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How to effectively retire a beloved non-profit event

Posted April 20, 2022 by Virginia Davidson

How to retire a nonprofit event

The prospect of retiring an event can feel challenging, especially if it is beloved by the stakeholders of your non-profit. However, sometimes it’s the right choice to make. This post will help you make an informed decision about how to effectively retire an event.

For advice, I reached out to Sarah Plimpton of Capital Campaign Toolkit. As a former development director herself, Sarah has a lot of experience with events, and now as a campaign advisor she guides non-profits in making decisions that are in the best interest of their organization.

To tackle the potentially overwhelming task of retiring an event, Sarah and I have broken it down into 5 key steps.

5 key steps to effectively retire a non-profit event

Step 1. Start by asking the following questions:

  • Why are we doing this event?
  • Why did we start it?

Reasons might include:

  • Fundraising: An immediate financial goal
  • Cultivation/friendraising: Introducing people to your mission
  • Stewardship: Thanking supporters and inspiring them to keep giving

Step 2. Evaluate the event in relation to other activities from your development plan

Pull out your development plan and examine it. Consider this particular event in that bigger context, and answer the following questions:

  • Do you still need this event to serve the primary function you identified in step 1?
  • Does it still make sense to do this event?

Note: If your organization doesn’t have a development plan, you can complete this step by making a list of all the events your organization manages each year, as well as other fundraising efforts like your annual appeal.

Step 3. Dig into the event data

Steps 1 and 2 help you frame and contextualize the event, but so far the evaluation may be based on gut feelings or impressions. Now it’s time to dig into some specific data.

Questions to answer:

  • Did the event raise money or lose money?
    • You cannot answer this question without factoring in all staff time related to the event. Costs for venue and food are only partial costs. You may need to collaborate with a colleague who has access to salary information. So long as you figure out, per person, how many hours each devoted to the event, then someone at your organization can calculate the details and provide a total.
  • What has been event attendees’ history? E.g., how many new constituents have engaged with your organization since the event by donating, volunteering, or attending another event? (Tip: A donor management system like Little Green Light can give you visibility into your constituents’ engagement with your organization.)

Step 4. Project the organization’s future without this event

So far, you’ve been considering the event’s history. Now, project a realistic future without the event.

Key questions:

  • If you lost a certain amount of income, how else might you raise it?
  • Are you worried about relationships with longtime sponsors? What are some other ways you might partner with them?
  • If you’re concerned about long-time event volunteers, can you offer other volunteering opportunities as a replacement?
  • Who needs to weigh in on the decision to retire the event?
    • With whom will you need to share the data you’re using? Is it ready and convincing to others?

Step 5. Communicate the decision to retire the event

This step assumes steps 1-4 have demonstrated to you and other key people that the event should be retired. Who needs to know early and personally about this decision? Consider longtime volunteers, sponsors, vendors, and others who’ve been connected to the event. You don’t want any of these stakeholders to be blindsided. Reach out to them early, and directly.

No matter how much effort you put into communicating, there may be people who are still upset. What should you do? Sarah recommends keeping communication open with them: Let them vent, hear them, respond with empathy. Remain comfortable with the decision and the reasons behind it. If you handle these interactions well, you may find it’s an opportunity to deepen your organization’s relationship with the constituent.

You’ve gathered data and carefully considered the situation, so you can feel confident about the organization’s decision as you communicate with these stakeholders. And, you can feel optimistic knowing that your organization will be able to devote more attention to its priorities.

Conclusion

Retiring an event may be the right decision for your organization. By following the steps we’ve laid out, you’ll be able to decide based on the best interests of your non-profit and then communicate that strategic decision to key stakeholders.

Thanks to Sarah for sharing her expertise with us!

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