Riding the Next Wave: Event Planning & Fundraising in the Changing Landscape

Dawn Bell

Dawn has worked in the nonprofit sector most of her professional life, where she developed a penchant for event planning. Second only to her love of logistics, is fundraising where she believes creating relationships is the key component for successful partnerships. Additionally, she believes that volunteering is the cornerstone of a strong community and volunteers regularly.

I have been planning and producing events for decades.  I truly adore logistics. All those orders to track, numbers to crunch, shipments to receive, timetables, vendors, stage settings, and moving parts that pull an event off the page and into 3-D. 

There’s nothing that compares to the scurry of last-minute changes, the challenge of a windstorm that pulls down the tents, or the chaos of a no-show speaker.  

Ah, events.   

The best part for me is standing in the wings, mid-event, and observing the guests.  I can tell by the atmosphere if we got it right.   All the back-of-house frustrations of set up – the organizing of volunteers, the catering SNAFUs, the nervous honoree – are all completely invisible to guests who are nodding, laughing, and enjoying the action on the stage before them.  A planner knows when an event is balanced and when it starts to slip.  But – and it’s a big but here – you must be in the room with the people at the event to gauge your event’s success.   

When a job you have been familiar with for thirty years is turned on its head due to a pandemic, it’s tough to feel one hundred percent confident in your planning actions.   Since the spread of COVID-19 we’ve thrown ourselves into learning mode and tackled technology that we never would have intentionally sought out. Never did I think that virtual planning and production would land on my desk as a requisite.  Luckily, the world of virtual platforms had been well-developed, and many tools were already in place: we just had to shift to learn them. You know from experience that this in no way conveys the challenge of that shift!   

I can honestly say that the virtual events we have produced at CVNL have been more successful than I originally thought possible.  The attendance has been stellar. In some cases, we reached more people than ever before.  People complimented our event efficiency and overall content.  I was able to sense audience engagement and enjoyment in a different way. We are now more confident on the virtual front and I’m proud of everyone on staff who lent their expertise every day to make these events shine. 

If you’re like me, you have been happily moving ahead in a cloud of familiar logistics for your in-person 2021-22 events.  Booking venues, considering menus, scheduling vendors, and all the bits and pieces you know and have missed during this long hiatus.   

But is it over?

Lurking just off stage is the gleam of virtual technology waiting to be re-engaged.  The truth is: COVID isn’t over.  This next wave of the pandemic is causing huge surges in infections and masks have begun to once again conceal the faces of our friends, family, colleagues, and partners.    

The other side of all this, the vital purpose behind all the planning frenzy is, of course, fundraising.  Our fund development colleagues are struggling  as much as planners are.  Some common questions include: 

  • How do we present the sponsor virtually in a way that is meaningful?  
  • How do we excite new sponsors?   
  • How can we keep our donors engaged? 

Other organizations have shared that they have raised more money than with their live events of the past.  Of course, the decrease in physical expenses is a big reason for that.  If you don’t have hard expenses, and you raise the same amount, you’re golden. Can we count on this happening a second or, in some cases, a third time?   

Will returning (eventually) to in-person events meet our financial goals?  Venue and service costs have risen due to losses incurred during the pandemic.  The longer they can’t stage a live event, the more costs will rise.  How do we counter that?  Raise ticket prices? Switch to a buffet instead of plated meals?  Reduce a sit-down event to a more causal format?  There are ways, and this season has once again demonstrated that nonprofits are savvy, innovative, and resilient.   

There are plenty of reasons for optimism. Since we already pivoted big time, doing it again will be simpler.  It remains to be seen what will transpire in the coming months. Will staggered attendance events catch on?  Or drive-bys?  Meanwhile, how will we maintain our sanity and remain relevant in an environment such as this? I would love to share what we are all going through. 

Riding The Next Wave: A Two-Part Series On Planning Events In The Changing Landscape.

CVNL is hosting a two-part series through its monthly Fundraising and Marketing Peer Learning Network: Riding the Next Wave.  On September 2nd we will set the stage for comments, concerns, and all manner of seemingly unanswerable questions about planning and fundraising for events.  On September 29, we will tackle the top-of-list issues and bring answers and resources with real-life examples.  Register for both today. 

Learn More and Register Here: Fundraising Peer Learning Network:  Riding the Next Wave Part 1 – Questions & Concerns  

Until then, if you want to talk about your upcoming event challenges, I’d be happy to listen and help if I can.   

Dawn Bell, CVNL, Special Events Manager 

CVNL believes that passion alone is not enough in building strong nonprofits. We meet passion with professionalism and offer impactful learning opportunities that build leadership capacity, support organizations in making an even greater impact, and help create healthy, happy, and equitable communities.