The Playgoer: "Special" Events

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Special" Events

Arts institutions who assume they need bloated development departments that plan more events than the mainstage may want to check out arts-management blogger Andrew Taylor and the report he's found on "special events." Money quote from the report:

On average, the charities we studied spent $1.33 to raise $1 in special events contributions, compared to an average overall fundraising rate of $.13 to raise $1. Only 15% of the charities that held special events were more efficient when using special events to fundraise than they were in their regular fundraising activities on the whole.
Adds Taylor:

To make matters worse, the reported costs used in the study (from IRS tax documents) don't include the person-hours, board time, volunteer effort, and staff distraction that such events require -- suggesting the true cost of each dollar raised is much, much higher.

Of course that won't stop jaw-droppers like this.

(As for those raffle prizes, are they sure they want to prompt the question: what does American Idol and New York Theatre Workshop have in common?)


Erik said...

A couple thoughts:

Spending $1.33 to raise $1 is very very bad, unless an event is in its first year (although the goal should be to break-even in those cases).

But the comparison to the overall fundraising rate of $.13/$1 is a little misleading.

A good special event should cost you between $.25 and $.33 per dollar raised. Yes, overall giving rates should be close to the figure quoted, but special events have the advantage of pulling people in to a "donor cycle" and can be a bit more costly.

At its best, a theater-goer would go to a fundraising event for the entertainment, let's say, with the added bonus they are supporting the theater. From there they feel good about givign support, and they might sign up for the (far more cost effective) annual fund solicitations, maybe from there give to a capital campaign or leave the theater in their will. The best use of a fundraiser is finding people to start on the pipeline.

At its worst, development departments let their special events take over, forgetting that the point of a special event is to move donors on to other kinds of giving and focusing solely on throwing a wild party. And then the work suffers.

What arts groups frequently forget is that good programming makes peopel want to bend over backward to give to you. Schedule good programming and the money will hopefully follow. Be creative and daring and spontaneous and people will feel excited about coming and want to give.

The tragic mistake is in the asking without the programming worth support.

Anonymous said...

"good programming makes peopel want to bend over backward" - this is a good point, Eric, and I think one that could go deeper, because it might imply that we employ bad programming on purpose and just need to see the light. Maybe what is "good programming" to some peopel is not to others. Some folks like "daring and spontaneous" and others find it disconnected and amatuer. I'm hoping that if I can realize the work I'm passionate about, then it's just all about finding enough folks who get off on it, too. Now, that's just a life-long task!