A Year End Reflection on Special Events


Michigan Civil War Battle Flag shown at Kalamazoo Sanitary Fair Special Event. Archives of Michigan

Michigan Civil War Battle Flag shown at Kalamazoo Sanitary Fair Special Event. Archives of Michigan














I’m often asked if it is smart to hold special events during challenging times.

My response – Absolutely!

Special events bring attention to your mission and help generate publicity for your nonprofit. They are an excellent  fundraising tool, as they encourage donors and sponsors. And, special events are great for engaging your leadership and volunteers.

Special events have been the mainstay of successful fundraising since the Civil War. The Ladies Soldier’s Aid Society of Kalamazoo raised $9,618 for wounded and sick soldiers at a four-day special event at the Kalamazoo Sanitary Fair in 1864. (Orosz, 1997)

The first known American Red Cross fundraiser was a play produced by six children in Waterford, Pennsylvania in 1884 to aid flood victims. The organization’s fundraising focus changed virtually overnight in 1917 when President Woodrow Wilson created the Red Cross War Council. A series of special events including bazaars, block dances and “Kick the Kaiser” parties raised $115 million.

Birthday ball for the president 

During the Great Depression, the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, started raising money with an annual “President’s Birthday Ball.” The balls were held every January on Roosevelt’s birthday. The balls were so successful that in 1938 they were merged into the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, later renamed the March of Dimes. (March of Dimes website)





As 2009 closes and we look towards 2010, I offer these “Special Events” Resolutions to you and your organizations:

  • We will host at least two special events in 2010
  • The events will be integrated into our development plan.
  • We will start our planning early with brainstorming sessions that engage our board members.
  • We will invite new people to the table and think “Outside the Box.”
  • We will stay true to our mission and focused on our goals when we plan special events.

My best to you and your family for a healthy, creative 2010.

The Rule of One – Planning Al Gore Event

A Full House at the Eizenstat Memorial Lecture featuring Al Gore. Photo Credit Chris Savas

A Full House at the Ahavath Achim Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture featuring Al Gore. Photo Credit Chris Savas

The key to a successful event is planning. One of the first steps is goal-setting.

Goals establish the scope of an event and help the event team set priorities and stay focused. They are the basis for benchmarking progress along the way.

Remember the Rule of One – You can only have one top priority. You need to be specific about what your number one priority is and what goals go along with that. You can have secondary or auxiliary goals as well, but only one main focus.” – Jeff Shuck, Event 360, Inc.

Non-profit events focus on raising money or awareness. Once you establish your primary goal, be sure it is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

Metrics help you measure your outcomes. And, each goal has its own set. Possible money metrics include, total funds raised, ROI, or an increase in revenue from the last special event.

Raising awareness metrics include the number of new participants and/or volunteers, media impressions or increased name recognition.

Once the goal is set it should guide your budget, timeline, promotions and sponsorships.

The focus of  the Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture featuring Al Gore was to increase awareness.

Was the event successful? Absolutely!

“This year’s Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture raised the bar even higher for future AA events. We plan to reach those heights and beyond.”  – Ahavath Achim Synagogue President

I hope this post helps guide your focus and leads to success in your next special event.