The problem with having big names at your event is that if your attendees are coming to the event for any reason other than supporting your nonprofit through a donation, they are not coming to support your organization.
You have experience buyers, not donors.
Experience buyers are those who attend a fundraising event with the goal of meeting the big name guest in attendance. They want to interact with this person; they want the Instagrammable moment, and they’ll pay any price for the privilege.
I get calls from organizations that have these experience-based events all the time. They tell me that their events are super successful, they sell tickets like crazy, but they aren’t raising any money with their live auctions, silent auctions, and Fund-A-Needs.
This is because they don’t have donors, they have experience buyers.
Unfortunately, this isn’t something that I can fix (which is something I’m very honest about). The attendees at these events don’t really care about the nonprofit the event supports. They only care about the experience they are buying themselves.
Nonprofits who find themselves in this position have a few options to increase their fundraising at these experience-based events:
- Sell more tickets
- Raise ticket prices
- Include an upsell
Selling more tickets is fairly self-explanatory. If you sell more tickets, you will raise more money through ticket sales. Raising ticket prices can work, assuming that the attendees won’t balk at a price increase. Including an additional upsell—such as charging extra for one-on-one time or a photo with a celebrity—can also work, and depending on your guest list it can work quite well.
The trouble with experience-based events is that is really difficult to turn the attendees into real donors. They become used to receiving a one-of-kind experience in return for their ticket purchase and they begin to expect that. It’s a hard habit to break. Usually, these events are put on by a third party raising money for a nonprofit. They don’t have a donor list to pull from, so they rely on selling tickets and turning people into donors once they arrive at the event. But that doesn’t work. Donor outreach and cultivation takes a lot of time. There’s a reason that so many nonprofit employees make it their focus. The relationship between the nonprofit and the donor takes time to build.
Even if the nonprofit invites people to attend these events based on a donor list, it’s still very hard to break out of this cycle because the donors have now been trained to expect an amazing experience with no real pressure to donate. If you are really looking to turn experience buyers into donors, it can’t be done at a special event. It has to be done during one-on-one meetings, but I expect this won’t be worth the time investment for most nonprofits.
In the end, experience-based events are fine. You’ll make some money and your event will be well-known in the area. But, you won’t build your donor rolls and you won’t cultivate long-term relationships with people who want to support your cause. Depending on your goal for the event, that may or may not be a bad thing.