Events Need Goals

Events Need Goals


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Events are part of fundraising. From field trips to galas, we are in the event business as much as we are anything else.

Which means (at least): pre-planning, logistics, permissions, venues, caterers, invitations and reminders, site volunteers, parking concerns, nametags, photography, and weather contingencies.

It’s enough to turn hair gray and keep you from sleeping at night.

For six months at least.

Is it worth it?


All too often, when I ask that question, the answer is, “well, it’s our largest fundraiser of the year.” Which actually means very little, because the implied assumption is that without the event, that revenue would be completely lost.

And that would be a false assumption. If all that time and money had been redirected into other activities, what could have been achieved instead?

Or worse, they simply answer “Yes,” with no objective metric attached at all.

So how do you answer that question? And how do you measure?

  • Do you track net revenue in addition to gross?
  • Do you track time in addition to hard costs? (Staff, volunteer, Board)
  • Do you look at trends over the last three years? Five? Ten?
  • Do you look at non-monetary values, like community engagement? Major gift prospect cultivation? Board engagement and cultivation?
  • Do you look at diversity? (Are the same people coming to every event, or are you appealing to a different set with every event?)


Most organizations I work with are not using events strategically. They have not chosen the specific event after having considered alternative strategies toward a specific goal or goals. And they do not formally evaluate their events using criteria related to much other than gross receipts.

And many people I listen to and respect look at events as getting in the way of fundraising – and particularly major gift development fundraising. Events are inherently transactional, they dominate the calendar for a big piece of the year, and they do not lend themselves to advancing relationships.

Please don’t take this the wrong way. There are certainly many reasons to do events that have very little to do with fundraising. Community engagement, visibility, outreach, even membership services. Events also offer a way for businesses to engage with the land trust.

(In such cases, I do ask why organizations are using fundraising staff for events if fundraising is not the primary goal for the event.)

I’m just advocating for getting real about an event’s true value. And I’m relating the true value to the opportunity cost of having that much organizational energy dedicated in a limited direction.


So, for 2020, let’s at least agree collectively to bring a new level of discipline to our events.

  1. Set a specific GOAL for each event. In the best sense, this goal is singular – it is the primary reason to do the event. The goal might be related to money, but doesn’t need to be. It might be related to the number of people participating, or the number of new people, or the number of people from a specific list (think major gift prospects), or even whether just one specific person participates.
  2. That said, if the goal IS related to money, it should be related to the NET. You can and should also calculate return on investment (ROI) related to time.
  3. Identify other SECONDARY OBJECTIVES. Maybe corporate support, or volunteer recognition, or Board-Donor interactions.
  4. Write down what you EXPECT to happen. How many people will attend, how much money will be raised from sponsors – all of the expectations.
  5. Create a detailed BUDGET for each event.
  6. Formally EVALUATE each event immediately following the event. Relate the evaluation to the goal, the secondary objectives, the expectations, and the budget. Include notes about attendance, weather, strengths, and weaknesses. Also look at comparative trend information from the last few years. Would you recommend that this particular event get repeated? Why or why not?
  7. If the answer is Yes, set next year’s date right away. Include it in event follow-up, letting participants and sponsors both know how much we enjoyed seeing them this year and that we hope they will save the date for next year.
  8. Renew all sponsors right away.


It seems prudent to cast a skeptical eye at events every once in a while, and that’s hard to do if the goal isn’t clear. So, at the very least, set a specific goal. Then consider the opportunity costs. Consider the ROI. Consider the gray hair and loss of sleep.

Is it worth it?


Cheers, and have a great week!



Photo by LU-yang from Pixabay


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  • Trish Aldrich
    Posted at 11:47h, 10 December

    Perfect timing! We’re having our kick off meeting for our June 2020 Paddle-a-thon later today. One question, when you say, “8. Renew all sponsors right away,” you mean ask them right away to sponsor’s next year’s event, is that right? I never thought of doing that and it’s an interesting idea to do it while enthusiasm is high.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 14:05h, 10 December

      Yes! It’s a no-brainer once you think about it. Prepare a representative photo, draft a one-page report, and draft a letter telling them how much you appreciated their sponsorship support. Deliver all three in person if at all possible. In that material, let them know that you will be doing it again (assuming you will) and give them the tentative date. Tell them that you hope to count on their support again.

      Thank you so much; please.


    • reneecarey
      Posted at 06:25h, 11 December

      I agree with Trish. Perfect timing!! And, I also agree I never thought of #8, but it makes perfect sense now that you’ve pointed it out.