Can Special Events Survive the Digital Age?

I’ve always been of the mindset that people give to people and are motivated by positive experiences. That’s why I strongly advocate for the power of the fundraising event. Events are a great way to raise funds, steward current and prospective donors and share success stories with stakeholders.

However, with the rise of digital, and non-profits subsequently jumping on the online bandwagon; hiring digital marketing experts, managing Facebook and Twitter accounts, creating videos in the hope they’ll go ‘viral’ etc., I began to question this belief: Has the special event had its day? Has new media taken its place?

Events are expensive, time consuming and can get old pretty quickly. They require committees, volunteers, an expense budget, complicated databases and tracking systems. Are non-profits instead better placed to invest time and dollars in devising creative online campaigns and leaving the tried and tested drinks reception, raffle/auction and key-note speech to rest in peace?

According to a recent report by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Foundation for Philanthropy, the answer to this is no! In fact, in the USA and Canada last year, 95% of AFP member organizations surveyed hosted one or more special event and 55% reported event gross revenue of over $100,000.

Yes, digital is an astonishing new means of communication but it has not satiated the human appetite for moving, meeting and touching. The more time we devote to screens, the more our body seeks out the company of others – and the more funds can be raised from meeting that craving. The plethora of Chicago’s summer street festivals and the lines for Lollapalooza are testament to that.

As an event manager and a fundraiser, I find this hugely reassuring. Digital has not replaced the orator on her box or the musician on her stage. It has rather enabled us to appreciate them all the more. And this is where non-profits have an edge – we can give true, meaningful experiential moments to the donor – we can leverage the digital arena to create excitement and anticipation, engage sponsors in innovative marketing campaigns, invite beneficiaries to events; allowing them to tell their stories and capitalize on that ‘in the moment’ feeling.   And finally, we can continue to engage donors post-event.

We don’t need to choose between digital and face-to-face, instead, we need to put our hands together.