The Special Events Business

March 23, 2017



Written By: Danny

By Danny Maier

Part 1 of 2

Are you in the special events business or a fundraising professional?

So asked one of my mentors in a moment of exasperation. Too often we complain about the lack of a “philanthropic culture” at [insert your charity name here]. We are mystified as to why we can’t get volunteers to open doors for us. Or why alumni don’t contribute. Or why a large donor will come to the spaghetti dinner, but won’t respond to our major gift request.

In part, the answer is that you are in the “special events business” sometimes without even knowing it. You are giving your donors more opportunities to express their support for your mission in a modest way rather than making a “stop-and-think” or sacrificial gift.  How do you know if you’re in the special events business?

It is human nature to bargain shop… even for donors. “Would I rather buy a table at the Annual Gala for $500 or sign a check for $5,000 to the Annual Campaign?” a donor may ask themselves. Five hundred dollars is too often the answer. But even if they might have been open to a larger gift, if the special event comes first, the donor may ignore further appeals with the sense of already having given. And here is the kicker: the more special events you conduct, the more you dilute your other fundraising efforts.

To highlight just one example, an organization I worked with ran upwards of 30 or 40 fun-runs, dinners, golf outings, bake sales, and more, at 12 different locations annually. In a year, they raised $350,000 in special events funds. (Gross revenue, mind you, not net revenue). But the annual campaign was stuck at $700,000. Why? Because the donors thought we were in the “special events business” and not fundraising.

A few years later, there were less than a dozen special events (still too high for my liking) and the annual campaign was now doubled to $1,400,000. The deliberate change from special events to major gift fundraising forced a culture shift and also forced more volunteers and staff out of the “busy work” of putting on the golf outing and into one-on-one visits with donors. The results can be spectacular.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Moving Away From Special Events Culture in a future blog.

In the meantime, check out our Field Notes on “Keeping the Special in Events

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9 responses to “The Special Events Business”

  1. Mike Mike Bussey says:

    Great message Danny! I’m forwarding it to several others.

  2. Jan Waters says:

    Thanks, Dan! I, too, am sending it on to others in our field…can’t wait for Part 2!!!

  3. Shelly McTighe-Rippengale says:

    Perfect timing and right on point! I’ll be sharing this on Monday! Thanks Danny.

    • Danny Danny Maier says:

      Thanks Shelly – much appreciated – I know you understand the challenge as much as anyone.

      Best wishes,


  4. Michael Hlady says:

    Thank you Danny! I can’t wait to see part two and share with our organization. We are trying to move change our culture to be focused on major gift fundraising…it takes time and consistent reinforcement…every example I can share with our leadership teams about the benefit of this shift is helpful 🙂

  5. Berry Brooks says:

    Great and very relevant topic. Thanks for speaking to this.

  6. […] Part I of this series, we discussed the hazards of being in the “special events business” versus true fundraising. If […]