Fundraising dinners - all the rage?

12 September 2010 | By Cause4 staff

There is no stopping Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Having successfully persuaded their American peers into donating billions through their ‘Giving Pledge’, they are now facing East. Shortly they will be hosting an exclusive dinner in Beijing for Chinese tycoons to exchange ideas about their philanthropic work ”Òout of which many predict a new rise in Chinese philanthropy. This prompts us to consider the place of Dinners and Events in the life of charities.

Fundraising Dinners have for many charities been the central plank of fundraising activities. Sometimes they raise significant sums of money in a short space of time. One such event organised by Absolute Return for Kids (ARK) in 2007 managed to raise a staggering £28 million in barely four hours, a quite extraordinary and unparalleled success. Don’t bet on it happening again.

When asked about the place of Dinners within fundraising strategies, Cause4’s response is usually as follows: Dinners have their place, but often expose charities to high levels of risk for little assured return. Furthermore, most guests assume that in paying for Dinner tickets they are contributing to the charity’s funds, whereas the reality might be that they are simply covering the costs of the Dinner. On top of this perhaps is ‘Dinner fatigue’ – it’s probably fair to say that such is the over-crowded marketplace of Charity Dinners, that many people are losing their appetite.

More significant perhaps than anything else is the issue of how best to encourage individual giving and therefore how to get to know individuals who might choose to become philanthropic supporters – and allow them in turn to get to know your organisation. As Dr Tim France points out, ‘Engaging philanthropists should first be about building relationships based on the assumption that they are interested in the success of your organisation. Understanding the underlying motivation of personal giving is vital to sustainable philanthropy outreach.’

For the vast majority of philanthropists, philanthropy is a serious matter. Serious givers do not give frivolously. To borrow from the language of the Wedding Service, one could say that philanthropy is not “entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, and soberly.”

Whilst the convivial, sometimes raucous atmosphere of a good Dinner, fuelled by good wine or otherwise, can often open wallets at certain levels, it’s unlikely that a good Dinner in itself will provide the best way of winning significant support from those able to support significantly. Large Gala Dinners have their place but not at the expense of opportunities to talk, listen and understand.

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