Special events can help one of the most exciting ways to raise money. They can also be the most challenging.
In October of 2011 Melanie Messer joined the Jacksonville Speech & Hearing Center as its first full-time development director. One year later she had tripled special event revenue, reduced expenses, and doubled sponsorship revenue.
Here’s her story:
As the new development director Melanie faced two challenges: creating a fundraising program that expanded beyond the organization’s well-attended major special event, “FinFest”; and doubling FinFest sponsorship revenue within one year.
Melanie began her work by establishing a donor cultivation program that included monthly “meet-and-greets” and bi-monthly home receptions. She talked with board members and community leaders to encourage them to host receptions and to visit the center for a “meet-and-greet.” She developed a structure that supported board members in becoming more involved with cultivating current and prospective donors.
Melanie also worked to change the culture of giving across the organization. She began with setting expectations for giving from board members. She moved on to increasing special event revenue. She laid out new sponsorship levels and encouraged the event committee to increase the giving level associated with each type of sponsorship. She encouraged the committee to approve an approach that asked potential sponsors to give financially, and to also ask the lead sponsor to give in-kind support such as printing and design services that would reduce event costs.
While we admire Melanie’s spirit and leadership, we know that no one person can change a culture. We asked her what organizational strengths were working in her favor. She replied, “Being supported by a leader – our executive director – who is willing to take risks, who allows new ideas, and encourages organizational change.” Other supports were highly invested individual and corporate stakeholders who put their passion and financial investment behind the center’s mission and vision. “Bill McQuilkin, the executive director, and I spent a lot of time strengthening existing relationships and building new ones.
“I had the support of my executive director and I had the support of colleagues across the organization. We were fortunate to identify and develop a core of “cheerleaders” or leaders of influence who were helpful in rallying their colleagues towards supporting our efforts,” she shared.
“This moral support was important because the revenue expectations for the event were high,” Melanie continued. “The goal was to increase sponsorship revenue from $50,000 to $100,000, which was a daunting challenge.”
While the challenge may have been daunting, the results were inspiring. “Not only did we reach our $100,000 sponsorship goal, we tripled our overall event net revenue from 2011 to 2012,” Melanie shared.
We asked her for words of guidance for her fellow development directors, or for those taking on a new fundraising job. “Do your homework before setting lofty fundraising goals but do not be afraid to take risks if you have the right backing and sound advice to pave the way,” she replied. “Also, remain transparent with leadership and your board and seek out potential individual and corporate partners in the community, who are able to be connected to your organization, whether through a board member introduction or funder.”
She closed her comments with words that delighted us, “Do not be afraid to apply or seek support to bring in advisors such as Saad & Shaw with a proven track record to bring your goals into reality.”
Back story: We met Melanie when she called us and asked us to work with her using our Counsel on Demand service. We admire Melanie’s talent and strategic thinking, and we have never met! We worked with her and Bill by phone and by email, listening to their ideas, reviewing their plans, and offering strategies for engaging donors, board members and sponsors. Let us do the same for you.
Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow on Twitter @saadshaw.