Lemons: How We Raised $80k and Got 60+ New Donors by Canceling a Banquet
Updated: Aug 24
One of my long term clients, Birth Choice, was in a tough position - just as many nonprofits are that rely on events for fundraising. Nearly one-third of their income came from a fall banquet. With COVID restrictions making it impossible to have their event, they asked me for help coming up with a way to cancel with grace, still raise some money to get them through year-end, AND to stay on track for our goal of increasing their number new donors in 2020.
Like most good ideas, we had to sift through a lot of bad ideas before we got a good one. But then it came to me: "When life gives you lemons..." It's something that is summery, bright and happy (against the negativity of the world right now), and directly relevant to what is happening. It takes the focus off of blaming COVID for making them cancel and changes it to a more optimistic "we can do this; we can make the most of this."
The idea was that we would take the table hosts who would normally help fill the tables of the banquet and recruit them to help in the same way, but making it quite virtual. After a few weeks of planning, we announced in a newsletter that the banquet was canceled. However, their demand for ultrasound services has never been higher. So, rather than wait until next year, we were going to do a Day of Giving to get the organization through year-end and (most importantly) accomplish their vital mission.
Table hosts were given a packet with a checklist that included explicit instructions for how to recruit 10 givers. We provided them with email copy, text messages, and dates for making contact. We also made it more friendly by focusing on participation rather than the amount. Soon we added fun by making the table hosts "team leaders" and giving them prize entries for each donor on their team (a sailboat tour). For donors, we gave them all entries to another prize - a Hornblower cruise for 4 which was donated!
Donors were given access to a special webpage that had the giving page embedded (ALWAYS embed your giving pages) and a dropdown menu let the donors choose which team they were giving to. We sent emails leading up to the day and on the day of giving, the staff made over 600 calls/texts - something of a phone-a-thon.
With some extraordinary effort of the staff on a Thursday, the results were outstanding - and far above anyone's expectations. Birth Choice raised over $80,000 and was introduced to more than 60 new donors. All by a handful gave online, meaning new donors were added to Birth Choice's email communications and we have their phone number and mailing address as well.
This would not have been possible had Birth Choice not been offering OUTSTANDING services and taking leaps of faith. A good fundraising professional can help TELL these stories, but there is nothing any professional can do (no matter how good) if the organizations do not truly provide impact. So, great job Birth Choice for earning the confidence of your donor base.
I have taken every email, template, and file we used from planning to implementation and packaged them into a format that your organization can take and replicate.
If you are looking to cancel an event, or if you recently canceled an event and now your fundraising is about to hit a critical point, consider downloading this very effective product.
In this download you will find:
Several pages of step-by-step instructions and links to all the files
Emails prior to and on the Day of Giving (you can drop these into a letter for direct mail)
Email and Website Header
Social Media Post
Email to recruit your team leaders
Team Leader Packet (professionally designed) which includes a checklist, worksheet, and sample emails and texts to make your team leader's workload lighter
Emails following the day of giving - from the day itself through announcing your success!
All of this for $197! We are certain that's worth the time, effort, and money you'd spend having all this put together and designed for you!
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Edited to Add: Based on the results of Birth Choice's campaign and from what we heard from all of the organizations who used this methodology so fat, we are pleased to say - every organization we heard from has at least met their goal, while most have exceeded it with ease. Keep up with good work!