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?