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ICON Teaser: Successful Special Events Strategies

Resource Center - Foundation

While Shiree Skinner realizes that special events are not for every organization, there are specific steps and strategies that even the smallest nonprofit can implement to increase funds raised through special events. As the director of special events with Easter Seals Serving Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., Skinner knows the key to increasing participation and revenue. In her session at the 2014 AFP International Conference on Fundraising in San Antonio, Skinner will leave participants with a check-list to guide them through their next special event, including ten specific strategies covering planning, day-of execution and post-event tasks. Here she shares a piece of that list with Strategy 3—how to build the strongest committee possible for a successful event.

Strategy 3 is an essential part of building a successful event—it is the core of your event. Without a strong committee to plan, implement and wrap-up the event, you are left with an unorganized and likely unsuccessful effort. Start at the beginning by compiling a rockstar event committee, and the rest of the planning will unfold much easier. 

Where to start? Recruit from your network. Start with your board and have them as the nucleus of the committee. Charge them with recruiting others within their networks. Next, approach current donors and even reach out to event attendees. Don’t be afraid to create a wish-list of your dream committee, including executives you’d love to work with—then reach out, make the connection and make that dream come true. What do you have to lose? And keep dreaming—continue to build on the committee and elevate the expectations year after year.

As you recruit members for your committee, set specific goals and be clear about them upfront. Without clear goals the committee members will not know what's expected of them. Give them the expectations in writing—it's easy to create a one-sheet flyer on event or organizational letterhead with a few bullets outlining the expectations. Make sure to include a give/get fundraising goal, list of duties, meeting attendance expectations and anything else you may ask of them. It may seem menial but having the committee members agree to your expectations and terms up front will ensure a strong and committed team.

Keeping Your Committee “On Board” 

Keeping the committee focused and engaged throughout the planning process is extremely important. To do so, send out a weekly update—it’s a simple way to show fundraising progress as well as other activity. Use a thermometer. I know it sounds old-school and corny but the visual works well. The weekly update is also a great way to keep the committee informed about their activity in comparison to the rest of the committee.

A little friendly competition will serve as a motivator. The updates can often create an "uh oh" moment—if a committee member knows that every Friday everyone will see the update it can motivate them to do their outreach, even if it's the day before or immediately after the update is sent out. Include a committee tally and rank them based on the expectations. It is not a good feeling to have a zero next to your name, especially knowing that others on the committee will see that.  For those members who are actually fundraising, the tally can create friendly competitive rivalries.

It is important to hold committee members accountable, and equally as important not to have favorites based on their status in the sector or with your organization. Don't treat board members who are serving on the committee any differently than you would treat a non-board member. If a committee member does not meet the expectations, do not invite them back to the committee the following year—no matter who they are. You don’t want to give a slot to a member who won’t keep up their end of the bargain, especially when you know there are people who would love to be on the committee and will stay engaged through the entire process.

Involve your organizational and event leadership in setting and portraying the expectations to the committee. You don't want service on your committee to be taken lightly. Don’t just assess the participation of committee members at the beginning or end of the event campaign but also at appropriate points during the event campaign. If you are having an issue, start by having the organizational or event leadership speak to any lax committee members to get them reignited and engaged.

Lastly, once you have your power committee, make sure they are EMPOWERED with the right tools to create and implement this successful event, and be able to live up to your expectations. Give them the background and story surrounding the event—these are the tools they’ll need to raise the money—and create their talking points, materials and other resources. Remind your committee members that you are not hosting the event just for the fun of it. It’s all about serving those in need. Use the event’s story to keep your committee motivated and make sure to include a mission moment at each meeting. Reflect on why you’re all there, and then get out there and host one of the best special events yet!

This is just one of TEN strategies that you will learn in Shiree Skinner’s session at the 2014 AFP International Conference on Fundraising on March 23. Join Shiree in San Antonio to create the checklist you’ll live by when planning your next special event. If you’re unable to join us in San Antonio, you will have the chance to hear the session via conference recording—available for purchase soon! 

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