In the conversations I've been having with participants from our recent Online Fundraising Events Bootcamp, I've been noticing a common mistake that’s being made as we work through event ideas and all the pieces that go into it. In this podcast, I'll explain what the mistake I'm seeing is and how to keep it from happening, as well as share stories from these consulting sessions that will help give you ideas on how you might adjust your perspective for your nonprofit in order to avoid making this mistake.

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Hosted By
Monica Maye Pitts
Monica Maye Pitts Chief Creative Officer

Don’t Make this Mistake in Your Marketing or Fundraising Events

After our online fundraising bootcamp, we reached out and contacted our participants and asked if they’d like to have a free 30-minute consulting session. 

I did this for a couple reasons: first, I wanted to hear what they have to say and help them plan their events. This really helps me as an audio person — hearing what they're facing helps me better understand how I can help nonprofits market themselves. And second, it’s like when you’ve had your fundraising event and then you reach out and follow up with your donors to say thank you. These individuals are kind of like my donors, right? They're part of my audience, and I serve them and help them. To that end, understanding what they have to say and what they're facing helps me serve more people. 

In these conversations, I've been noticing a common mistake that’s being made as we work through event ideas and all the pieces that go into it. In this podcast, I'll explain what the mistake I'm seeing is and how to keep it from happening, as well as share stories from these consulting sessions that will help give you ideas on how you might adjust your perspective for your nonprofit in order to avoid making this mistake. 

Just to be clear, nonprofits are not the only people who make this mistake —  business owners are constantly making this mistake with their marketing. Sometimes people make this mistake at the very beginning stages. Sometimes it's just already there. And sometimes we actually make the mistake as we're rolling along. 

This mistake can really determine the success of our event or marketing, because they both do the same three things: make relationships, maintain relationships, and build assets. 

I know, I've gone on long enough, what is this mistake you shouldn’t make already?

Don't Make this Mistake in Your Marketing or Fundraising Events - Don't lose focus of your mission

Don’t lose focus of your mission. 

I know that sounds very, very simple. But it's not. 

We get wrapped up in the art of making an event fun or bogged down in the marketing planning and the physical things we have to do to make it happen. We forget we need to make it about what really matters.

Business owners do this all the time. For example, a business owner might say they do online design, and then somebody comes to them and asks if they design magazines, too. The business owner will say, “Sure, if you're gonna pay me $50,000, I'll design you a magazine.” But they're just chasing business because it pays, not because it's actually part of their mission or supports their core values. It’s likely a one-off project they're never going to do again, so it doesn't make sense for them to do it. 

Your events and marketing have to have meaning behind them in order to connect with the right people. 

One thing I find often is that people do a good job of not losing sight of their mission or their values when they’re designing their logos. Think about your organization’s logo. Why did the person who designed it design it the way they did? Your organization’s name and logo have meaning behind them. That same thing should be happening with your events and with your marketing. The challenge in avoiding this mistake is trying to problem solve without letting the excitement blind you. 

Let it simmer.

The problem you're trying to solve is getting in front of more people, getting more donations, making sure you maintain your relationships. You're probably thinking, “How do I do this?” and here I am telling you you're making a mistake.

I'm not saying you shouldn't problem-solve — you absolutely should. When I’m problem-solving, I keep the value mission quotient in the back of my mind, because it's not necessarily the first answer to all the challenges I'm facing. So when you're brainstorming, you’ll think of all the fun things you can do to get people to come to your event and interact with you and donate. Then after all of the fun of planning stops, wait a day or so and let it all simmer.

It’s okay to be really excited about your ideas for a second, because you’re wowing yourself, which is my favorite part of planning. The wow moments are so much fun. But we're in an emotional state, so we have to move ourselves through those moments by taking a step back and considering things from a different perspective.

Reevaluate.

After you’re done planning, ask yourself if it speaks to your mission and values. If not, can you change it and make it about your mission? 

That's the question that you're going to ask yourself. Eventually, if you keep doing it over and over again, you become consciously competent, and then fully competent at this skill. 

Let me tell you a story...or three.

Here are a few stories from my conversations where we were losing focus of the mission, and then we regrouped and corrected the mistake. 

Story #1 - How does a concert relate to providing for homeless people?

In this conversation, I spoke with Laura from Room at the Inn, a nonprofit organization in Columbia, Missouri, that through the winter months takes in homeless people during the day. Laura’s a passionate and compassionate lady who teaches business at Douglas High School, an alternative school in Columbia, and is a board member for Room at the Inn.

For those who don’t know, Room at the Inn is a “damp” shelter — not damp as in slightly wet, damp as in you don't have to be 100% sober to stay there. As long as you can walk yourself in, you can have shelter. Their mission is really important — they serve homeless people by getting them off the sometimes fatally cold streets and providing for their basic needs, like shelter, food, clothes, and a sack lunch for them to take when they leave so they don’t go hungry.

Laura’s idea was to do a concert fundraiser. They’d recently done one and she said it ended up being really cool, so she thought it would be a good idea to do another one. I asked what her skill levels were when it came to producing a concert and said it was important to focus on their assets and strengths, things they already have and already do well. She said someone with all of the equipment put the last concert together for them, so she didn’t think they had much equipment, and they didn’t know anything about streaming a concert. 

A concert, while it is cool, doesn't show people what this organization does. In the back of my head, I knew there had to be a better idea for an event that would help them really connect with people and tie in to the core values of Room at the Inn, which are about care and compassion, safety, and providing for people at their basic needs. 

I started digging deeper about exactly what they do for those they serve. A lot of these individuals struggle with mental illness, so keeping them fed and out of a stressful situation allows them to better cope and heal. Then it hit me: what if you incorporated packed lunches into your fundraiser? Immediately, we were both excited and inspired.

Laura decided she’s going to reach out to her church partners and see if they’ll be her peer-to-peer fundraising partners to make the same lunches they make for their guests at Room at the Inn and sell them to the congregations. Those church members can then experience the same thing Room at the Inn does for those they serve: they get to be cared and provided for. Inside of that bag, Laura can tell the story of someone else who gets a sack lunch just like that one.

We thought it would also be amazing if she mailed out the lunch sacks with a letter to part or all of her mailing list asking recipients to take a sack lunch instead of spending money on lunch out, and they could donate the cost of a meal to Room at the Inn. That could potentially get a lot of $20 donations, because everybody knows that lunches are $15 to $20 these days.

It was an amazingly energizing conversation for me and for Laura both, and in the end, we took a less-than-fitting fundraiser idea and brainstormed other possibilities for an event that would tell their story and match with their mission and values. 

Story #2 - How did we get all the way to a dog costume contest?!

In this conversation, I spoke with two people from Ashland Schools Foundation: Susan, the Executive Director, and John, their Board Vice President. John let me talk about WordPress websites for a while. I geeked out so hard. I was so excited. 

The other thing that made me really excited about talking to these folks is they're planning a virtual 5K called the Ashland Monster Dash where people wear costumes and run with their families. Afterwards, they have a costume contest. 

So as we were brainstorming, rolling along, talking about they might engage the people, we went from the idea of cool mask giveaways to talking about families being able to run with their dogs to then considering a separate costume contest for the dogs. 

That's when it hit me: we had strayed. We went from a fun family-centric run to a costume contest for dogs. My job as the consultant is to figure out how we go back to making this about the Ashland Schools Foundation. Because it shouldn't just be a run, it's a run for families who go to these schools. The fundraiser is about supporting education.

I asked myself, does a costume contest for dogs speak to the mission and values of the organization? And if not, can we change it to make it about their mission? 

I posed that question to Susan and John and offered that instead of just having dog/human costume contests, maybe they could host a costume contest for kids dressed up as teachers, or center the dog contest around dogs doing smart tricks, which relates to education and dog training. 

Again, we want to make these relationships with people who have the same values as us, who will buy into our mission and know that it's something our community can't live without. When we saturate our events and our marketing with that messaging, we are not just making relationships, we're maintaining relationships. Then we're building the assets that really count with our supporters, for organizations and for our businesses who support us for all the right reasons.

Story #3 - Are giveaways really why people support you?

Mike Quinata with Truman VA Medical Research Foundation is actually one of my clients. He is doing a 5K but has no funds right now from his board to buy the tchotchkes to try to entice people to sign up, which is certainly a bit of a bummer. 

He has cups leftover from last year he can give away, and sweatshirts from the year before. After going around and around, talking through whether or not they could even do this event without giveaways, Mike and I realized, this event is not about a cup or T-shirt or a medal. It’s about appreciating our veterans. 

We decided he's going to do a video where he kind of jokes around, saying, “Sign up for this 5K, and I'll give you a cup, because you want it and it’ll make you want to run, but really, we all know you're not running to get this amazing plastic cup. The reason you're running is to support the veterans. It's not about the treats. It's about the troops.”

We both got wrapped up in the idea that he didn't have an event because he didn't have a T-shirt to give participants. How crazy is that? We had to remind ourselves: that's not why people support the Truman VA Medical Research Foundation. They support the foundation because they want to support those who’ve fought for our country.

Make it about what really matters.

These stories with Room at the Inn making lunches, the Ashland Schools Foundation trying to make all of their contests about education, and with Truman VA Medical Research Foundation getting back to the heart of why people support veterans, all illustrate how to keep focus of your mission during all planning stages of your event and your marketing. 

What really matters is sharing that story, sharing your values and attracting people for the right reasons.

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