Philanthropy Events 2.0: No More Rubber Chicken Dinners

DC is home to countless charity events for an endless number of causes. Nowadays, charity events are a dime a dozen. Every weekend there’s a full slate of black-tie banquets supporting causes across the spectrum. The number of them continues to grow at a rapid rate. It’s great to see the level of dedication to philanthropic causes, but it makes standing out in the crowd that much more difficult.

I had been to more than I remember, but when the time came to create my own, I thought, “I got this.” Having led an event-marketing agency for the better part of 10 years to that point, who could be better equipped? It was a no-brainer. However, I quickly learned that nothing is easy about starting and hosting a charity event. However, having just completed our 11th charity event, I have some building blocks to share that will help jumpstart your next charity event.

Create an Experience, Not an Event. The charity event calendar has become status quo and more of a "have to go" rather than a "want to go" situation. If you want your event to be one worth returning to, don’t cut yourself from the same cloth as the rest. This is your opportunity to create an experience that your guests will never forget. If they never forget, they’ll be the first ones to buy their ticket and bring a friend the next time around. So ask yourself, what will your guests be talking about the next day? If it’s not about their experience, then you’ve got some work to do.



Find a Rallying Cry. Whether it’s a story of inspiration or struggle, people want someone or something to relate to and to believe in. They want to feel a connection to the cause and see who their money is actually helping. A faceless cause leaves people feeling less than they could and make any donation they offer feel like a blind one. Give them someone to believe in and they will do the rest.

Food Is Your Friend. Throw away the standard dinner plan and create something of inspiration! You and your food partners need to be on the same page, creating something not only in line with the style of event, but with the core values of the charity itself. If you’re looking to cut budget, the food experience is not where to look. People remember great food and will make sure you hear it if the food is substandard. I joke that people always seem to remember the size of the shrimp, so make sure all facets of the food experience are something to talk about! Don’t spread yourself too thin. Just make sure food has a feeling of quality and uniqueness to it.

Corporate Sponsors Would Love More.When sponsors commit, they expect the status quo—whatever comes as part of their package. However, that doesn’t mean they’re content with just that, and neither should you. Show your sponsors some extra love and let them feel as though they’re being taken care of and provided them some special attention and benefits. It can be a VIP area prior to the event, a couple extra tickets to the event, or an introduction to other special guests—something that reflects a genuine effort is being made. Every sponsor receives signage and verbal recognition, but it’s the unexpected that creates a prosperous relationship. Find a way to surprise them with an above and beyond effort and they’ll find a way to return the favor.

Be Social. The best way to acquire a new customer is through a current one. Therefore, social media should be an integral part of your event experience. At the very least, every event should have a designated hashtag. It’s so simple and easy to set up that you’re doing yourself a disservice by not creating one. On top of that, you can add a photo booth, step and repeat, or some other opportunity for your guests to have fun and leave with something shareable and event-specific. If you can get people to share their good time for you, you’ve hit the jackpot.

The common theme for all charitable events is just that—charity. So regardless of the quality or uniqueness of your event, you’re already doing a great thing. But if you’re already doing a great thing, you may as well do it right. Here’s to hoping these points make your next charity event a smash hit!

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