For many nonprofits, April-June is peak season for galas, golf tournaments and other major donor engagement events. Whether you are a small, grassroots nonprofit embarking on its inaugural signature event or a national nonprofit celebrating your centennial anniversary, ensuring one’s public relations program, social media marketing program, development initiatives and e-communications strategy are deeply integrated with the overall event plan ensures not only consistency of message and voice, but a positive donor experience.
For those nonprofits with the benefit of a few (or more) events under their belts, it is best to let data gleaned from events past inform your strategy. Which of your organization’s past events have garnered the most attendees? What feedback have you received about past events that can help improve or enhance this year’s events? Further, it is critical to assess how the upcoming event(s) will support your cause in achieving its overall strategic goals. With many nonprofits facing a June 30th year-end, these final weeks are crunch time for generating ROI.
Focusing on Engagement
So, you want to sell event tickets. Makes perfect sense. But what happens once your donor pool, long-time volunteers, community partners and key funders are in the room? How will you deepen their connection to the cause? How will you communicate – and demonstrate – that they, as individuals, are valued members of your nonprofit’s community and that they are more than just a number? From photo booths to on-site art installations, there are many ways to engage constituents. When working to define the opportunity for engagement, start by answering these three key questions: (1) what’s in it for the attendee / why should they participate?; (2) how will this exercise help to build and strengthen our nonprofit’s community?; and, (3) how will the outcome(s) of this engagement be used to further our mission?
Defining the Post-Event Journey
What happens during a nonprofit fundraiser is every bit as important as the marketing communications and donor engagement initiatives that follow the event. What will be your first touchpoint with attendees following your major fundraising event? Will it be a handwritten ‘thank you’ note from one of your program participants? A photo of each person at the event that acknowledges their role in helping achieving your core event goals? These post-event communications are critical to sustaining a positive attendee experience and further strengthening attendees’ connection to the cause.
Planning for the Year Ahead
As your nonprofit embarks upon a new fiscal year, how will you apply the key marketing lessons learned from this year’s major fundraisers to refine your PR, marketing and donor engagement strategies for the year ahead? This is where data comes back into play. Whether you deploy a post-event email survey and/or use attendance numbers and funds raised as the baseline, these numbers are critical to not only benchmarking the success of this year’s event(s) but for goal-setting as you look ahead.
Beyond the event experience itself, data should also be collected and evaluated for all of the pre-event communications. For example, was this the first year your nonprofit deployed both electronic and hard-copy invitations? How did the response rates vary between the two mediums? Which audiences were most responsive and through which channel(s)? Did your nonprofit deploy a pre-event social media marketing campaign with a countdown to the event identifying key ways online audiences could engage beyond simply attending the fundraiser? What was the response rate to each of these individual ‘asks’ and to the campaign as a whole? This is the data that lets you know what strategies and tactics worked best, what needs to be refined and how resources can be better allocated for marketing future fundraisers and other major events.
The best nonprofit marketing strategies are carefully tailored to the individual cause and aligned with the organization’s strategic plan. The event marketing strategies within this overall plan are targeted by audience, objective and support the organization’s overall marketing, development and audience engagement objectives. As your nonprofit gears up for its next major fundraiser or works to evaluate the success of recent events, keep your organizational goals top-of-mind while maintaining a laser focus on creating and sustaining positive donor experiences and deepening meaningful connections to your cause.