Tagged: events

The Long Tail of Events

Spirited presentation this morning at the Ct Philanthropy Day Conference, around the translational opportunities with Events. It just takes a new perspective, for everyone, to make what has become a drudgery of futile transactional activities (events) into an amazing value added Long Tail translational opportunity!

Let me tell you what I mean by Long Tail. Webster defines Long Tail as:

A frequency distribution pattern in which occurences are most densely clustered close to the Y-axis and the distribution curve tapers along the X-axis. The long tail refers to the low-frequency population displayed in the right-hand portion of the graph, represented by a gradually sloping distribution curve that becomes asymptotic to the x-axis. In most applications, the number of events in the tail is greater than the number of events in the high frequency area, simply because the tail is long.

Did I lose you yet?!?

What it’s saying simply is the value of what is at the head (left) of a graph is not equal to and is less than the value of what exists collectively within the long line to the right. Here’s what that looks like:

Long Tail Graphic

Long Tail Graphic

In our theory on the Long Tail of Events, that equates to the Event itself being the head and the value from that event being greater than the event, that’s the tail.

Got it?

Measuring the value of our events is a long term view- we don’t measure the value of our acquisition appeal against that single appeal. If we did, we would determine that our ROI was a negative and we would stop. We measure the value of our acquisition appeal against a long term view that includes the cost benefit of collecting new prospects in our major gift pipeline and the cash value of those major prospects over time. Similarly we don’t measure the value of grant writing against a single grant submitted. Losing proposition financially. Instead we measure the value of grant writing against a long term aggregate of return on investment.

Then why do we allow our organizations to continue to measure the value of an event against itself as a single activity?

To expect your event to have a long-term financial value to your philanthropy requires a different perspective on event planning. It changes the way you think about and plan objectives for your events. It turns your inviting process on its head, giving a you a laser focus on attendees, and it places your board central to the development of this Long Tail. It demands data driven strategy on donor engagement and a commitment to numbers and dates as deadlines.

It can be done.

We’ll be developing a webinar on the Long Tail of Events in the coming months. We’ll show you what we mean and I guarantee you’ll walk away wanting to chase the Long Tail.

 

The revolution in ‘fundraising’ EVENTS – how not to raise money

Nonprofit fundraising has become known to the common masses for its ‘fundraising’ events and its sale activities. Talk to any layperson about being in ‘fundraising’ and they respond “Oh, you must be good at planning events!” or “I was never good at selling cookies”.

Events are commonly misunderstood. Possibly the misunderstanding comes from the saturation affect: the daily arrival of invites, ads and press releases on what black tie gala, or hayride and cookout is being hosted for which group, how much they raised or plan to raise, and who attended. The misunderstanding is that events are hosted to raise funds.

Too often the reality is, the money raised is minimal compared to the expense, the attendees learn little about the organization as beneficiary, and the event is seen as a burden on the supporter- an obligation that must be born to show support and that most donors would just as happily support the nonprofit in other ways, ways more lucrative and efficient to the nonprofits mission.

Disagree? See, as evidence, the recent results of the cancellation of such ‘fundraising’ events due to economic stress. One nonprofit board member, Nancy Jarecki, speaking in an article in the Nonprofit Times, observes “It’s kind of strange, when people are almost not required or obligated to get that event invitation in the mail, that expectation that they feel like they’ve got to do it, they still write the check,” Jarecki said. “They tended to still give, but on their own. They didn’t have the pressure of buying a $1,000 ticket”

In the same article, Carol Kurzig executive Director of the Avon Foundation notes “In general, in our experience, individual donations are holding very well and have increased significantly this year”

And in a study conducted in 2007, the nonprofit watchdog group, Charity Navigator concluded “…special events are inefficient in comparison to overall fundraising activities” and “Many health charities would benefit from shifting their fundraising focus away from special events.” Most disturbingly, the report went on to discover “A large percent of charities are reporting their special events data incorrectly, with no recourse from state or federal regulators.” But that’s a topic for another post, I digress.

So, the question then becomes- Why? Why are nonprofit leaders across the nation continuing to perpetrate this crime on the donating public? Why do they continue to reel head long onto the path of wasted money and large headaches in pursuit of raising funds, if the results are poor return on investment, bad donor feelings and a weak economic model in a stressful economy?

1. Perception

Unlike our corporate sisters, nonprofits have been indoctrinated into believing that they must perform to the expectation of the masses, allowing the public to lead the development and performance of the NPO, rather than driving performance and perception from their core product line. Public opinion sways management more than outcomes when it comes to fundraising. Maybe it’s because many fundraisers come from the service delivery field, where public need and opinion rightly DOES drive program. Maybe it’s because our Board of Directors often do not have sufficient experience in philanthropy to be governing such decisions. Maybe we just don’t know how to stop.

2. It’s easy

Okay, hosting events is not really easy. They’re a heck of a lot of work- volunteer coordination, set up, break down, mailings, registration tracking, and more mailings. And all of those decisions. Hours and hours of time and resources, for months on end, to produce a three hour event. But what makes them easy and attractive is the group nature of the solicitation. No one is on the end of the limb. No one is in the spotlight asking for the gift. The ‘ask’ is not from a philanthropic place, it’s from a sales place. And a sale is an academic activity, it’s understandable, it’s American. I give you this, you give me that. It seems fair. But compared to cultivating and building a relationship with a real person – mano a mano – to ask them for money, well bring on the flower choices and dinner menus. Let’s have a party.

3. It draws daily attention

Show me the society page that has picture upon picture of Mrs. Jenna Moneybags and the Executive Director of the We Need Your Help nonprofit organization with the head line “Years of Cultivation and Stewardship Pays Off: Large ask gifts WNYH organization with $100,000 for their children’s ward.” Valuable philanthropy just doesn’t get that kind of everyday publicity or pictures and smiles. It doesn’t market.

4. It feels good

Volunteers want to help. Planning events gives them something to do.

All of which, while being valid and understandable, still doesn’t answer the question why do we continue.

I propose we place a moratorium on all new ‘fundraising’ events, all expansion of  ‘fundraising’ events, or even, the continuation of dying ‘fundraising’ events. The economy seems to be helping us do just that.

I next propose we educate our boards in a way that helps them become more effective in governing philanthropic decision. Let’s start with the wasteful nature of events as fundraisers.

In tandem, we need to provide academic educational opportunities and tracks of learning and growth for fundraising professionals. More academics on developing relationships, cultivating constituents, stewarding donors and less of the ‘how to host an event’ training is needed. And it needs to be qualified in a tiered way that allows the development of professionals along lines of experience, from entry level to experienced professional.

Finally, let’s develop a mental picture of what events can actually do for us: engage volunteers, bring awareness, and satisfy public perception. But they don’t raise money and so therefore are not ‘Fund Raisers’. If we build our events using these three core beliefs, I reason that waste will be reduced, donor market share will increase and philanthropic profits will rise.