To fully explain the impact of a Smart Party, I begin with an event fundraising story.
Devoted to a local nonprofit, like any good board member I was involved with its events. For many years, the organization hosted a successful wine dinner and auction that generated approximately $130k gross. The executive director persuaded the development committee that the event required too much staff time (it did!) and the revenue could be replaced by a major gift strategy. We canceled it. (FYI - the revenue was not successfully replaced by a major gift strategy but that's a different article.) .
However, just 3 short years later and with a new team in place, the same organization needed new donors, more recognition in the community and revenue. And, there we were around a conference room table saying
‘We need an event.’
As one of the few who served long enough to witness the cancellation and now genesis of an event, the reasons for hosting an event fundraiser were clear. The event needed to represent the brand identity of the organization, attract new donors ages 35-45 and raise at least $100K to justify the staff time.
This leads me to lesson #1 about event fundraising - the goals for the organization need to be clear and then the event built to fulfill the goal.
We created the Smart Party for the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham. It was an incredible success that has brought in over 1,000 new donors to the organization, generated $117K gross in year 1 and now generates over $260K in revenue, 25K+ website visitors per event and creates several hundred social media mentions using the event hashtag (i.e. sponsor and cause awareness).
Smart Party Event Concept
A Smart Party is a competitive fundraising event where all guests are invited to join in a community-wide crowdfunding effort to benefit the cause IN REAL TIME. With food, fun, great decor and the smartest people from the community everyone gathers to network and actively share online (and give) to help someone win the fundraising or the social leaderboard. Peer to peer fundraising is a lot more fun with your peers PLUS there are a lot people who will support your guests and honorees who cannot attend and would prefer to connect online. This is the power of the event.
The Event Brand: The event is a celebration of the word Smart and every element of the event needs to support that event identity. The event staging is sophisticated (a low “LA” vibe), corporate sponsors are celebrated for something smart, honorees from the community that are a bit ‘below the radar’ are highlighted and the committee that launches the event must represent those you consider to be the smartest in your community. The goal is for every person who attends a Smart Party to leave feeling a bit smarter as a result - perhaps they learned something because of an honoree, interacted with technology in a way they had not previously, discovered an interesting fact about a sponsor, met other smart people in the community and heard about the smart steps the nonprofit is taking to pursue their mission.
What Happens: Smart Party, facilitated by technology, is entirely automated. Ticketed guests automatically become fundraisers and are rewarded for selling tickets and raising funds from the moment the first ticket is sold. Since the primary goal of a Smart Party is to attract new donors, peer-to-peer motivation is the best way to cast the net as widely as possible. Guests are equipped to talk about Smart Party and motivated to share it online. The guests who raise the most and share the most are rewarded at the end of the night. Additionally, weekly prizes, door prizes and other activations can be leveraged to create fun around the sharing and fundraising.
During the event, when each guest enters the venue they receive an email with their fundraising scorecard so that they can share with others who could not attend. As the evening and program progresses, the guests can watch a screen which shows an updated fundraising total and leaderboards throughout the evening. The real-time display combined with the peer tools creates a live crowdfunding event where guests can invite peers to GIVE and SEE the activity unfold.
Program: The focus of the program is the announcement of the Smart Party honorees and highlighting the collective impact of the room on your mission. Nonprofits can highlight the number of new donors coming in online, the amount raised each 30 minutes, the person with the highest social score and those that are out front with fundraising. We can provide a sample program.
The best part of a Smart Party for event organizers is the following:
(1) Ticketing is simple - no table seating, table charts or difficulty gathering attendees names/emails;
(2) No Auctions or Fundraising Gimmicks to organize. Nonprofit staff and committee members will not spend hours organizing baskets, setting up an auction, or gathering wine for a ‘wine pull’. Their focus is entirely on the atmosphere of the event venue, honoree management, sponsorship requests and encouraging their peers to share online.
What Have We Learned? We have learned a great deal about Smart Party in the past 8 years, especially as other organizations implemented versions of the concept in their markets. One of our mistakes is that we allowed future clients to change the concept - i.e. include an auction, not involve a committee or not include the honoree component. We did not properly grasp that the real power of the event is that the staff has the bandwidth to focus on the fundraising. Period. Today, Smart Party has a playbook.