From auctions to ticket sales – 5 charity event mistakes

What sort of mistakes do charity event organisers make?

Plenty, as it turns out. But if you hear any of these statements being made, you can be sure that something went wrong rather early in the planning stages.

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1. “We got results, but not the ones we were looking for.”

Know the intended outcome of your event before you start organising it.

Always start with why before how. Are you trying to:

Raise money for a cause?

Acknowledge support or record a milestone?

Increase publicity or sponsorship opportunities?

Large scale charity events are expensive and rarely cost effective in the traditional sense. Their true purpose is usually to increase intangibles like publicity, sponsorship and media attention. This means creating a professional event and budgeting to impress.

Small scale events tend to be more efficient in terms of cost, often because many staff will be unpaid volunteers donating their time towards a good cause. If the purpose of your event is to raise money, you should be spending your budget on essentials rather than displays.

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2. “There hasn’t been enough interest.”

There are lots of charities looking for funding, but also many ways to reach out to potential sponsors.  Focus on differentiating yourself with a unique story, brand position and approach. (Don’t be a green one.)

Start with a story. Why does your charity exist?

Relate your intentions to your brand. How are you equipped to solve an existing problem?

Have at least one non-standard approach to fundraising. What are you doing differently and why?

Use donor experiences and ‘social proof’ to engage and inform. People will be willing to trust you with their money if they see that others have too.

Be innovative enough and your approach will do some of the heavy lifting for you. These charities, among others, were featured in the Guardian because they tried something a little different:

Marie Curie Cancer Care created an online gaming platform that caters to a younger and more competitive demographic.

The Children’s Society has focused on real-time updates, live reporting and transparency so that givers feel more involved in the charity’s work.

The WWF has encouraged flexible giving by text with the option to opt in and out as donor’s finances change.

You might not be as large as any of these charities, but that doesn’t mean you can’t innovate. Just remember that however you choose to differentiate yourself, it needs to be applied to your events; always keep your story, brand and fundraising approaches consistent.

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3. “Guests enjoyed themselves, but they weren’t very generous.”

Were guests drinking and chatting when they should have been sitting and listening? If your event was popular and enjoyable but you failed to meet your target, this may have been the result of poor coordination.

It’s important to have a schedule in place for your event and stick to it religiously. Managing transitions is part of this; close down the bar and start removing plates well before the main event. Have staff practice crowd control and move people back to their seats. Make sure you have everyone’s full attention so that your message hits home.

A charity auction needs a professional auctioneer. A volunteer cannot do this job because it requires finesse and experience, coordination, and an understanding of audience psychology. An amateur will miss bids, slow down the process and fail to adjust prices. If an auction is the centrepiece of your event, you need to make sure it’s done right – and that also means you shouldn’t leave it till last!

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4. “We lost a lot of money on third parties.”

Make sure you only pay for what you really need. This applies to entertainment too, but don’t try to save at the cost of professionalism. Remember that you will need some form of entertainment at your event; people usually like to have fun before they’re asked to give generously.

If you’re bringing in speakers, you can try to find someone who will donate their time to your cause or take a reduced fee, but it’s risky. After all, professional speakers have to make a living and many receive a lot of attention from non-profits and charities. The same goes for performers and musicians, but you may have better luck in this sector. Be as selective as possible and rely on your most experienced volunteers during the event.

Try and save wherever you can. If you’re using a ticketing service for your event, pick one that works well with charities and won’t take a slice of every ticket you sell in fees.

At Ticket Tailor we offer a 30% discount to registered charities. We’ve helped organisations like the Motor Neurone Disease Association, National Student Pride and Tourettes Action save large amounts with flat, monthly rates. With no per-ticket fees you can also take donations through your website without paying for a checkout or e-commerce system.

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5. “We’re not sure what we could have done better.”

Have you asked your attendees?

You should follow up and (more importantly) thank everyone who came to your event. Personalised messages are an excellent way to show your appreciation, but they also serve as an easy way to get feedback on what worked and what didn’t.

You can quite easily include a survey with your message thanking patrons for their attendance. Be sure to share the information with everyone involved – especially the bad bits. There’s no point collecting feedback if you’re not going to use it next time!

Just because the event is over doesn’t mean you’re finished. Be active on social media after the event ends so you can be part of the review process and wait a week or two (but not longer) before mentioning the next event. If the first one went well you should ride this wave, which means thinking about early bird tickets for the next one.

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