Last week I had the chance to speak with students in Jennifer Sadler’s entrepreneurship class at the University of Memphis. My presentation focused on trends in corporate philanthropy, strategies for transforming businesses into community catalysts, and other content from my second book, Giving for Growth, which is being released by Main Street Books on November 5, 2015. (Please join me for a pre-release event at The Booksellers at Laurelwood in Memphis on Wednesday, November 4 at 6:30 p.m.) During the Question and Answer portion, one young lady asked, “If I work for a small nonprofit, how can I get more people to attend a fundraiser?”
Many nonprofits, small and large, struggle with hosting fundraising events. Smaller organizations, with limited financial resources, staff sizes, and volunteer bases, are especially challenged on two fronts – their general level of awareness in the community and their ability to effectively market events. Larger nonprofits typically enjoy the benefits of stronger brand identity. In other words, the public has a basic understanding of their services and impact in the community; we “trust” their name and efforts, much like we do with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. When we see an event hosted by St. Jude, we trust it will be a great experience, and so we want to attend the event and help their efforts.
For smaller nonprofits, it’s important to leverage social media, especially with videos and stories of impact. People enjoy helping people, but they want to see a nonprofit’s ability to make a difference in the lives of others. So, have the people your nonprofit is helping share their story and why the work you’re doing is so important. Credibility and trust with the public will build as more stories are shared. Then, turn to your friends and ask them to become ambassadors who will take ownership in your fundraising event. Ask them to host and invite their friends; and offer incentives, if necessary, like fun prizes. If you don’t enjoy a high level of community awareness, you can still sell out a fundraising event through relationships. As friends reach out to friends who then attend your event, share your stories of impact and use them to create even more ambassadors for your cause!