chapter 17 Special Events

The Landmark Theater chain has a wonderful tagline: “Film: the Universal Language.” The same can be said of special events. I have now taught fundraising in all fifty United States, many provinces in Canada, and in twenty-two other countries. The most common strategy anywhere is the special event. I imagine that the first cave person who looked around and said, “We need a place for the children to be able to play without worrying about saber tooth tigers” was met with the suggestion: “Let’s have a barbecue fundraiser.” In this chapter we will look at when to use events and how to organize them.

First, a definition: special events are social gatherings of many sorts that expand the reputation of the organization; give those attending an amusing, interesting, or moving time; and possibly make money for the organization sponsoring the event. The variations among special events are practically limitless, as are the possibilities for money earned or lost, amount of work put in, number of people participating, and so on. Because of their variety and flexibility, special events are excellent strategies for acquiring, retaining, or upgrading donors, and organizations that are serious about building a broad base of individual donors need to have at least one or two special events every year.

Events are often misunderstood and misused. Organizations hope that they will raise lots of money, and are disappointed when they don’t. Some organizations lurch from event ...

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