The Financial Industries Dinner that benefits National Jewish Health (NJH) - the leading respiratory medical & research center in the country - continues to draw a great crowd and raise critical funds for NJH.
The 2015 Financial Industries Dinner was once again a stellar affair. While many events struggle and even disappear this dinner marked its 36th year in 2015; had 700 in attendance and raised more than $500,000.
It was a privilege to be invited to attend this year!
What do you think is the key to longevity for annual fundraisers?
I know one organization that had been hosting a food industry golf tournament for 26 years. A few industry changes in 2013 made for a smaller tournament in 2014 and that was it! After 26 years - Poof! - It was gone!
I managed the National Jewish Health Financial Industries Dinner for five years from 2002 to 2007 then passed the baton in 2008 when I hired Mattie Shepheard. I went on to work for them for another 4 1/2 years, running the East Coast Regional office. All total I worked for them for nearly a decade.
Not only does NJH still has a special place in my heart but they imprinted me with a great event formula! One that I encourage organizations to emulate if possible.
Here are two things NJH does that keeps this dinner going - along with others dinners and events that they host across the country:
1. Strategic recruitment of the Honorees & Chairs
First they identify the REAL movers and shakers in the commercial finance industry to serve as honoree. Often the REAL influencers in an industry are not in the spotlight. Keeping in touch with the industry is important. Second the Dinner Chair is recruited with the thought that he/she will likely be an honoree two years in the future. Third Honorees are asked to become Trustees 2 years after they've been honored. Do you see the trend? It's a great pipeline, that also creates a group of industry experts that will help keep staff connected to the industry. It's BRILLIANT!!!!
2. Sticking with a tried & true annual campaign timeline and dinner format
Year after year, it's the same formula. ID the next year's honoree & the Chair at the current year's dinner. Plan the Kick-off with a fundraising goal of about 30%. Recruit the remaining committee based on their commitment level. Look to the honoree and the Chair to call on their industry colleagues. Retain previous donors and participants. (Their retention rate from year-to-year is incredible.) And the dinner format has been the same for so many years.... a long cocktail hour to maximize networking and a very short speaking program during dinner.
With so many successful years under their belt, NJH's Financial Industries Dinner is considered a "must-attend" industry event. I know most nonprofits wish they could boast about their annual gala or awards dinner that way.
What are your thoughts regarding event longevity?
Before the end of 2014 I had lunch with a colleague who said he'd be resigning from the Board of the well-known national organization he'd been serving for the last few years. He had just completing serving as their Gala Chair which had exceeded its goals. While they thanked him for his efforts, they also indicated they would be expecting a year-end gift. The audacity of such an expectation when he had expended months of effort, soliciting donations from his company, his peers and making his own donation to ensure the success of the gala, angered him to point of resignation.
I've been working for nonprofits since 1991, and I believe in the work they do and want them to be successful. I have coached many organizations regarding committee recruitment and retention and I was very sad to hear my colleague tell me the story. I immediately thought, the organization should have answered their own questions BEFORE the recruitment conversation with my colleague took place. Would they want his event donation to be above and beyond his annual gift as a Board Member? What If he couldn't do both?
Next, I would have suggested that the organization have a frank conversation with my colleague about expectations. Any committee member recruited should go into their committee service knowing what will be expected of them on the committee and beyond. The committee member should have the chance to express his/her abilities and limitations. Unfortunately, in this case, these detailed and candid conversations did not take place.
Depending on how badly the organization needs the person to serve on the committee, they might have to let the annual gift go if the committee prospect can't do both. It's better to keep the donor for the long-term. My colleague who served as Gala Chair should now be helping to build relationships with the attendees and donors he brought in. Now, not only is he lost, but so are those that came with him.
As nonprofits start this new year, I hope they will build up relationships with their board members, key committee members, important donors and others not tear them down.
Another element in recruiting a strong committee is to set specific goals and be clear about them upfront. Without clear goals the committee members will not know what's expected of them. Give them the expectations in writing. It's easy to create a one-sheet flyer on event or organizational letterhead with a few bullets outlining the expectations. Make sure to include a give/get fundraising goal, expectations regarding adding names/contacts to master prospect or mailing list, meeting calendar, and anything else you may ask of them. Use a tracking spreadsheet if necessary and share that within weekly updates.
Here's a start to recruiting an effective committee for your next fundraising event.
Recruit from your network. Start with your Board. Have Board members as the nucleus of the committee and charge them with recruiting others. Approach current donors. Reach out to event attendees. Create a wish-list of executives you'd dream of having on your committee and work to connect to them. Continue to build on the committee and elevate the expectations year after year.