Special Events ROI- Make it worth your while

Photo by dave merwin

Although special events have the lowest return-on-investment (ROI) of the top fundraising tactics, over 60% of nonprofit organizations use them to raise funds. For every $1 an organization spends on special events, they raise an average of $3.20. Click here to see the full return-on-investment chart for the top fundraising tactics.

This means that it is especially important to pick the right event to raise the most money that your organization can with the smallest investment. Not every event will work for every organization, and the same event could raise $100,000 for the Red Cross, but only raise $5,000 for a local animal rescue. It’s all about picking what is right for your organization, and what your organization can handle. Here are the top four event types (in no particular order):

1. Auctions
Silent and live auctions are one of the most common forms of special events. Nonprofit organizations secure donated items from businesses and individual donors and auction them off at a silent or live auction, or in an online auction. These are usually held in conjunction with a dinner or gala. Online auctions can help reduce the overhead of an event and increase dollars raised because they often have longer windows for bidding. To see a great example of an event that uses both silent and live auctions, see the Seattle Humane Society’s Tuxes and Tails, which raises over $400,000 every year.

2. Athletic Events
Athletic events include runs, walks, triathlons, bowl-a-thons, golf tournaments, and usually involve the participants raising a minimum amount of money to participate. These highly successful events include the Breast Cancer 3 Day and Relay for Life, which raise millions of dollars each year.

3. Gambling Events
Gambling events can include raffles and casino nights. Raffles raise money through selling raffle tickets for the chance to win a particular prize. Casino nights include all sorts of casino games including slot machines, black jack, and texas hold ’em. Raffles can be a lucrative fundraiser because they have a low cost and can raise a lot. Casino nights can be popular events and raise a lot of money as well. Legal restrictions around gambling vary state by state. Make sure to check your local laws before holding a gambling-related event.

4. Dinners/Galas
Dinners and galas are another popular choice for special events. They don’t have to be a “dinner”, they can be an event with appetizers, breakfast or lunch. The menu can include anything from filet mignon to hot dogs and cotton candy. The key to having a successful dinner or gala is to have a good program, it can include having a themed event (costume party or murder mystery party), having a musical or theatrical performance, speaker, fashion show or dance. These often also include another component to increase revenue, like a silent auction or a raffle.

Even with their low return-on-investment, special events are still a great fundraising tactic. As long as your organization use the event to not only raise money, but bring past, present, and new volunteers, donors and constituents into the organization they can be highly successful.

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