Fundraising Events: Increasing your profit margin while avoiding the “rubber chicken dinner”

It’s not a myth. It happened. Back in 2003, President Bush held a re-election campaign fundraiser priced at $2,000 per ticket and served his guests hot dogs, hamburgers, and nachos. This was a break from the guests expected “rubber chicken dinner” that fundraising consultants usually order up for attendees.

Rumor has it that President Bush made the cheap dinner a part of his keynote sales pitch, stating that donors can feel confident that every penny would be used towards re-election, not high-priced what-nots for lobbyists and the wealthy.

I heard this story 10 years ago, when I took a fundraising work shop from the world renowned Nancy Bocskor. The story illustrates that we must keep in mind the profit margin on fundraising events. In the non-profit world, we usually do not have the time and human resources to support the inefficient “friend-raiser” and must use our man-power for effective fundraising to maximize donations.

Here’s the deal, donors have an expectation that they will be served something to eat so, be clear on the invitation. However, donors don’t want to eat another rubber chicken dinner… and I don’t want to serve another rubber chicken dinner. So, here’s a few alternative solutions with high profit margins, especially for large groups, that will make your guests happy, and ensure that their donation to your non-profit is a great investment for the organizations future: as mentioned above, hotdogs! Build your own ice cream sundaes, sandwiches and potato chips; It’s Idaho—have a potato bar! When in doubt, scrap the dinner for a cheaper alternative—breakfast, brunch or a reception instead of a plated dinner.

Be creative, make it fun, and work it into the headliner’s speech. They will appreciate the attention to frugality, as it is their wallets and purses that fund our adventures.

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