5 Simple Event Makeover Strategies

Photo by Fuller Landau Montreal

I am SO EXCITED for us to be hosting a guest post by Shanon Doolittle. She is an event fundraising and donor engagement strategist in Seattle, Washington that has rocked my socks off! She knows event fundraising, she understands nonprofits, and has an incredibly fun personality. Follow her on Twitter and enjoy her post below!


Every January, the same three things happen: I avoid taking down my holiday decorations, I can’t find a parking space at the gym, and I buy new bath towels at a January White Sale.

Actually, four things. I also flip through a half-dozen home magazines and decide which room in the house gets my annual one-and-done makeover.

But my hankering for instant re-dos doesn’t stop there. At work, I also choose one fundraising event to get a mini makeover. Because, let’s face it, a stale event doesn’t “wow” anyone, especially a donor ready to give.

For many nonprofits, hitting refresh on an annual event is often not the priority. There are major giving strategies to consider and annual giving efforts to tweak. But the most successful events are the ones that reinvent themselves year after year to keep donors excited and engaged.

So it’s important to spend a little time updating event strategies too.

What types of changes? So glad you asked. Here are five simple strategies to get you thinking:

1.) Be generous with your gratitude, especially to your corporate sponsors.

Without them, your event is generally over before it begins. In addition to thanking them post-event, have a pre-event thanking strategy in place. A perfect opportunity to do just that is coming up on February 27—International Corporate Philanthropy Day. Send your sponsors a special stewardship note (or meaningful gift) thanking them for supporting your event. The more you thank, the better your chance of renewed support.

2.) Study your data.

At your last event, how many attendees were returning guests? What category sold best at your auction? What did the survey results tell you? Use that information to create an event experience catered to those interests. Because an interested and engaged donor is more likely to answer your call to spend or give during your event.

3.) Focus on the save the date.

The party starts in the mailbox, so spend some quality time on the piece that makes the first impression. A postcard with the date? Yawn. Be creative and send a save-the-date that screams, “You do not want to miss this event!” The same goes for electronic communications. Same old, same old will not drive greater event attendance.

4.) Trim the speaker fat.

Yes, your guests are there to learn and support the cause but nothing depresses event fundraising faster than an oversized lineup of talking heads. Events are meant to be social, so give your guests time to say hi to old friends and make a few new ones. What’s the telltale sign this might be a problem for your nonprofit? Your guests often leave before the ask. If your event guests are having fun, they’ll stay. And if they stay, they’ll give. So seriously, don’t speaker them to death.

5.) Get real with your event committees.

Yes, volunteers are amazing and committees are a great engagement and donor development tool. However, ask for what you need. Will the color of your centerpieces really impact your fundraising total? No. But a group of volunteers committed to filling your room will. And the added bonus of managing less committees? More time you can spend wooing sponsors and soliciting pre-event gifts.

As with any successful makeover, don’t throw out what’s already working. Instead focus on a few small changes that will make the greatest impact.

Have you successfully made over one of your fundraising events? What is the one strategy you would recommend?

Happy sharing!