Event planning and management are always challenging. And when the occasion takes the form of a fundraiser or charity gala, the challenges are multiplied!
Crystal Landherr, an Event & Communications Specialist for Hiawatha Homes Foundation in Rochester, Minn., can certainly testify to that fact. “Despite the standard issues an event planner often faces, there’s a whole other level of pressure involved when you know that the success of a worthy cause you’re passionate about depends on it,” said Landherr.
For the last four years, Crystal has planned numerous events in support of Hiawatha Homes, which provides quality support services for people with disabilities at home and in their community. Her primary responsibility has been to plan and manage the organization’s two major annual fundraisers: Festive Mixology and Festival of Trees. “I view my job as a privilege and an honor,” said Landherr. “I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons over the years.”
On that note, we’d like to share a few key secrets to Crystal’s success, starting with an essential tip on managing one of the biggest differences between typical events and fundraisers: the massive force of volunteers required to make it happen!
“For these kind of events, it’s so important not only to understand how dependent your success is on people outside your control, but to embrace it,” said Landherr. “When you work with people as true partners, the results are so much better than if you try to just hand out assignments or give orders.”
Landherr suggests leaning on the expertise of return volunteers as a good management strategy. “Give veteran volunteers the confidence to take initiative and they will.”
Up until last year, Hiawatha Homes’ largest annual fundraiser was a 5 ½ day event. The span included Thanksgiving Day and despite its status as a beloved holiday tradition for many families in the community, traffic at the event on that day and the day immediately preceding it was markedly slower. “When you also considered the extra demands those two days placed on volunteers, it seemed obvious that we needed to make a change.”
Ultimately, the team decided to close the festival on those two dates, shortening the overall length of the event percent to 3 ½ days. “It was scary to break with something that had been unchanged for so long,” said Landherr. “But it made a lot of sense looking at the funds raised on those days relative to the others, so we took the leap.”
Their bravery paid off with last year’s event exceeding the funds raised in the 30-year history of the event. “Not being afraid to take that risk proved to be wonderfully successful for our ultimate goals of fundraising for our cause.”
Crystal’s final secret to a successful fundraiser seems simple. “Take suggestions,” said Landherr. The hard part comes next: “Really listen to what you’re hearing from volunteers, sponsors and guests and actually take recognizable action on it.”
Encouraging feedback as a strategy for throwing a successful fundraiser has two payoffs. “It’s the surest path to continuous improvement,” said Landherr. “It is also one of the best ways to give people a stake in the success of the event and endear them to the larger cause.”
Landherr suggests instituting a system for receiving suggestions and feedback that also provides some transparency for people to see how their ideas or comments are being put to use. “We have a corkboard that is exclusively for collecting and displaying ideas for the following years event,” said Landherr. “We’ve gotten some really fantastic things out of that over the years.”
Obviously, there’s much more that goes in to planning a successful charity event than a few secret tips, but if you keep some of these important things in mind, the process should be much smoother! For more information about hosting your next fundraising event at our facility, please contact Mary Britt at 507-424-08156 or firstname.lastname@example.org.