Fund-Raising Plans for 2010: Cautiously Increased Goals, New Donor Targets, and Online Ticket Sales

By Jenny Berg August 7, 2009, 9:00 AM EDT

The dinner tent at Steppenwolf Theatre's 2009 gala

Photo: Rick Aguilar Studios

As they begin strategizing for 2010, nonprofit event planners are setting higher goals than they did for 2009. But they still don't expect to see fund-raising numbers return to where they were in 2008 and preceding years.

Heather Gere, director of special events at Citymeals-on-Wheels in New York, plans the organization's annual Chefs Tribute, a walk-around tasting that takes place at Rockefeller Center. “From 2004 to 2007, the event was easily raising over $1 million because we had a few major sponsors,” Gere said. “Unfortunately, we lost some of that corporate revenue in 2008. This year, it went away altogether,” along with a chunk of ticket revenue.

Ultimately, the 2009 event raised $735,000. “For 2010, we're being optimistic and budgeting $800,000,” Gere said. “We're hoping to beat what we made this year, but we're not trying to say that everything's going to be fine and that we're going to get back to where we were” in 2008, when the benefit raked in $910,000.

In preparation for next year's event, Gere said that she and her team had “been making a lot of changes, based on the need to market the event a little more heavily than we have in the past.” In 2010, the organization plans to add a third e-newsletter to its roster, which will summarize upcoming events and go out to 1,000 readers from the database. “We're also pushing online ticket sales,” Gere said, adding that this kind of selling produces real-time results. “You can immediately see who clicks through and who purchases tickets. You're not sitting there wondering if they even got the invitation yet.”

In Los Angeles, the team of senior event specialists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center—Carrie Battocchio, Stacy Kravitz, and Christina Watts—are turning to ad journals to bolster support for next year’s events. “It seems that more and more, when soliciting corporate sponsors and other donor prospects, the big question becomes 'What are we going to get out of it?'” said Battocchio. “In this economy, corporate advertising is the first thing to go. So we're utilizing tribute journals as a means of giving corporate sponsors the opportunity to advertise and contribute to a cause at the same time.” So far, Battocchio said, the technique has proven to be “a great way to get sponsors.” Kravitz added that pushing the ads saves her and her colleagues from “having to ask [busy] executives to fill seats at a dinner.”

Simone Wheeler, director of development at the Children's Place Association in Chicago, plans the annual Once Upon a Time gala. Currently, Wheeler is looking for new ways to leverage corporate support. “Our goal for [event-specific] fund-raising in 2010 is 12 percent higher than in 2009,” she said. Although that goal is higher than the actual revenue the event earned in 2009, Wheeler added, “it's still less than the original goal from 2009, which we determined prior to the collapse of the market.”

The gala has typically seen heavy support from the financial services and insurance industries, “and what we're trying to do now is really cement those corporate relationships that we have by taking more of a partnership approach [to sponsorship],” Wheeler said. “Many firms are looking for organizations where they can send their employees to volunteer, so what we're trying to do now is create an annual package, of which gala sponsorship is only one part.”

In addition to providing companies with recognition at Once Upon a Time, the packages will allow “a [sponsoring] firm to receive exposure at another one of our events, [the AIDS Run & Walk],” Wheeler said. “And they can have volunteers come to us on one specific day and give us something such as a literacy day with the children.”

Brooke Walters, director of individual and major gifts at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, is aiming to attract new donors in 2010. “We saw a decline in [funds raised in] 2009, specifically for our gala benefit,” she said. “In my heart, I'm hoping that we'll be able to go beyond that [next year], but in the interest of being conservative, we held tight to this year's budget.”

To meet their 2010 goals, Walters and her team are implementing plans that are “mainly things we started doing in 2009, since our gala was in the spring,” she said. Planners have decided to stick with the benefit's new ticket price, which they lowered from $1,500 to $1,000 a head this year.

As in 2009, the 2010 gala will have a four-member co-chair committee. The benefit had only one chair in 2008, but the new format adds three more personal networks from which to solicit donations. And “although our total [attendance] numbers for 2009 were a little less than the previous year,” Walters said, “we were ultimately able to reach into a broader community, which helped offset some of those guests who were not able to attend.”

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