The Main Event: Looking Back, Planning Ahead
The past two years have presented unprecedented challenges for nonprofits as various traditional revenue streams have been negatively impacted, creating a greater need for innovative fundraising models. With many organizations reliant on events-based revenue, the inability to host in-person events, coupled with the rapid onset of virtual event fatigue, have led to many organizations re-strategizing how to engage — and retain — the support of their members, donors, and communities. In-person events did eventually resume again in Q1/Q2 of 2021, and often featured a hybrid component, aimed to broaden the reach of an organization and its mission. This approach proved successful for groups that had clear fundraising strategies and strong leadership structures in place. However, most recently with the onset of the Covid-19 Omicron variant, many events were once again postponed or canceled towards the end of last year. Nevertheless, change yields opportunities to adapt tried and true fundraising methods, and to engage donors in new and exciting ways.
The newly charted event landscape that began to take shape in 2021 continues into 2022. Hybrid events, more intimate receptions, and outdoor gatherings are trending — and the need for sound, actionable fundraising strategies and leadership structures has never been more important. For example, prior to the pandemic, one of Orr Group’s partners, Cornerstones, held galas hosting 800+ attendees and an extensive in-person program. In the fall of 2021, they pivoted their model and successfully executed an intimate, smaller in-person celebration with indoor and outdoor components, which featured multiple watch parties with a live stream to the main program and offered a shared sense of community among their guests and sponsors. Thoughtful planning combined with an all-star and highly effective fundraising committee resulted in record-breaking funds raised for the organization, all while driving home the importance of community.
This year, 50% of our partners have already decided on going back to fully in-person events; 20% are opting for hybrid approaches; and 10% are moving forward with virtual-only events. The remaining organizations we partner with are still considering their options. While many organizations might plan for a hybrid event to ensure a measure of continuity, it is imperative that they keep in mind that successful hybrid events may require more time and talent from their staff, as well as potentially higher costs for technology and unique VIP experiences. Organizations that have a loyal donor pool and well-known mission may not need to consider returning to in-person events, or hybrid events, and can stay with the lower-cost and higher-reward virtual event model.
In thinking about your event plans this year, the most important questions to ask are what kind of organization is yours and how do you measure event success? Do your guest list, board and face-to-face networking opportunities with your host committee or honorees drive donor engagement (and, therefore, revenue)? Is your sponsor and committee pipeline loyal and dependable enough that you can host a virtual event (potentially even asynchronously) and still reach your goals? Are you motivated to broaden your reach and tell your story to a larger audience, regardless of event back drop? Your answers may have waivered over the past few years, and that’s understandable. It is important to continue to re-evaluate and think critically about what is best for your organization and constituents, especially considering likely and unpredictable disruptions. An organization needs to recognize where it stands within the community and adjust its fundraising goals and event plans to maximize this important moment. If we’ve learned anything the last two years, it’s to plan for the unexpected!
At Orr Group, we believe that a well-organized and effectively marketed event can not only raise critical dollars to advance the goals and mission of any organization, but it can strengthen an organization’s reputation more broadly. While planning and production may continue to look different than in years past, the importance of a strong underlying fundraising strategy that guides an event has never been more critical. To support and achieve your revenue goals, we recommend the concept development, committee recruitment, and honoree selection processes begin at least 9-12 months in advance of your event. And, regardless of the climate and format of the event (or whatever the work might be) — from securing the venue, to managing talent and working to stay on budget — our team of expert event fundraisers and seasoned nonprofit professionals are committed to executing effective fundraising strategies that ensure safe, engaging, and financially successful events. Just let us know when you’re ready.
About the authors
Patricia Gill, Senior Director, brings 13+ years of nonprofit and hospitality experience, with a proven track record in event fundraising, planning, and execution. Since joining the Orr Group team in 2019, Patricia has produced and executed over six major fundraising events, including three virtual events over the past year alone. Prior to joining Orr Group, Patricia served as the Director of Special Events and Corporate Development at Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic, as well as Director of Events and Catering at Wink Hotel DC, the Westin Maui Resort & Spa, the Park Hyatt Washington, and the W Hotel in Washington DC, where her planning portfolio extended from galas, corporate retreats and multi-day conferences to embassy dinners, political events, award shows, and weddings.
Adam Glick, Director, brings extensive nonprofit experience to help develop and execute innovative fundraising strategies to achieve organizations’ goals, from securing major individual gifts to increasing institutional, corporate, and campaign-specific support. He has served in leadership roles at several nonprofit organizations, focusing on strategy, fundraising, programming, and capital campaign management. In addition to his nonprofit career, Adam has lectured on the impacts and challenges of realizing and funding public projects at the Stern School of Business and Steinhardt School of Education (NYU), the Hite Art Institute (University of Louisville), and elsewhere. He has also participated in numerous panel discussions and symposia, and his work has been featured in publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Robb Report, and the New York Observer, among others.