This is why your special event doesn’t raise more money


Do you ever wonder why your events aren’t raising more money?

Why more people don’t make pledges and why pledge amounts are decreasing instead of increasing?

It’s the economy, right?  That must be it.  People are hurting, so they aren’t giving as much or as frequently as they used to.  That’s got to be the answer.

It can’t possibly be anything we’re doing (or not doing), right?


I’ve been to three ask events in the last couple of months and have been surprised at each one.

Banquet rooms were filled at each event!  That tells me it isn’t the economy.  If it were really just the economy, people wouldn’t bother to show up.

The stories were amazing.  Clients told tear-jerking stories of the life-saving impact these organizations made on their lives.  Donors told motivating stories of why they got involved and how fulfilling supporting each cause has been.  Staff and board members shared heart warming stories about their daily experiences of working for such important and valuable causes.

So why weren’t these organizations raising more money?  If they’re filling the rooms and telling good stories, why isn’t the money pouring in?

What I was shocked to find is so much work had been put into getting people to the event, making sure the meal was perfect and the presentation was great.  But very little focus or effort was put into the actual ask.

At all three events, when it came to the ask it felt like an afterthought.  The asks were tepid.  Soft.  Rushed.  Sitting through these asks was like listening to the disclaimers read at the end of financial or pharmaceutical commercials on television.

Since these were three events from there different organizations in three different parts of the country, I’m willing to bet this is a more persistent problem across the sector.

Here are five ways to fix your event ask

1. Identify the best person to make the ask: Don’t assume that your CEO or Director of Development has to be the one to make the ask.  Often this will be the case, but it doesn’t have to be.  You want someone who is passionate about your cause and who isn’t afraid to ask.  Maybe this is a board member or volunteer.  Pick the best person for the job, not just the person highest on the corporate ladder.

2. Make it specific: Set a specific goal for the event and ask people to give generously to meet that need.  Don’t make it arbitrary.  Make it specific and tied to your program objectives.  If donors don’t know how much you need, they don’t know how generous to be when you say, “please be as generous as you can.”

3. Ask, then shut up:  This is really important.  When you make the ask, you need to let it hang in silence.  It might feel awkward, but it’s critical.  That silence isn’t only awkward for your presenter.  It’s awkward for the whole room.  But in that awkward silence, your donors will be left to contemplate everything they’ve heard at your event (the compelling stories, the great accomplishments, and your ask).  They’ll use this time to process all they’ve heard and make a decision to give.  This time of silence will raise you more money.

4. Make clear that you expect people to give before they leave their tables: Have your table captains, staff or other volunteers place donation cards and envelopes on every table.  The person making your ask should reference those and direct donors to make their pledge and gift decisions then note them on the donation cards and place them in the donation envelope on the table.  Don’t tell them to drop of their gift in a basket on the way out.  If you do that, you’re just giving people an out.  A way to avoid giving.

5. Practice:  Don’t make an ask cold.  Practice well before the event.  And not just in the privacy of your hotel room or home.  Get up and stand at the podium, in the same place where you’ll make the ask at the event.  Practice delivering your lines just as you will during the event.  This will help you deliver the ask with poise and sincerity.

BONUS: Want even more revenue from your event ask?  Find a matching challenge.  If your event attendees know their gifts will be matched, you’ll see increases in pledges and in pledge amounts.

Do you have other suggestions for improving event revenue?






Photo courtesy of: Image: Rosen Georgiev /

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “This is why your special event doesn’t raise more money

  1. Excellent article. I agree, especially with number three. Ask and shut it. I know for me that is always the most difficult part of the presentation. The need to fill that awkward silence is great, but you are right, donors really need that time to make a decision to give and how much.

    Also, I always love a good match. Great points.

  2. This is very well done: thanks for writing it.

    I’ve also been to a number of ask events recently. Here are the problems I’ve seen:

    1) Invitees who have no previous exposure to the organization;
    2) When inviting people, emphasizing how interesting the speaker will be rather than being straightforward that it’s a fundraising event;
    3) Telling invitees it’s a “free breakfast” rather than telling them it’s a fundraising event and that it’s free to attend but that they’ll be asked for money;
    4) Asking for little money. One organization asked everyone to give just $75, rather than talking about what gifts of different sizes would accomplish;
    5) Asking for three-year pledges instead of five;
    6) Not asking for larger gifts, such as $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000;
    7) Running late by the time you get to the ask;
    8) Like you, I’ve seen the ask being done by a staff member when it should be done by a peer;
    9) Table captains who don’t want to pass out envelopes because they don’t want to “pressure” their friends, and so instead they leave it on the table for others to pick up.

    I’m glad that people are doing ask events instead of entertaining events. It’s cost effective. But you’re right, it has to be done well, and they’re most likely to blow the ask.