Five questions to ask before you plan another event

A checklist to preserve your organization’s sanity

Great causes feel constant pressure to engage in activities to raise money and share the power of their work. On one hand, this pressure motivates us to be visible in the community with clients and donors. On the other, it can debilitate an organization by overwhelming your staff and resources.

Causes large and small must consider the real cost of events in time and expenses. Before another well-intentioned volunteer or board member talks you into a “great” event idea, be sure to consider the following:

“Be clear about your goal.”

Is this an awareness event? Wonderful. Have you defined current awareness among your audience? How will you measure increased awareness? Are we gathering potential client or donor information? Great! How much do we hope to gain and what will we do with it? Are we raising program or operational dollars? Outstanding. What amount defines success?

Without clear goals on the front end and positive results on the back end, events can pull people into meaningless activity that may harm relationships more than build them.

In Sharp 11 myth-busting style, here is a list of beliefs about events that (unfortunately) are still embraced at-large:

I have this REALLY COOL and UNIQUE idea for an event
If we don’t have an event, we’re not “REAL”
We’ll raise TONS of money and sell tickets to LOTS of people
Sponsorship will cover ALL our costs
We can get everything DONATED

And in reality:

  • Very few ideas are a standout
  • Events may cloud the mission instead of validating it
  • Competition for donors and attendees is fierce
  • Sponsorship relies on established business partnerships
  • Hustling for donations and auction items is brutal work

As a colleague working an event with me once said:

“Events are expensive and a time-suck.”

Although we are taking a hard look at special events, there are still good reasons to have them. Done well, events can move your cause in ways other programs can’t. Beyond raising revenue by giving you a “product” to sell, good events also raise your voice.

Events support your mission by:

  • Creating an environment to experience your cause & culture
  • Providing opportunities for personal engagement
  • Associating a lasting, positive memory with your organization
  • Promoting advocacy and affinity for your brand

Events support your message by:

  • Branding your organization and stating your value promise
  • Creating press, social media and advertising opportunities
  • Reaching both diverse or distinct audiences
  • Inviting community conversation

“The challenge of events is to create an engaging experience that compels guests to action.”

So, what is the “action” you’re asking guests to take? What do you want them to do at your event after they bought the ticket, after they ate, after they bid at the auction? Your entire event hinges on this question.

If you still are unsure about holding that gala or golf tournament, here’s your final test. If you can’t answer yes to 4 of the 5 questions below, you don’t have a compelling reason to hold the event:

Is this event part of our approved plan this year?
Does the budget net us at least 60% more than expenses, including staff time?
Can the event provide a personal mission experience for donors?
Will the event significantly elevate our message to key audiences?
Could we count on a clear increase in connections to our cause?

Did you pass the test? No doubt your event will be a smash. If you would like a few extra tips to ensure success, email me at and I’ll send you my favorites. Good luck!

Laura Bessinger-Morse is president of Sharp 11, Inc.

Studio Sessions

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Sharp 11’s strengths include a varied background and level of experience. . . Laura brings a real world and simplified approach to nonprofit objectives. . . She is relatable, understands our issues and how to approach them. . . She knows her stuff!

Nonprofit Executives

Art of the Appeal Workshop Participants


Thank you for a fantastic presentation.  I can’t tell you how many “aha” moments there were.  I’m sharing with the team to implement!

Athary Koning

Special Events & Fund Development


I attended your workshop yesterday and I have to say it was so informative. I learned more in those two hours than an entire semester of grant writing in college. It reignited my excitement for writing grants and I just wanted to say thank you. I will be keeping an eye out for any future workshops you may have! Many thanks,

Alyssa Thompson

Project Assistant