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Event Evaluation - Asking the Right Questions

My fundraising career started in annual giving, so special events were always a part of my goals (in a support or a lead capacity).

I've seen a lot of fantastic events - ones that invite curiosity, community, and even a bit of wonder.

I've seen a few truly bad events - where the mission was buried under poor planning, sloppy execution, and a program that was self-congratulatory and insular where it should have been inclusive and inspiring.

But far more often, I've seen events that were just ok. Nothing catastrophic, nothing inspiring. The equivalent of a mid-range cheese pizza. You know, just ok.

As fundraising leaders, we're often called to evaluate our organization's events (or maybe want to evaluate them with the hope of improving them or removing them). But too often, we're asking the wrong questions.

Here are a few tips around event evaluation:

First (and most importantly) - every event, program, or activity should be evaluated. If your organization is serious about the work, then it needs to be willing to take a close look at the impact and effectiveness of every fundraising channel.

Ask the right questions - speaking frankly, some metrics don't matter when it comes to events. Longstanding tradition? Attendees having a good time? The highlight of the board's year? None of these are helpful. Event net income - usually a foolproof measurement -- doesn't necessarily mean the event was effective.

Let's say your event has done a square dancing night for the past 25 years. Everyone loves it. Makes a good bit of money (maybe not as much as you think). Board members and the attendees love it, too.

Based on those metrics alone, you should keep do-si-do'ing for another 25 years.


  • Is the event building community around your cause?

  • Do event attendees get connected to the mission in other ways?

  • Does the event allow you opportunity to build and strengthen relationships with new and returning supporters?

  • Is the event inclusive and aligned with your mission and values?

  • Are you tracking all event expenses? If your director of development is spending 30 hours a week on the event, her costs should be allocated to the event expenses, too!

All these questions lead to my third point. The event has to serve the mission of the organization. Not just the fundraising goals, but the larger mission.

Organizations that treat events like one-off or standalone occasions are more likely to accept that mid-range cheese pizza (pizza that is indistinguishable from the pizza served a dozen other local places).

But your mission - and the people you are working with and serving - deserve our best efforts. And that means taking a long and critical look at our practices and making some courageous decisions. Maybe it's time to move away from the square dance and find new ways to build a community dedicated to your cause.

Want to talk about your events - and how they support your full mission? Schedule a free discovery call below. Let's talk!

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