess of $500,000, can you really afford not to invest in a basic package? I feel like the faster you can start communicating to your investors (yes, that’s right, investors) in a customized matter that acknowledges their interactions on your fundraiser, the better your efforts will become.

      Think about it. A basic marketing automation account with SilverPop costs roughly $1500 a month. HubSpot may be less, Marketo may be more, and there are solutions, too, like Pardot and Eloqua.

      If you want to make your event more than a financial transaction (and perhaps a bad taste in the mouth) for your customers and donors, then you’ll need a post-fundraiser plan. Have it ready to activate the day after your fundraiser ends.

      What do you think about the right balance of efforts for a fundraiser?

    Fundraising: To Email or Not to Email

    Smartphone II

    To email or not to email, that is the question of the modern fundraiser.

    I understand the email quandary. We want to reach our customers and very important friends, and make sure they know about our fundraiser (or any other initiative). At the same time, we don’t want to alienate our contacts with spammy solicitations.

    Several years ago, I worked with a nonprofit on their hopeful $30-$50,000 fundraiser. In the beginning, we were all in agreement on the importance of building a strong email list and accessing partner networks to get the word out. Focusing on an exciting initiative, the effort would seek to activate and engage in a first time giving event for this sector of the nonprofit. At that time, this would have been unique.

    But then the corporate messaging initiatives began to take precedence. Protocol mattered more than engagement. Using the list and partners’ lists for the fundraiser came into question. Concerns arose about antagonizing people with the fundraiser. The nonprofit already emailed the list frequently with its various news items and corporate partner initiatives.

    Social media, a single relatively benign email, and content would need to carry the effort. Needless to say, things didn’t fare as well as we had originally hoped. The fundraiser sputtered and bumbled its way across the $10,000 mark. The Fundraising Wall began at the outset.

    Social and Blog Content Usually Can’t Carry the Weight Alone

    7172754660_920f600706_k

    One truth about online fundraisers: It is very, very hard to succeed with social media and blog content alone. I would say it is almost impossible UNLESS you have a super engaged community. Frankly, you need multiple tactics, an integrated strategy (the subject of my last business book Marketing in the Round), but of all the tactics email is almost a must have for a successful fundraiser. .

    An email list really is an extension of a super engaged community, too. I would argue that an exhausted email list that sees mass opt-outs during a fundraiser reflects a larger problem. Perhaps the organization uses its email list as a mechanism to simply ask and get rather than to provide value.

    There is a reverse to that equation. If people are subscribed to your organization’s list and all they receive is valuable information, but are unwilling to receive an email from you about an important initiative, then perhaps they are not really a part of your community. They just like free information.

    This may have to do with the list that they are opting into. Was it clear that they will receive occasional offers (e.g. solicitations) from you? It may be worth segmenting people that complain about solicitations into a different list.

    Also, let’s be honest with ourselves, do people just find our solicitations to be spammy and boring? If your email is a blatant request to give you money for something they may not want, then maybe your quandary is well justified. You may get a few backers or donations. You will also piss off a lot of people, too, particularly if you continuously make obvious uninteresting overtures with your email community.

    Figure It Out or Hit the Wall

    16662548430_b539f18fe7_k

    There are two critical aspects to the email problem: Content and community. There are many resources that can help you create a stronger content initiative with the actual email. Is the email copy entertaining and useful to the list member. Or do they just feel like you are talking about yourself and asking for something?

    Then there are the community members, the people who have subscribed to your list. Frankly, if you are concerned about a dead or dying list, then maybe it’s time to get honest about the state of your email program. Email represents a relationship tool. People who have had enough of your organization’s email, probably don’t belong on the list anymore. Would you email a friend who kept complaining about your jokes?

    While invigorating your list with better content, consider a new opt-in prompt for people who have not opened one of your emails in six months. This inactive list campaign may take more than one communication, but if you are not getting a response, my recommendation is to cull them. In my mind, they have indicated through inaction that the email communications aren’t working for them. Let them go.

    Focus on stronger content, more value, higher open rates, and better interaction with your email community. Figure it out before your online fundraiser, or you will hit the Fundraising Wall.

    There are many other components to a successful online fundraiser, including online advertising, influencer activation (your influencers, not those big wig celebrities!), PR, live events and more. But without email as a basic fundamental outreach, you may be dooming yourself to a lesser fundraising effort.

    Bokeh World, Pop-Up Show, and Cuba

    26395160955_f8fb42b9d7_k
    Trioplan 50 photo by Tamara Skudies.

    One of my favorite projects this spring has been supporting my client Meyer-Optik’s Kickstarter for the Trioplan f2.9/50. The Kickstarter seeks to return the legendary camera lens with incredible soap bubble bokeh, as seen above.

    This lens has a rich history dating back 100 years, so as a photography nerd I love the project. Apparently, so does the market as we have raised almost $600,000 from 900 backers with less than seven days remaining in the campaign!

    As part of our efforts we ran a photo quest challenge on photography social network 500 Pixels called Bokeh World. The theme celebrated the lens’s soap bubble bokeh. To participate, 500 Pixels users were encouraged to incorporate bokeh into their photography with the three best pics winning new Trioplan f2.9/50 and f2.8/100 lenses.

    The Bokeh World contest received an overwhelming response. More than 35,000 photos were submitted! It was pretty hard whittling down that selection to just three winners. Here is my favorite, Lilia Alvarado’s Life Is a Carnival. What an incredible photograph!

    26369228953_f56af100e6_k

    The Trioplan 50 Kickstarter continues through next Wednesday. I hope you decide to back it.

    Pop-Up Photo Show this Saturday

    The Pacific Ocean at Night

    For those of you in the DC area, I am co-hosting my first photography pop-up show at Broadway Galleries in Alexandria, VA this Saturday. The event will be held from 4 to 6 pm, and will feature some really big prints of some of my more well received night photos.

    Refreshments will be served, so have a snack and a bite. If you come, you’ll have the opportunity to provide feedback and tell me which types of photos you like most. Or just come and talk shop with me. I hope to see you then!

    Cuba

    12601744583_67faa3b2d1_k
    Image by mokastet.

    Now that Obama has formally established relations with Cuba again, artists and photographers are flocking to the Caribbean island. Just look at the big deal National Geographic made last week about being on the first U.S. cruise to Cuba in 60 years.

    The hype and fury comes with good reason. In five years Cuba will not be the same, especially after U.S. interests invade and establish businesses.

    Well, guess what? I’m going to Cuba this June as part of a larger project with six DC Focused photographers. We’ll be announcing our project after Memorial Day so stay tuned!

    What’s new in your creative world?