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Magic of Third Party Events

We’ve all been in board or staff meetings brainstorming ways to raise more money. Inevitably someone will suggest an event of some sort – a golf tournament, a raffle, a 5K, a spaghetti dinner, the list is literally endless.

While events can be an effective way to raise funds, generate publicity and provide board members an opportunity to cultivate new supporters to the organization; compared to other ways to raise money, they take a long time to plan and execute, are tremendously labor intensive, and a relatively expensive way to raise money.

As a result, events can be particularly challenging for smaller nonprofits with limited staff.

This is where third party events (TPEs) can be a real help. What is a TPE? It is an event held by an individual or organization that turns the event proceeds over to a nonprofit, or several nonprofits. These can range from a group that raises a hundred dollars with a can and bottle drive to benefit a local school backpack program to something like the South High Marathon Dance, which raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for a variety of local causes.

What all TPEs have in common is that the organizer of the event (the third party) does all of the leg work: sets the date, sells the tickets, finds the sponsors, secures the venue, manages publicity, contracts with caterers and entertainment, etc. And the third party takes all of the financial risk and pays all of the event costs. After the event is over the third party gives a check to the organization(s) for which the event is being held.

Ideally the nonprofit(s) benefitting from the event has very little to do with the event logistics. Sometimes nonprofits are completely unaware of events like these until they receive a donation! Other times they will be called upon to provide basic information about the programs that the event is supporting or assistance publicizing the event on the nonprofit’s website or Facebook page. Good donor stewardship dictates providing some positive post event publicity for the organizer, if they want it.

Most of these events happen organically. A person or group decides they want to raise money and approach the nonprofit about it. For instance, a grateful family wants to do something for an organization that helped their family member, such as a hospice or school; or a social service club wants to live its mission by raising money for an organization that shares its values; or a scout troop wants to support a cause that it relates to. What they have in common is an interest in or connection to the nonprofit they are raising money for.

While most of these events occur organically, why not cultivate these events? But where to start?

Next time a board member or volunteer says they have a great idea for an event, tell them it is a great idea and tell them to go for it. But be sure they understand that they are personally responsible for all aspects of the event. You’ll find out very quickly whether or not they are serious about their idea or if they just want credit for the idea and let other people do all the work. As long as the person takes ownership of the event I’ve seen them develop into great successes.

Keep an ear open for folks who say they’d really like to support your nonprofit  but can’t afford a large donation. You can say, “I don’t know if this would appeal to you, but hosting an event for us would be a real help.” This could be anything from a cultivation event to meet new prospective donors to a golf tournament, the sky’s the limit. Organizing a third party event is a great way that someone who would really like to help the organization, and has a strong network of contacts that will support them, could raise money, even though they might not personally have a lot of money to donate as an individual.

Another avenue to consider is reaching out to local businesses. A friendly retailer might be willing to put a change drop by their cash register for your organization. A caring restaurant might be willing to donate the proceeds from a night at their restaurant, especially on a normally slow night and if they can use it as a way to encourage a new audience to attend. An enterprising jewelry store might be willing to hold a wine and cheese party in early February or before Christmas, with a portion of the sales that night going to a charity.

There can be some downsides to third party events. It is rare for a person or group hosting a TPE to keep accurate track of who gave to the event, much less their contact information. Without that information the nonprofit has no way to thank those individuals, or to reach out to them later on. On the other hand, donors to these types of activities are usually more interested in supporting the person organizing the event or the activity itself than they are in the nonprofit being supported. And sometimes the group putting on the TPE can be well intentioned but  incongruous with the charity it is supporting, for example a smoke shop hosting an event for a cancer center.

Generally speaking, third party events are a win-win, they contribute to a nonprofit’s bottom line without using staff time or negatively impacting the organization’s cost per dollar raised.

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