August 26, 2017

Help! We’re Caught on a Nonprofit Event Treadmill

People on treadmills like many nonprofit special events!

Grand news! Your event succeeded. You earned money. People had a blast. You generated new donors. You stewarded current ones. The results were everything you hoped for and more.


Logically, you want to repeat your success. So, you add another event. And another. And another until your staff, board, and volunteers involuntarily cringe when they look at the calendar.


Besides making supporters shudder, what is wrong with too many events?
  • They consume, chew up, burn, and spit out staff.
  • They distract leaders from other less-work more-income opportunities.
True story. After a gala, the chair exclaimed, “What? We only made $50,000 after expenses. I can make more than that by rallying my friends at a series of dinner parties.” And she did.


Since it is rare to find gala chairs who will pull you off the treadmill, you’ll need to plot your escape. Here’s how:

Articulate Your Whys. Measure Results. Dismount.

Before your next why-are-we-still-doing-this-event, list the results you hope to achieve. Include numbers, dollars, relationship growth, testing an idea, etc. Anything that pops up.
As you plan and execute the event, record resources used. Use timesheets. Code expenses. Estimate volunteer hours. I know you’re busy. Data collection can be a pain, but you want this data.


Post-event, compare your costs to your returns. Extract your list of anticipated results. How did you do? After events, most groups focus on dollars raised and forget other wish list items. A broader view will provide your group with better insights about the value you’re getting. An orchestra holds a holiday gala to meet new donors. Afterward, the group tallied their contacts. They met six people. It was the final New Year’s Eve party.


Opening Your Escape Hatch with New Money

In part, success and sluggish imaginations build event treadmills. When we seek alternatives to events, our minds go blank. Take the pressure off. Identify half-dozen other options. Stuck? You have over 1.5 million creative nonprofit peers for inspiration. (For more about how to treasure hunt income options, read Chapter Eight in 7 Nonprofit Income Streams. Now on Kindle!) Like our gala chair above, many successfully incorporate intimate dinners into the mix.


Forward Movement on the Philanthropic Trail    

Events have their place in the development journey, but treadmills, like hamster wheels, offer a false sense of progress. To dismount, identify what you want and overcome income loss fear with viable options. Jump on to the solid ground with confidence and continue on your philanthropic journey.

To learn more about creating an exceptional  event:

Read: How to Develop and Lead Exceptional Nonprofit Events

To learn more about getting fundraising help, watch, What Is All Hands on Deck Fundraising? 

Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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