In Any Event 

Morton Massey: Top mistakes made at fundraisers

Morton Massey attends scores of events both as a guest and in his capacity of efficiently checking out auction winners in a process that he and his wife, state Sen. Becky Massey perfected. We asked Morton to be a guest blogger, and he shared his perspective on the four mistakes most often made at events.

Event mistakesMy experience focuses on nonprofit fundraising events that include cocktails, silent auction, dinner and live auction. These events may have entertainment and can last up to four hours. They run the gamut from casual blue jeans and barbecue to formal galas.

One thing they all can share in common are critical planning mistakes.

Not enough focus on fun

This mistake towers over all the rest. Organizations often focus on how they can raise the most money in terms of items auctioned and number of attendees.

While that certainly is key, if you don’t put on a good party with “festive exuberance,” your event usually will underperform, especially in the long term.

When a committee focuses on throwing a great party, good things happen. Your committee has fun and puts more energy into planning. It is easier to sell tickets because the focus shifts to coming to a party, not a fundraiser to be hit up for money. Attendees have more fun and generally will loosen up and spend more.  And, most importantly, when they leave they already are looking forward to next year.

I can attest that the vast majority of successful fundraising events also are the ones that are first and foremost the best parties.

Long and counterproductive programs

Alan Carmichael with Becky and Morton Massey (Blue Streak photo)
Alan Carmichael with Becky and Morton Massey (Blue Streak photo)

People attend fundraising dinners and galas to be entertained. They seek festive events with good food and drink, silent auctions and lots of socialization.

Anything that works against an atmosphere of the aforementioned festive exuberance usually reduces both the guests’ enjoyment and the money raised.

Programs that last more than five or 10 minutes will start to bore guests. Yes, you need to thank sponsors and welcome guests. But leave it at that.

Some events go on and on thanking board members, staff and folks who worked on the committee. Some events try to sell their cause through long videos or serious testimonials that change the atmosphere from happy to sad.

When this happens, pocketbooks close and the desire of guests to return next year drops.

All events need a program. But decide what is most important to do in the shortest time possible so that festive exuberance is sustained throughout the event.


Not having the right people present

Planners sometimes focus too much on the number of attendees when the event would be better served by focusing on who the attendees are. People like to party with people they know and enjoy. One solution is to have people who will attend reach out and get others to come. Arrange table seating where guests are familiar with each other to encourage interaction.

Having some of the “big spenders” attend also is key in most cases. Fortunately, there are quite a number of well-to-do members of the community who really enjoy going to fundraising dinners and galas. But most of these folks attend because they like the socialization, not because they are tied to the cause. You can get them to attend and open their wallets by having someone they know issue an invitation. Also, make sure these important guests are seated with people they know.

Not having an event coordinator

Fundraising dinners usually have several stages. There is the check-in stage, cocktail/silent auction stage, move everyone into dinner stage, dinner stage, live auction stage and checkout stage. Other stages include during or after-dinner entertainment. To say the least, the stages can be complicated and detailed.

There always should be an event coordinator. That does not mean you have to hire someone. The coordinator can come from within the organization and should be someone who understands all aspects of the event, takes responsibility for keeping things on schedule and can troubleshoot any issues. The coordinator also should know who is responsible for what and where these people are located if needed.

Those are my tips for success. Good luck to all fundraisers. See you at checkout.

Morton Massey is a retired computer software expert. When not attending events, he likes to bird-watch and hike at Seven Islands State Birding Park and volunteer with several local nonprofit organizations.


6 responses to “Morton Massey: Top mistakes made at fundraisers

  1. Amen to all four! And especially #2. Nothing sucks the air (& fun) out of a room like speeches/long programs..

  2. Even though the Urban League has been fortunate to host a successful Gala for the last 12 years, I was reminded to adhere to Mort’s advice! He knows what he’s talking about! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Definite words of wisdom and fundraising event principles to live by!! So happy to see you enjoy Seven Islands in the community where I spent my years growing up!!

  4. Much, much thanks to Morton for writing this guest blog. He certainly has a bird’s eye view of a lot of events.

  5. Thank you Morton for stressing the notion of having fun. People like to party and have a great time. In fact, they do spend more money when they sense that the event committee has considered their desire to have fun. Morton, you and Becky are a wonderful couple who always add fun and generosity to events around town. I appreciate your advice.

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