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4 Brilliant Remedies Your Struggling Event Needs Right Now

It’s (almost) here – the light at the end of the tunnel for nonprofit event planners. For some, it’s the end of a long gala season, while our friends in academia are cheering the close of another academic year (and #April above all). And for those with a (sigh) golf tournament or two still scheduled in the coming months, please skip right to #4 below.

Regardless of where you are in your events cycle, some well-deserved kudos and downtime are in order. Inevitably, it’s also time to look ahead to the possibilities for your next round of donor event experiences. And let’s face it – we all have an event at our organization (maybe more than one) that is stuck on the struggle bus. It may not always be easy to pinpoint, but something about it just doesn’t seem right.

In these situations, I like to take an approach I call “The 4 R’s of Remediation”:

  1. Rediscover

  2. Recommit

  3. Reinvent

  4. Retire

The first step for any event that is flailing is to rediscover the event’s purpose. What is the compelling reason for gathering people, either in person or online? It’s important to ask–What are we trying to achieve, and how does it support our organization’s overall goals? A clearly articulated purpose serves as a foundational force for the many decisions an event professional must make, and without it, we run the risk of drifting aimlessly through the planning process only to find at the end that our audiences feel it, too. At this inflection point, we must move away from “we’ve always done it this way” toward something more meaningful that engages our audiences and moves the organization forward.

If we find there’s a clear purpose that meaningfully serves the organization and its donors, consider whether it’s time to recommit. Sometimes, often with best intentions, an event becomes lost in the mix. Perhaps it started as a great idea but hasn’t been given the support it needs to be a success. Whether it’s additional resources (time, money, staff support, etc.), greater buy-in from leadership and others on the team, or simply one more chance to catch on with donors, it’s essential that we take stock of whether the event is a genuine priority for our organization. If so, rally the support it needs – if not, let it go.

Sometimes we may find an event still has a meaningful purpose and all the resources to be a success, but the format has become outdated and stale. This case calls for a makeover – my personal favorite of the 4 R’s: Reinvention! It may carry you and others in the organization beyond your comfort zone, but the risk will be worth the reward. Talk to your donors about what would create an inspiring and engaging experience for them. Research emerging trends and round up an ideation team to breathe new life into the event. And if changing a “beloved tradition” seems too scary, start small – reimagining even just one or two aspects can make a big impact on the attendee experience.

The fourth and final option (welcome, golf tourney pros!) is reserved for those events whose time has simply passed. Perhaps it once served a great purpose – or maybe it never did – but it’s time to say goodbye. Because an event without a meaningful purpose is a waste of your organization’s limited resources and your donors’ precious time. And a “fundraising event” that doesn’t actually raise funds is one whose time has passed (⛳️). To be sure, this approach requires more gumption than the others, AND yet, we owe it to our donors and our organizations to initiate these difficult conversations. Start by compiling data on what’s not working and why, then lead the discussion with key partners and leaders about why retiring the event is the best option. Be sure to focus not only on what you’ll stop doing, but also on what’s possible when you redirect resources to a more effective program. How about that new initiative you’ve been wanting to start (or maybe they’ve been wanting to start)? It’s waiting for this bandwidth.

Nonprofit donors are generous souls who deserve a joyful giving experience that includes events that are meaningful, unique, and serve as a reminder of how they are making a positive impact on the world. So, as we consider what’s next for the events under our care, take the first step by making sure ALL of them are purpose-driven experiences that matter.

But first, take those well-earned days off. You got this!

Matthew S. Helmer is the DRG Unicorn and, in more than two decades of nonprofit fundraising, donor relations, and constituent engagement experience, has applied the 4R’s framework to hundreds of events – including a golf tournament or two. We’ll let you guess what happened to those. Connect with Matthew on LinkedIn or Twitter.


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