Money for the Cause: A Complete Guide to Event Fundraising

Money for the Cause: A Complete Guide to Event Fundraising

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There has never been a greater need for raising the funds necessary to promote the causes that will help build a sustainable future. In Money for the Cause: A Complete Guide to Event Fundraising, veteran nonprofit executive director Rudolph A. Rosen lays out field-tested approaches that have been among those that helped him and the teams of volunteers and professionals he has worked with raise more than $3 billion for environmental conservation. As Rosen explains, fundraising events can range from elite, black-tie affairs in large cities to basement banquets and backyard barbeques in small-town America. Money for the Cause runs the gamut, demonstrating methods adaptable to most situations and illustrating both basic and advanced techniques that can be duplicated by everyone from novice volunteers to experienced event planners.
Each chapter begins with a pertinent, real-life anecdote and focuses on major areas of event fundraising: business plans and budgets, raffles and auctions, tax and liability matters, contract negotiation, games and prizes, site selection, food service, entertainment, publicity, mission promotion, food and drink service, and effective team building and use of volunteers. The author applies each topic to the widest possible range of events, providing practical detail and giving multiple examples to cover the differences in types of organizations and their fundraising activities. Whatever the funding objective may be, Money for the Cause: A Complete Guide to Event Fundraising is both a textbook and a practical reference that will be indispensable to anyone involved in mission-driven organizations, whether as a volunteer, a professional, a student, or an educator.

To learn more about The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, sponsors of this book's series, please click here.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781603447522
Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
Publication date: 09/10/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 296
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

RUDOLPH A. ROSEN is a professor at The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University, where he also directs the Conservation Leadership Initiative, focusing on teaching and research on nonprofit conservation institutions. Rosen has previously served in executive and leadership positions for National Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Safari Club International and its foundation, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Read an Excerpt

Money for the Cause

A Complete Guide to Event Fundraising

By Rudolph A. Rosen

Texas A&M University Press

Copyright © 2012 Rudolph A. Rosen
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60344-752-2



Standing near the former president of the United States was a tall, handsome African dressed in a blaze of traditional Maasai red. Barely 20 years old, the young man was the son of a chief and in time would become a chief in his African homeland. But he was not with the former president because of politics or tribal status. He was a student whose education was being funded at a leading university in South Africa by members of the audience. He was among the "motivational elements" assembled at this international nonprofit organization's premier fundraising event where more than 15,000 members had assembled for four days of fun and fundraising.

At one of the event's several formal dinners, to be followed by a major auction, members heard the young African speak of his dedication to the cause of wildlife conservation. They listened intently as he told of his commitment to take what he had learned from members of the organization during his visit and go back to his country to use his new knowledge as a leader. The members were enthusiastic and renewed their commitment to fund education of young Africans at African universities.

Later the former president spoke, introduced by a celebrated former general of the US Army. This was yet another of many attractions driving $8 million in revenue orchestrated by the host organization over the four-day event. The people who came gave. Many received something of value in return by bidding at the auction and playing raffles, while others simply gave to the cause. When they returned home, many members worked to hold their own local fundraisers. They duplicated the banquet/auction/show format at events in their own communities. They raised money and funded favorite causes locally, as well as helped fund the international organization's conservation, humanitarian, and education work in the United States and throughout the world.

* * *

TIME AND AGAIN, a simple fundraising formula is duplicated. Each time it will be a success when done right. It will work in good financial times and bad. Money for a cause will be raised. Fundraising events range from elite affairs in large cities, where black tie and gown definitely are not optional, to the "meat and potatoes" banquet auctions and backyard barbecue fundraising events held in thousands of small towns in rural America. This book covers them all, describing methods adaptable to any situation and illustrating basic through advanced techniques that both novice and veteran event planners can duplicate to raise net revenue to fund important mission-related work of nonprofit organizations, large and small.

Let's Get Started

This book is primarily about fundraising through events that include auctions, raffles, games of skill and chance, food and drink, photo opportunities, merchandise sales, exhibits, tours, and entertainment as the main attractions and key sources of net revenue. All these activities can be part of a successful fundraising event. The examples, theories, and techniques described apply to virtually any fundraising event where attendees are offered opportunities to contribute to a cause, but not everything in the book will apply to all events. Choosing which to use in a given situation is discussed at length, because the mix of fundraising activities—for example, many or few, low dollar or high—determines ultimate net revenue raised for an organization's basic operations and mission work. In this book I explain how using a major event as a centerpiece for fundraising can allow first-time event planners to succeed and experienced event planners to multiply their best efforts of the past. I will also reveal tricks and trappings of planning and holding financially successful events.

An organization need not hold an event to successfully raise money, but this book will explain how to use an event as the centerpiece of an annual repertoire of fundraising that will produce high net revenue. Volunteers and staff of nonprofit organizations can deliver spectacular results for a worthy cause in good economic times, and generous results in times of economic downturn, by hosting a well-organized, well-run event.

Does $8.3 million raised at one event sound possible? This is the amount raised during an annual four-day event for which I was responsible as executive director of a nonprofit organization. But this event was much more than just an auction or a grand banquet. It was a series of auctions, raffles, exhibitions, educational seminars, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner extravaganzas followed by even more spectacular auctions. Another organization I helped manage held nearly 5,000 auction-raffle events each year. The events were successful because they followed a tested formula that involved making fundraising and event management decisions based on objective criteria, business planning, close attention to expenses, and teamwork.

Many readers may find greatest value in this book's description of actual fundraising techniques, but the fundraising event is an elaborate affair where everything attendees see, hear, smell, and do once they enter the event site affects the outcome of giving, and thus net revenue, to the host organization. Therefore, this book covers all aspects of the fundraising event, along with several advanced techniques to further enhance fundraising.

What I see most often at fundraisers are highly competent staff and volunteers incompetently running fundraising events. Anyone can act incompetently if he or she doesn't have the knowledge, experience, or training to act otherwise. This book provides a comprehensive base of knowledge to those very competent, dedicated people who are passionate about a cause and willing to spend their time and energy raising money to achieve a goal that will benefit society. Given all the time, talent, and energy that go into event fundraising each year, isn't it about time to channel this time, talent, and energy most effectively and efficiently?

Fundraising Is Not for the Faint of Heart

I explain fundraising events by focusing on an auction-event format and its many variants, addons, and extremes. Groups of all descriptions and economic status use this form of fundraising. It can offer huge net revenue, but due to significant costs of staging an event, the host can assume considerable financial risk. A $100,000 fundraising event is a total failure if it raises $100,000 but costs $100,000 to hold. Whether an event raises $100, $100,000, or $1 million, only net revenue (revenue earned after all expenses are paid) counts toward funding an organization's mission. This book focuses the reader's attention on event planning and management techniques that raise net revenue and truly fund organizations and their missions.

Money raised goes to every imaginable charitable cause, drawing people from every walk of life and belief. Events range from formal black tie to casual. Locations vary from the fanciest hotels to public park ramadas. Rooms range from chandeliered ballrooms to rescue mission basements. Food varies from five-course international gourmet excursions with sherbet to cleanse the palate, to just plain meat, potatoes, and a slice of bread with butter.

All the information in the book is relevant to fundraising events, but not all information is relevant to all events. Covering the widest range of events, providing considerable detail, and giving multiple examples to cover differences in types of organizations and events are intentional objectives of this book. Readers will need to pick and choose the information that is most relevant to their own organizations and event planning goals. Readers can dive deep into details or gloss over them as suits their needs. The principles, practices, and tricks to staging net-revenue-producing events are the same, regardless of event size. The scale of events may differ; the financial risk may vary; the number of bells, whistles, and add-ons may be more or less; but best practices are what they are.

Good planning, sound financial management, use of well-instructed team-oriented volunteers, techniques to acquire donations, and so on all remain similar if not identical regardless of event size or the host's fundraising objectives. Using sound techniques provides a ready pathway to success. There is no difference between a big or small event when it comes to the things that matter most in achieving peak performance or creating a financial disaster. Key to event planning is determining what an event should focus on based on attributes of the organization's membership, mission, and expected attendees. Deciding which fundraising activities to exclude is just as important as which to include. This book provides guidance on doing just that.

Planners' biggest challenge may be resisting the temptation to overcomplicate the planning process: there is no need for elaborate solutions in event planning where simple ones will do. The intensive planning and analysis exercises described in this book will help in designing the perfect small "members-only" event, but the depth of coverage of all the minute aspects of hosting an effective high-net-revenue event provides equal value to planners working to host large events where attendees' interests, willingness to spend, and other information relevant to event planning is not well known. Such events may carry the greatest risk to an organization, but well planned and managed, these same events may offer the highest potential net revenue.

Any one nonprofit organization is different from any other. Differences are reflected by the desires and interests of the members, dedication to different causes, and different economic situations of members. Event fundraising must take into account the host organization's members' interests, expectations, needs, wants, and financial capacity to contribute to the organization. The event planner must tailor the event to the audience. In describing fundraising, I account for this diversity by using many examples and suggestions.

What will work for one group may not work for another. Although this may seem obvious, examples of mismatched fundraising are not hard to find. These are the events where a group expecting caviar is offered mini-dogs on a stick, and where a group expecting red-hot barbecue finds salty fish eggs on water crackers. But it's not just the food that tips the scale. It is in every aspect of event planning where careful tailoring of the event to the donors' expectations, lifestyle, and capacity to contribute is vital to success. Even entertainment is important. So choose carefully. A string quartet playing classical music will simply not do, no matter how accomplished the musicians, when the crowd wants country. One kind of music is not better or worse than another, only different.

Successful fundraising requires exceeding the expectations of potential contributors in all respects. Site, time of day, day of year, food, entertainment, raffle prizes, ticket prices, drink service, access, auction items, public exposure, and on and on—all are more or less important, but any one item can become critically important if ignored or mishandled, with the criteria for ultimate judgment solely in the hands of the event attendee. Sometimes less is more when seeking to enhance net revenue. Remember that all activities, add-ons, entertainment, extra food items, decorations, and much more carry added costs. Some carry revenue potential, such as fundraising activities, while others are pure costs. Even when items are contributed, for example, a member donates decorations, there is a cost to someone that might result in forgone revenue to the organization in the long run, because that someone may have just as readily donated the equivalent value in cash to the organization.

It's a Real Circus in There!

A good analogy to a well-run auction event is a well-run circus. There is something for everyone, and the goal is for everyone to have fun. Something is always going on to see or do. The circus has its center ring and the main event. The gala auction event has its auction, always held on center stage. The event's main attraction is the live auction.

An effective auction unfolds like a stage play, with a cast of actors and an audience. Auctioneers, spotters, runners, and models work together to present exciting visual imagery of the auction items. Just as high-flying circus performers dazzle from above while clowns below involve the audience, auction players tantalize bidders with descriptions and testimonials from the stage while players on the event floor directly engage bidders. The actors in this stage play involve the bidders and onlookers in an intense drama of rapid-fire bidding and entertaining competition. Side conversations are held with bidders and then repeated for all to hear. Models carry wearable fashion items or jewelry to bidders to "try on." A rideable "green" electric lawn mower zooms between tables as bidders vie with each other to win it. A big motorcycle onstage is started with a roar. Bidders are pitted against each other, but always in a fun way. It is a grand play, in motion and in the round, because everyone, literally everyone, becomes part of the play.

Around the center ring of a circus are side acts. At the event the side acts are fundraising opportunities, such as bucket raffles and silent auctions under way when the center ring is silent. The circus midway has an arcade with its games and exhibits. So does a full-feature fundraising event have its own brand of arcade games of skill and chance. People who go to a circus are enticed to spend a little here, play a game there, take a chance at three-for-a-dollar, and so on. A well-run event has workers who know how to entice attendees to spend as they duplicate the circus barker's call to play. The circus has its other attractions, many of which are free and add to the excitement. Food of various descriptions and things to buy are available.

The circus sounds like a friendly, fun place, and it can be, but don't be fooled. Everything about the circus is geared to enticing the person who enters the gate to part with his or her money. Even "free" attractions are mere enticements to draw the crowd into paid attractions. So it is with the event fundraiser. Silent and live auctions, raffle boards, bucket raffles, games, and merchandise sales booths are all there for one reason only: to entice attendees to part with their money.

An event may be hosted by a charitable organization, but the event itself is not charity. The event is fundraising! The work of event planners needs to be geared to enticing people to come who have money to spend, offering attendees a dazzling array of opportunities to spend money, and convincing them that spending money is exactly what they should do. That's what a fundraiser is all about. Doing event fundraising right is what this book is all about.


Why Hold an Event?

I had just completed a strategic planning process involving board members and staff, and the president had finished studying the strategic plan. He was not one to read a lot or put up with much process. He usually knew what he wanted and was known for getting things done, regardless of what might stand in the way. The plan included a series of goals, objectives, and actions to turn the organization around. Turnaround was among reasons I was hired. Problems left unsolved, lack of professional management of personnel, legal action against the organization, underperforming fundraising, bickering among staff and volunteers, and worse plagued the organization. The plan dealt with these problems.

So I asked the president, "Where do you want to start?"

He replied, "We need to do them all."

I agreed and added, "We can't do them all at once, there is too much to do, and some things need to be done before we can start others."

He was insistent. "All are important; we need to do them all and do them all now."

He was right. So was I. All needed to be done. But we could not do them all at once. Some had to be done first, or at least done fast. Otherwise, the organization would further decline. My challenge was to initiate and complete the actions that were most critical to enabling the organization to ultimately complete all the actions, because the president was absolutely right. All were important, and all needed to be done. My choice was obvious, and it involved a decision-making process I had used in previous turnaround work. My approach was to solve the problem that needed to be solved first. It may not have been the easiest or hardest to solve, but after its solution, it became possible to solve the next most troubling problem.


Excerpted from Money for the Cause by Rudolph A. Rosen. Copyright © 2012 Rudolph A. Rosen. Excerpted by permission of Texas A&M University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1. Introduction,
2. Why Hold an Event?,
3. The Secret to Successful Event Fundraising in Good Times and Bad,
4. Organizing for Success,
PART 1 Learning the Basics,
5. Event Business Plan,
6. Programs, Policies, and Procedures,
7. Negotiating Agreements with Service Providers,
PART 2 Creating the Perfect Setting,
8. Site Selection, Rooms, and Setup,
9. Food Service,
10. Entertainment and the Master of Ceremonies,
11. The Mission and Strategic Speech Making,
12. Publicity,
13. Donation Acquisition,
PART 3 Conducting the Fundraising,
14. Tickets and Other Advance "Sales",
15. The Live Auction,
16. The Silent Auction,
17. Raffles and Other Moneymakers,
18. Putting It All Together,
19. The Big Event,
PART 4 Applying the Rules and Covering All the Angles,
20. Laws, Risks, and Liabilities,
21. Tax Matters,
22. Ethics and Security,
PART 5 Honing to a Fine Edge,
23. After the Event,
24. Advanced Techniques,
25. Where to Go from Here,

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