I write a lot about online fundraising, but I was recently reminded of the power of in-person events when our annual Children’s Ball for Children’s National Health System raised a record $10.7 million. (The previous high was $2 million.) You can see photos and read about the event here, but even if your organization doesn’t have large fundraisers, I think our experience provides a few lessons for all nonrofits:
Never underestimate the impact of your mission. The success of the Children’s Ball was possibly only because of the passion and hard work of our co-chairs — the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, his wife Abeer, Bret Baier (of “Special Report with Bret Baier” on Fox News Channel), and his wife Amy. The Baiers have been involved with our hospital ever since their son was diagnosed with congenital heart defects. He has undergone three successful open-heart surgeries and is doing well. The ambassador first got involved in 2009 when the Government of the UAE made a gift of $150 million to our health system to improve pediatric surgery. More recently, the Ambassador and his wife had their own personal experience, when their daughter required surgery.
Every dollar counts. Even though the Ball was sold out two months before the event, ticket sales were a small portion of the proceeds. Every component was needed — sponsorships (including four seven-figure sponsors), an online auction, a live auction, and a “call for cash,” as well as numerous in-kind donations.
Relationships matter. The key to the success of the Children’s Ball was the personal commitment and hard work of our co-chairs. The Al Otaibas and the Baiers were able to leverage their personal and professional relationships to inspire others to support a mission that’s personal to them. They’ve seen what Children’s National does for all children, and the many ways that philanthropic support helps families.
Your donors want to engage. We made it easy for our sponsors to share their enthusiasm about the event and our cause — by creating and sharing a communications plan that included a detailed social media plan with a hashtag, tips, and sample posts. On Twitter, we tagged corporate sponsors in our posts, allowing them to spread the word about our cause with simple retweet. Immediately after the event, we shared photos, a news release, and other information to support their own communications about the event’s success.
The event is the beginning, not the end. With the engagement of new sponsors, increased visibility through media coverage, and inspired supporters, now the real work begins. The value of a fundraising event is not just in the dollars raised in one night, but in the relationships and engagement it can inspire. It takes carefully planned follow-up to build on the success and answer the question, “Now what?” We began discussing our plan to recognize and follow up with our sponsors months before the event itself. Our recognition included a special video — with children thanking all of our sponsors at $100,000 and up:
After they saw the video the night of the Ball, we emailed them a link the following day so they could share it with their employees, customers, and others.