Gail Perry

For the last guest post in our series on event fundraising, Gail Perry gives us a slightly different take on events. And while she doesn’t suggest you give up on events altogether, she does suggest you take a look at how you currently use events to fundraise.

Guest Post by Gail Perry, Gail Perry, Fired-Up Fundraising

Fundraising events are a foundation for many nonprofit fundraising programs. But they are the most inefficient way of raising money.

Here’s a well-known chart of “cost per dollar raised” for various fundraising strategies:

Costs Per Dollar Raised





(Data comes from James Greenfield.) And what does it show you? To raise one dollar in a fundraising event, it will cost you $.50 to raise it. But your board members and volunteers don’t know this statistic.

Many volunteers aren’t familiar with annual or major gift fundraising – especially their costs vs. their benefits. That’s why they zero in on EVENTS as the life-saving panacea for fundraising. That’s the only thing in their sphere of reference.

Here are 3 reasons you should ditch your next event:

1. Events are not very efficient fundraising strategies.

You can raise more money with other fundraising strategies. The ROI you get from an event is far less than other fundraising options.

Looking at the chart, compare the costs of raising money with an event that to a mailing campaign like the annual fund – the cost per dollar raised is only $.25-.30 cents on the dollar.

And the most efficient way to raise money of all is face-to-face solicitations focusing on major gift donors – that’s only $.05 -.10 on the dollar.

2. Too many events KILL your volunteers and your staff.

The last thing your hard-working staff needs is another event. They are generally overworked, underpaid and certainly not appreciated enough. WHY would you ask them to spend so much energy on something with such a low return? And you won’t have a lot of volunteers left if you work them too hard.

There are easier ways to “raise friends” for your cause.

3. You can raise more money with one annual event than with 3, 4 or 5 events.

Why? The real money from an event is raised from sponsorships. And it takes a decent lead time to develop sponsorship materials, target the right prospects, organize a committee and make the asks. Then you need the lead time to get their names on the invitation.

If you focus all your energy on one major event each year, you can raise bigger sponsorships because the single event has the visibility and the pizazz.

Why would you want to spread yourself too thin, wear yourself out, exhaust your volunteers – all for such a small return? Got me!

Don’t get me wrong – events are fine. They can be a very important part of a full-scale fundraising program. But just don’t overemphasize them.

Try more sophisticated approaches, such as one-on-one asks. Or try a carefully planned series of letters, postcards and emails designed into a campaign.

Five benefits of only staging one major event a year:

1. Your volunteers can go all out in spreading the word and generating attendance, because they are only going to focus on one a year.

Have only one event a year and make it fabulous!

2. You can have the lead time you need to identify, cultivate, and ask sponsors. And that’s where the money is.

3. You’ll have greater attendance and attention from your supporters.

4. You’ll be able to raise more money overall because the staff now has time to focus on other, more productive and more efficient fundraising strategies.

5. You’ll have a happier and more productive staff.

Yes! My motto IS “when in doubt, throw a party!” But, what I mean is that you need to turn everything you do into a party- and have some fun. You’ll be more successful if you do.

I don’t mean that you should stage event after event.

Just be smart about where you focus your time and energy.

Gail Perry, CFRE, is a fundraising consultant and nationally recognized speaker. Gail is the author of Fired-Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action, published in 2007 by Wiley and AFP. She is recognized as a leading authority on engaging board members in fundraising and is a regular columnist for Guidestar’s on-line newsletter. She started her fundraising career at Duke University and then directed fundraising at the Kenan Flagler Business School at UNC – Chapel Hill. Gail is Past President of the Triangle-NC AFP Chapter and served on the task force at AFP International that re-wrote the First Course in Fundraising. She invites us to her blog at for lots of free fundraising resources.

Published On: August 4, 2011|Categories: Fundraising|