What’s in a Partner

Blog Post By: Sarah Obialero

Partners. We all have them, we all need them, and most of us spend a large portion of our lives looking for the right ones. Whether in our personal lives or in our professional careers, finding the right partners is an essential part of our survival – without them, we simply wouldn’t be here.

The definition of “partner” is a pair of people engaged together in the same activity”, but is it not so much more than that? Starting in our youth, we find partners in our parents, sibling(s), friends, teammates, even pets. We quickly learn as we grow that these partnerships are sometimes THE BEST things in life and sometimes not. Either way, we learn from them and grow.

The best partners in life happen when both parties can mutually bring and provide each other what they need to survive AND thrive. When I think about the partners in my life, I think about my husband, my family, my closest friends, my co-workers and clients. Each and every one plays a crucial part in my life, just as I do in theirs – equally.  

Strong partnerships are relationships. They require mutual trust and respect, listening and communicating, building up and encouraging, supporting and doing. Without these components partnerships fall apart. And that’s okay. Sometimes two parties were just not meant to be. I’ve learned to always trust that there’s a silver lining.  

In my professional career with STUDIO 4Forty, and with fundraising as a whole, finding great partnerships is everything. Our entire business model is built on partnerships. From our nonprofit partners, vendors and wine partners, to our national and operational based partners, we simply wouldn’t exist without them, nor would we be helping them to thrive and succeed in their worlds. That is our entire mission.

“We’re On A Mission – For Yours.” 

Helping our partners grow and succeed in their communities and in their areas of expertise is our why. From fundraising consulting and signature events, to graphic design, onstage cash calls, and spreadsheets, we are constantly finding ways to be a better partner and to hold onto the partners that we thrive with in success.  

So what’s in a partner? For me it boils down to the ripple effect that one great partnership can have throughout a community, a business, a team, a family. It opens doors to more partnerships and support systems. A partner can build and accelerate growth. It is fed by love and good intentions and it flows through every part of life. It’s a relationship that helps both parties to thrive. 

I am proud to be a part of a company that values our partners above all else.

Make social media… more social.

Blog Post By: Christie Howard

Event marketing has been top of mind for many of our STUDIO 4Forty clients lately. We thought we knew what we were doing. We had a plan and executed it well. So why is our audience waiting until the last minute to purchase tables or sponsorships? Why does no one like our social media posts? WHERE IS THE PRE-EVENT BUZZ?? Is it that traditional marketing is having less of an impact these days?

  • Sent an email about the event
  • Sent a press release about the event
  • Put out ads in local print publications
  • Posted event details on social media
  • Appeared as a guest speaker on my local media stations

While these actions are still important and relevant, it’s time to change the technique a bit. Social media continues to dictate what our audience wants, and what our audience wants is to be… well, more social. Much of what we focus on during the planning stages of our events is making good on what we have promised our sponsors. We want to make sure their logos are attached to tangible items like emails, printed marketing materials, and event signage, but what about the promise that your sponsors’ brands will be seen by your social media audience of 2,500+ followers? 

Your audience no longer wants to see your sponsors’ logos in their timelines (but please don’t stop doing this!). They want to see how you are engaging with them. They want to see the humans behind the sponsorship dollars being social and interacting. So, create a marketing plan around what your audience wants to see and change up what we are promising our sponsors in terms of social media recognition. In fact, let’s get our sponsors to do some of that work for us!

Ask your sponsors how you can collaborate with them to create content around their sponsorships. Chances are that major brands already have a Content Creator or Marketing Professional on staff that can help take the guesswork out of where to begin. Rather than simply posting their logo to your event page, ask them to send you a couple of marketing photos and a small chunk of copy for you to use when announcing their sponsorship level on your social media pages (setting a solid deadline will be key here).  In return, you provide them with a photo or graphic for your event with a bit of copy about how they are proud to be a sponsor of your event benefiting your organization and where their followers can go to purchase tickets or get involved. Now, take it a step further and ask your sponsors if you can take photos and videos of your organization interacting with them. Get footage of your staff at their businesses or event committee interacting with their employees, exploring their products and services, and talking about how their support will directly impact your event and/or mission. Use this to create social posts, social stories, and reels. And of course, ask them to do the same! 

By creating these deeper relationships with your sponsors through marketing, the real benefit will be your audience responding with more engagement and wanting in on the action! 

Letter From the President 2023

Blog Post By: Heather Frank, MA, CFRE

A reflection on 2022 and hopes for 2023 with the lyrics of “Imagine” by John Lennon

“Imagine all the people…” 

We have high hopes for this new year. 2023 is the year of reconnection and reassertion. This is the year I believe we are called to identify who you are supposed to be, not just for yourself, but for others. This is the year to level yourself up in order to level up others. This is what it means to truly “imagine all the people,” take others into consideration, and make this a year to “come together” (did you catch that Beatles reference?). 

“You may say I’m a dreamer…”

STUDIO 4Forty, and myself personally, have truly been supported by so many executives and nonprofits across the country. It is through these relationships that I see we are truly changing lives, changing cities, and ultimately, making the world a better place for generations to come.

STUDIO 4Forty hit a milestone last year. We surpassed the $100 million mark raised alongside our nonprofit partners across North America. Can you imagine?! But we didn’t do it alone. It took daily conversations, continuous support, incredible leadership, hearts for service, and the imagination of many to reach this first mountaintop. We’re already imagining the next. 

In our pursuit to support our incredible nonprofit partners across the continent, we continue to imagine a world that refocuses its attention onto the individuals that define it and the life-changing work that our nonprofit partners are doing every day. We want to be a part of the solution where the dreams of many come together to make a better world, one where we can truly be “livin’ life in peace.” 

Imagine with me here. Can you imagine the day philanthropy becomes the topic of conversation rather than the second thought? Can you imagine the day that nonprofit executives rival Fortune 500 CEOs? Can you imagine that shift in economic and social power? Finally, those focused on truly doing GOOD would lead the charge to truly create a world with “no need for greed or hunger; a brotherhood of man.”

“Imagine no possessions…”

Aren’t we all, as philanthropists and industry leaders, trying to make the world a better place? That is ultimately our shared goal, the reason why we get into this work. My challenge to you is to be more for others than you are for yourself, to identify your New Year’s resolution as less about furthering the individual and more about furthering the whole. 

I think that as humans, in a world that continues to shake us, we identify with the fact that character is above all, and must remain stable when other foundations can crumble. We must seek out ways to align ourselves with others of equal or complimentary character in order to achieve the world we are working so hard to create. 

“Imagine all the people…” 

The year 2023 should truly be about the evaluation of those in your life and who you need to support. We are back in the world, needing to reconnect. Now is the time to reassess how we do that and what type of world we truly want to be a part of. So be the dreamer. Challenge the way things are. Focus on the people around you. Imagine.“You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.” Happy New Year.

Heather Frank,
President, STUDIO 4Forty

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Blog Post By: Ashlee Meier, CFRE

You’ve heard the old adage “you get what you pay for,” but certainly that doesn’t apply to us as nonprofits, right? RIGHT? ….um, right? I know, I know, we’ve all been instilled with the development spidey sense to ask for everything for free. 

  • Water bottles? Get that donated. ✅
  • Event signature cocktail? Beverage partner.
  • Corkage fee? Venue concession. ✅
  • PR & Marketing? In-kind. ✅
  • Silent Auction? 100% donations.

Yes, we want to cut costs. Yes, we want to keep event expenses to the correct margin. No, we don’t have the budget of high-end corporate events. No, we WILL NOT pay $25 per bottle corkage fee!

All of this is great, and really, a necessity to maximize your revenue margin for fundraising events. To negotiate and manage in-kind relationships, venue concessions and donations of products and services often means more fingers in the pot and an additional layer of logistics and communication ON TOP of all the other moving event pieces AND challenging fundraising goals. So indeed, pat yourselves on the back, Development Heroes, because you have refined a truly unique and incredible skill set that means your organization can do more good work!

The reality is, though, that our donors have changed. Event guests have different expectations. Now that we are back in full swing to large scale in person events, there is a new set of rules that must be considered. While I will always be a huge proponent of working to negotiate down as many expense lines as humanly possible, there are two areas that require attention and sometimes, a bit of an investment. 

To bring another old adage into the equation, you have to “put your money where your mouth is.” And, in this case, I do mean that quite literally. 

Event Food:

Hangry (hungry + angry) is REAL. And guests are far less likely to be generous if they are experiencing hanger pains, especially when there is alcohol involved. With many organizations electing to increase ticket prices to cover amped up expenses, guests will be taking a harder look at the (sometimes limited) tangibles included like food and beverage. If you want them to continue to show up AND contribute, we have to strike a delicate balance between cutting costs and cutting carbs. You don’t have to serve surf and turf, but it does need to be appropriate for the timing and length of the event. If your event is scheduled over a typical meal time, enough food should be offered (whether it’s a plated meal or heavy nibbles) to compensate. If booze is available, consider options that help soak that up and ensure guests are enjoying the event but staying safe while doing it. 

Providing the right amount of hearty food can sometimes mean a bit of an investment with culinary partners, catering or your venue. While there is usually still margin for negotiation on pricing, food is an area you don’t want to skimp on too much. Full, happy guests bid and give far more than hangry ones! 

Audio Visual:

Whatever your event goals might be, one thing is for sure: you have a captive audience and it is the ideal time to tell the story of your mission and work. If you splurge in one area for event day, let this be it! AV is often an afterthought and it 100% shouldn’t be. You can put tons of effort into soliciting amazing live auction items, nailing down the perfect emcee, crafting a just right run of show, and creating a tearjerker mission moment…. but, if ALL the guests can’t see and hear clearly, it could be for nothing. When the back or sides of the room do not have focused speakers and screens that invite them to be a part of the onstage or focused action, they won’t. This usually leads to chatting, phone scrolling, or walking out, all of which can be distracting for other guests, even those who can see and hear, and can ultimately have a negative impact on revenue numbers. 

The good news – this is an easy fix! Commit to working with an experienced AV team who can offer enough of the right equipment for your event and space, and who employs pros to help run event day lights and sounds. This will create afor a more polished program, take something off your shoulders, and set you up for success with revenue goals. Everyone should leave feeling good about the fabulous cause they just supported, so ensure that whoever’s lips are to a microphone telling that story can be clearly heard from all corners of the room.

According to Cambridge Dictionary, the meaning behind “put your money where your mouth is” can be defined as, “to show by your actions and not just your words that you support or believe in something.” In earnest, that is exactly what we are asking our guests, sponsors and supporters to do. Like the social media posts, yes! Share the mission moment video, absolutely! But also, TAKE ACTION to support our work we know you believe in. Buy the ticket. Invite friends to attend. Bid on that auction item. Raise the card to fund-the-need. Give your time, talents, and treasures. 

If we’re asking them to put their money where their mouth is and to create the ideal attendee experience and maximize revenue, we should do the same. Now, who’s hungry? 

Feeling Bullied by Time

Blog post by: Jennifer Downes

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” — William Penn, Fruits of Solitude

Time is such a funny thing. When you’re a child, you can’t wait to be older to do all the ‘adult’ things that seem so unique and fun. Yet, when you become an adult, time moves faster than you can keep up with, to the point I feel bullied by it sometimes. 

I used to constantly look at the clock throughout the day and feel the weight of my task list bullying me into feeling that I’m not fast enough, productive enough, responding quickly enough, and so on. So much so, it ultimately made me feel like I’m not enough as an employee, a mother, and a wife. Until one day, I decided to change my mindset and remind myself that I AM ENOUGH! I know my work ethic is strong, and so is my love of being a mom and wife, so I took a stand and put a stop to allowing time and my mind to control me throughout my day. 

In order to take back control, I had to analyze everything I was balancing and determine which are my “glass balls” versus my “plastic balls.” Glass balls are my immediate needs that have to be accomplished today. Whether it’s speaking with a donor, writing an appeal letter, and/or completing a project I have on my list of immediate priorities. Sprinkled throughout my glass balls are the plastic ones. The plastic balls are ones that if I have to drop, it’s ok, because it won’t shatter into a million pieces. The lower priority plastic balls will bounce back up and I’ll pick it up at a later time. Even though it might feel like it at times, not everything is glass. Even when you are being pulled in a billion different directions, there are things that CAN wait. 

Fundraising isn’t for the faint of heart, as it requires consistent follow up, engagement, organization, leadership, and communication. Don’t let your task list overwhelm you anymore. Determine what are your glass balls vs your plastic balls to help organize your day/week/month. Is there truly a perfect solution? No. But hopefully this perspective will allow you to reset your mindset and priorities. 

“The easiest way to increase happiness is to control your use of time.” – Daniel Kahneman

It’s All About Timing

In the world of nonprofits, there are seasons of heavier fundraising. As a company of nonprofit fundraising consultants, graphic designers, and sales professionals, we work with nonprofits all over North America to support their annual fundraising efforts, specifically in special events. With our two event brands, Wine Women & Shoes and Farm to Table(aux), we are able to create unique experiences that entice the senses and provide an opportunity for nonprofits to showcase their missions. These fundraising events typically fall between February-May and September-November, the spring and fall seasons of success. 

There’s a reason for the seasons. It’s all about timing. In the winter months, there are major holidays, parties, school breaks, and year-end fundraising campaigns that are prioritized. In the summer months, vacations and school breaks monopolize calendars. So, while spring and fall may be filled with nonprofit events in each community, this timing is strategic and wise. There is more predictability in schedules during these periods, as school is still in session, holidays are less frequent, and vacations are not as likely. Major holidays to avoid when scheduling an event  include Easter, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving, amongst the spring and fall. So, while there may be a weekend here or there to avoid, the calendar is otherwise relatively more open to accommodate a well attended fundraising event.

Events that fall outside of these regular fundraising seasons typically have lower attendance rates, lower revenue, and lower community investment overall. There are always exceptions to the rule, of course, but overall, our recommendations to our nonprofit partners encourage each of them to consider the spring or fall season as the time they will most likely succeed in reaching their fundraising goals.

If you want to dive even deeper into fundraising event timing, you’ll also want to consider what day of the week works best. Most fundraising events fall between Thursday-Sunday. Actually, more and more often, we are seeing the highest attendee numbers and individual spending per guest on Thursday nights. Events from 6-10pm on a Thursday evening, for example, are often outperforming events on Friday or Saturday nights. Weekend evenings are jam-packed with concerts, sporting events, and family parties. A Thursday night is typically less busy, is easier for many households to find childcare, which allows adults to attend your fundraiser, and is often more cost-effective in facility rentals and catering. In this example, I’m referring more to an adults-only fundraiser, like a gala or alcohol-featured event. Always consider your audience to help determine the time of day and day of the week. Obviously, a family fun fair type of event would be better during the day on the weekend, rather than a late night soiree. 

As you consider your event timing, be sure to pick a season that makes sense in your community and in your fiscal calendar. Other potential challenges to consider include typical weather patterns, community travel patterns (do you have “snowbirds” traveling to or from your area annually?), school calendars, local traditions (does your community have a snow week or annual festivals that shut down the town?), and your nonprofit’s other events. Be gracious with your timing when considering other events in your own organization’s calendar. Scheduling events too closely together can impact your request for donations, sponsorships, and attendees, as well as overwhelm your development team. 

As one of our STUDIO 4Forty clients, we are happy to advise and discuss the timing of your fundraising event. If you are not a current client of ours, but would like to discuss fundraising strategies and timing, we’re happy to set up a call. You can outreach directly to our Director of Business Development to schedule a (well timed) time.

Happy fundraising!

Quality Over Quantity

Blog Post by: Kim Perry

It seems like everything’s getting higher these days: gas prices, weather temperatures, Kardashian wedding bills. 

But you know what’s also on the rise that has us crying tears of joy? 

Individual donor giving. In a BIG way.  

Last month, our STUDIO 4Forty nonprofit teams hosted seven of our signature events across three days that raised an astounding $1.7 million (net). What is particularly noteworthy about that sum is the fact that many of those events had reduced attendance, but as we witnessed through incredible event day giving, this clearly is the year of quality over quantity when it comes to donors. Less has proved to be so much more at smaller events with the right people in the room. Even with smaller crowds, we’ve seen revenues increase over prior years, and in some cases, we’ve seen major increases. 

From various raffles selling out, to the live auctions and paddle raises absolutely crushing previous years’ totals, these smaller crowds are mightier than ever with an eagerness to give. 

What may be perceived as a ticket revenue loss ultimately proves to be a meaningful gain when donors spend more on event day than in years past. 

So how do you get the “right” people in the room? Based on the trend of our spring events, we can’t stress enough the importance of taking the time to comb through your donor base and analyze your data. Who were your big event-day donors and bidders who attended pre-COVID events? Have any of those donors returned to your events last fall and this spring? If not, why? Has your development team done personal outreach to past and present top donors inviting them to upcoming events? Spending time to make a personal phone call or sending a text to those you have a close relationship with feels more inviting than just receiving an invite. A personal handwritten note or email paired with the invitation conveying something appreciative like, “we are so grateful for your support at our past events and hope to see you at our upcoming fundraiser – your presence is truly a gift!” A gesture that simple moves the needle emotionally when donors have as many choices as they do with in-person events back in full swing in their communities. 

Something else to keep in mind with regards to attracting the “right” guests is how many new people may have moved into your community over the past year and making a marketing and PR effort to get your event on their radars. With so many people moving state to state and suddenly finding themselves transplanted in a new community, we want to encourage you to do something creative to make your event seem compelling. A cute mailer that says “Are you new to our AMAZING city?! We can’t wait to welcome you at our party of the year! Make new friends and learn how our organization is making a BIG difference in your new backyard.” 

We can’t stress enough the importance of putting in the time to do this research, legwork, and outreach to get the right people in the room for your event. 

It’s so easy to get distracted by the event itself and become overwhelmed by production to pull it all off. So, take the time to pause and put a plan in place for the people you want to see who can truly make a financial difference for your organization. 

After all, what good is a fundraiser without the funds?  

Pantone Color of 2022

Blog Post by: Allie Duggan

New year, new color! It’s that time again and Pantone has spoken. Typically Pantone will choose a color from their existing library, it’s extensive so it gives them a lot to choose from, but they did things a little different this year. For 2022 they have invented PANTONE 17-3938 Very Peri. As the name implies, it is a shade of periwinkle. This bold choice to create a whole new color is indicative of all things new that are emerging this year in all aspects of life, technology and trends. Veri Peri has big things in store. This shade represents inventiveness and creativity and it can be very powerful when it comes time to set intentions through the rest of this year.

If we look back at 2021’s Pantone colors of the year, they were Ultimate Gray 17-5104 and Illuminating 13-0647. These colors were a symbol of strength and hopefulness, which was fitting coming after the struggle of 2020. Some may say that 2021 gave us two colors, rather than one because we just needed a little extra after the heavy year of 2020. Veri Peri stands alone with a strong mixture of blue and red. The loyalty and reliability of blue combined with the vitality and spirit of red give birth to a color that evokes comfort and vigor all in one.

We are now a few months into 2022 it is fitting that Very Peri is a symbol of inventiveness and creativity. I don’t think anybody is a stranger to becoming inventive in doing things differently and coming up with creative ways of living a “normal” life through a pandemic and that is here to stay.  “As we emerge from an intense period of isolation, our notions and standards are changing, and our physical and digital lives have merged in new ways. Digital design helps us to stretch the limits of reality, opening the door to a dynamic virtual world where we can explore and create new color possibilities. With trends in gaming, the expanding popularity of the metaverse, and the rising artistic community in the digital space PANTONE 17-3938 Very Peri illustrates the fusion of modern life and how color trends in the digital world are being manifested in the physical world and vice versa.” Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of The Pantone Color Institute

The creation of a new color for 2022, versus choosing an existing color, reflects the expansive possibilities ahead of us. It wipes the slate clean and makes way for a fresh start, exactly what is needed right now. Periwinkle, and its properties as blue and violet mixed together, opens up a world guided by our intuitions instead of doing things the same old way they have always been done. It inspires you to look deep and align your goals with your emotions. Doing this acts as a catalyst to bring your dreams to life this year!

What is the Purpose of a Fundraising Event?

two women in dresses on a stage, speaking in a microphone before a crowd

Blog Post by: Krista Elmore, MBA, CFRE

According to Kindful, the nonprofit glossary website, “a fundraising event is an event designed to raise awareness and support for an organization’s mission.” It is the belief of STUDIO 4Forty that nonprofit fundraising events are crucial to the success and lifeline of an organization. Fundraising events not only provide a means to revenue, they are also an opportunity to expand the nonprofit’s notoriety in the community they serve and beyond.

Nonprofit fundraising events are not only fund-raisers, they are also friend-raisers and fun-raisers. Events make a lasting impression not only on the attendees, but also on the volunteers, sponsors, and donors. It is the single best way to tap into the nonprofit’s thread of networks and raise awareness for the services and mission of the organization through pre-event solicitations and marketing, event day activations and communications, and post-event thank you notes and reporting.

At an event, a donor has the ability to actively engage with the charity. Volunteers have an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the organization’s mission and services, which often leads them to become the charity’s longest, and most dedicated, donors. With an opportunity to serve and engage, donors and volunteers are more likely to stay connected to the charity for years to come. This one-on-one interaction is critical in establishing loyalty.

If you, as an organization or board member, are worried about the impact an event can have on your staff, their capacity, or the reputation it might create for your organization, I want to encourage you to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Events are an opportunity. They provide a platform for brand recognition, mission awareness, and an influx of new supporters and donors. As an example, our first year Wine Women & Shoes partner in Bakersfield, CA in 2021 saw over 50% of their attendees as new donors and sponsors. What an incredible return! Yes, events take a substantial amount of work, but the reward outweighs the burden. If you still aren’t convinced, we’d be happy to set up a time to chat about events and how they will fundamentally improve your organization while staying true to the unique mission and branding of your nonprofit.

Now is the time to re-engage your community with a fundraising event. We have seen tremendous returns for nonprofits that have stepped back into the in-person event arena. Supporters are enthusiastically ready to attend in-person events with their friends and fellow community members to make memories and, more importantly, a positive impact on worthy causes. Creating an exciting atmosphere that resonates will reap endless rewards.

Renew & Refresh

Blog Post by: Jennifer Downes, CFRE

The beginning of a new year is always refreshing as it allows the opportunity to reflect on your organization. The programs you run, event(s), and overall communication with your donors plays a significant role in your fundraising efforts. With in-person events back in full force, this is a great opportunity for you to reflect and refresh your events, specifically with your sponsors.

Sponsors are the foundation of all events. I want to encourage you to think of new, creative, and unique ways to renew and refresh your deck and how you approach them this year. Below are a few tips and tricks to consider:

  • Refresh your sponsorship deck with fabulous new graphics!
    • Switching up colors and textures to catch the eye of your donor is key and helps you stand out from the crowd!
  • Rework the layout of your content.
    • Mixing up the layout of your deck and how you deliver your message will provide your donor with a brand new look and feel.
  • Refresh the sponsorship opportunities that are in your deck.
    • Add new branded opportunities and additional levels (even if you simply rename a few). It will give your deck a new “feel” and allow your donor (new and returning) to be WOWed by all the unique opportunities you’re presenting them with.
    • Think about all the different elements that are within your event. Determine what can be sponsored. Even unique items such as a branded glass, the entertainment for the evening, or a coat check can be a sponsorship opportunity.
  • Ensure you have strong mission communication towards the beginning of your sponsorship presentation.
    • Really determine what message you are trying to send.
    • We need to show your returning and potential new donors WHY we are asking for these dollars and HOW it will help service your community.
  • Refresh your marketing strategy. Dive into the marketing benefits you are providing them now and think through new outlets you can add.
    • Social media really allows you multiple options with minimal to no cost. Think about adding a FB live and/or 60 second video from the donor’s business and post it to your social media pages.
  • Refresh your sponsorship approach. Meeting in person or picking up the phone is always beneficial, but consider creating a specific sponsor-targeted video that you can send with the packet highlighting the event theme, elements, and showcasing your mission.

Now is the time to make sure your event and organization stands out from the crowd! Invest the time now to renew and refresh your sponsorship deck. It’ll be worth it!

(Cover image is of the 2022 Wine Women & Shoes San Francisco sponsorship deck created by our own Creative Director, Sarah Obialero)

A Time to Dance 

Blog Post by: Kim Perry

The other night I watched the movie “Footloose” – not the terrible remake, but the iconic ‘80s original. In the poignant scene where the pastor announces he’s reversing his decision on the town dancing ban, I started crying as the stunned students realize their senior prom wish has been granted. That pivotal moment as they rejoice felt like a metaphor for recent times and struck me with profound emotional empathy. As cheesy as it sounds, I felt like one of those students when our nonprofit partners were finally permitted to host in-person celebrations last year, after what felt like an eternity.

And in similar fashion to the senior dance, once donors could gather and celebrate their beloved causes at our signature events, they didn’t hold back. Not only did we witness an energy in the room unlike ever before, but  giving was also unrivaled. After being on lockdown and consequently denied the ability to connect with others, everyone was ready to have some serious fun while supporting invaluable missions across the country.

It’s not that in past years our events weren’t a TON of fun. It’s just different now, in the most magical way. So much so that following two of our Fall in person activations, I awoke to emails from attendees praising our signature events as the BEST they had ever attended and asking how they can partner with STUDIO 4Forty….and quickly, please. In my own “Footloose” moment, I not only felt an indescribable happiness for my team and company but also for all our partners returning to in-person events this year. Like a teenager no longer grounded, that freedom has compelled our partners to deliver unprecedented and truly unforgettable events in their communities. It has also compelled donors to give in record numbers because they are ecstatic to be back in the room, together, begin part of something bigger than themselves.

From drum beats and majorettes to drag queens and aerialists, the entertainment at our events has been nothing short of magnificent, and the guests are here for it – relishing every second and raising their paddles higher than ever.

But there’s always one distinguishing factor of a transcendental event and its uplifting effect as evidenced by our post-lockdown fundraisers: the room ignites, the guests jump off their chairs and…you guessed it… start dancing!

An Atmosphere of Giving

Blog Post by: Ashlee Meier

As I’m sure you well know, there is no magic wand when it comes to fundraising. It’s called development for a reason. Development within fundraising is the process of creating and enhancing relationships with (potential) donors to ensure current and future funding. It is a commitment, an investment and, when done well, can prove an incredibly fruitful return.

BUT, what about when we only have their attention for a few short hours at an event?!?AGHHHHH! Woah woah, calm down! While there is no magic wand, after spending a decade between organizing fundraising events as a Director of Development and coaching teams across the country on bringing their events to life, I have found there is one distinct difference between the so-so galas and the unforgettable evenings.

Spoiler alert: It isn’t the decor!

You know the room. You’ve stood in it…or peeked in from a window…or perhaps you’ve been the creator behind it. The room that feels magical. The room that has a tangible electricity running through it. The room that swells with emotion, followed by a wave of generosity sweeping through it in a way that leaves everyone who experiences it excited and fulfilled.

This is the event that blows by its revenue goals. This is the event that gets grassroots social buzz because people just HAVE to share about it. This is the event where guests spend or give more than they anticipated, but rather than regretting it the next day, they already can’t wait to purchase their tickets and do it again next year. It’s a wonderful room to be in…but how do you make it happen? How do you create this atmosphere of giving?

Look at the whole puzzle.
There are a LOT of moving parts to most events and they all require time, energy, and effort to be successful. Trust me, I know how easy it is to get lost in the weeds, carefully considering each detail of every element. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to do that, but you can’t do JUST that!

To create the optimal atmosphere of giving, you have to step back and look at how all those elements fit together and think strategically about how to use the individual components to build energy and focus momentum as a whole. A few things to spend time on: layout and room flow (especially the position of revenue activations), event timing, and the run of show order.

Encourage energy. 
Three words: Music, fun, focus. You might say, well duh, but when you are up to your eyeballs in event details, it’s easy to overlook some common sense pieces.

Music: Being prepared to play the right music at the right time during your event is critical. It helps set the tone for the emotional roller coaster you ideally want to take your guests on, fills any potentially awkward gaps, and adds to the fun. Instead of just throwing on elevator music, consider your song selections carefully both during mingling time and in the run of show. Note: you’ll need to work with your AV team to ensure speakers are in place so guests can hear your music selections in every portion of the event.

Fun: The work you do is serious, no doubt, and perhaps your event is, too, but even the most uplifting, powerful and inspirational agendas need a little fun in the mix to encourage energy! Think about ways to sprinkle in fun that is authentic to your organization and mission.

Focus: You have the power to focus your guests using the big picture pieces mentioned above (layout, timing, run of show), so do it! Decide what your priorities are and use volunteers, music, lighting, height – whatever it takes to draw your guests’ attention to where YOU want it at the time you want it there.

Capitalize on momentum. 
You’ve nailed down a masterpiece layout, the music is just right, your guests are having fun, are focused on the good work you do and positive energy is coursing through the room….now what? ATTACK! Just kidding….but really, NOW is the time to make your ask! Whether that’s through a live auction, fund-a-need, or a simple conversation, you have set the stage, and now it’s time to invite your guests to REALLY be a part of the core goal of the day. When you’ve invested in creating an atmosphere of giving, this moment becomes special, memorable, exciting, and difficult to say no to.

Creating an atmosphere of giving is one of the (many) areas we love to work on with our STUDIO 4Forty partner teams and seeing their results is oh so fulfilling. Recently, a first year team who had to postpone their inaugural event due to Covid, finally got to see their hard work come to fruition. They committed to listening and following our STUDIO 4Forty best practices while incorporating their incredible depth of supporter knowledge and event experience. The result was a truly magical event in year one that created fabulous momentum for their mission and brought in 183% of their net budget goal. Yes, you are seeing that correctly…83% more than they had hoped for.

Yes, it’s another thing to think about, but I promise you – it’s worth it! And if you don’t know where to start, we’d love to help.