How to Keep an Annual Fundraiser Relevant and Growing

Written by Kimberly MacArthur Graham on February 3, 2014
Design After Dark

Design After Dark

If your organization is planning an annual fundraiser, take a lesson (or three) from the Design Council and their Design After Dark. This savvy group of (mostly) design professionals and design lovers has put on this event for 10 years, and it just keeps getting better. A self-described “mid-winter party and silent auction that increases awareness of and appreciation for the design arts,” Design After Dark proceeds support the Denver Art Museum’s department of architecture, design and graphics. Every year, the event grows in terms of numbers (it has sold out the last couple of years), diversity (all demographics), and media coverage. Here are three tactics you can borrow to raise the bar on your organization’s event.

1 – Support your supporters. One thing that Design After Dark does incredibly well is support the community of architects, designers, showrooms, builders, educators, writers, etc. that care about what the Design Council represents and does. Everyone who donates and attends feels feted and special. It is as much a celebration of the design industry, and everyone wants to be a part of that. Make sure that your event treats its sponsors, donors, and attendees right.

2 – Timing is everything. Who isn’t looking for inspiration this time of year? Design After Dark has little competition from other galas, and nothing beats the winter blahs like dressing up and heading out to experience wonderment. Of course, it goes without saying that when possible, an event should keep to a schedule so that people learn to expect, and plan for, it. When planning your event, make sure it doesn’t conflict with any holidays (civic or religious) or other major events that your audience might want to attend.

3 – Pick a theme, but not any theme. Every year, the Design After Dark event committee selects a unique theme to inspire attendees as well as the artists who create the items for auction. Having a new theme each year gives people a reason to come back, but this committee is particularly savvy, often picking a word that has several meanings and pointed relevance for their audience (e.g., “skin” or “cast”) – and they are practical, making sure a concept will lend itself to multiple applications: event logo, invitations, décor, even the dress code. Picking a theme for your event that is meaningful, flexible, and memorable will encourage participation of guests, sponsors, and media.

One final piece of advice: balance the new with the known. Annual events can get stale, and need to stay fresh to keep people coming back, but offering something novel in the context of something familiar will make yours a “can’t miss” event. And that ensures that everyone – including your organization – has a wonderful time.

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