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Involving the private sector in funding ideas: planning a fundraising event (part 2)

Editor’s note: this post was jointly written with María Laffaire, responsible for individual funders at CIPPEC’s Institutional Development Direction, and was fed with inputs from Inés Lanz, Director of Communication at Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina.

Last week I wrote about challenges and opportunities when trying to engage private sector in funding research, and concluded that a fund raising event may be good a strategy to bring together the community of private entrepreneurs and companies and make the institution’s work visible.

A fundraising event should be much more than what the name means: there are additional benefits to this practice, such as positioning the organization among the private sector (and other invited audiences), creating new contacts and communicating the institution’s agenda. In addition, a fundraising event might attract donors that otherwise wouldn’t be prone to funding research at all.

So which are the incentives for companies and individuals to be engaged in a fundraising event? Mainly, they will seek two things: visibility and acknowledgement.

A key challenge for the organization is to portray the occasion as an important social and political event, where assistants will be able to engage with other people from business and politics (mainly entrepreneurs and decision makers, but also academics, journalists, and international donors). If companies detect that other firms or entrepreneurs will attend, they will probably feel like assistance is a must. So sharing a space with important peers will be attractive for private sector.

Regarding visibility, some organizations offer different incentives in return for donations, depending on the amount: including the company’s logo in the event’s programme, showing it in a screen during the event, highlighting the participation of a company in a speech, etc. Some organizations also offer to include an article about the company in their publications. Moreover, companies may also expect some appearance in the media after the event.

Private sector participation does usually come with some specific demands (not all of them easy to deal with). For instance, a common claim has to do with the degree of visibility of their logo. Furthermore, if the fundraising event takes the shape of a dinner where companies have the possibility to buy entire tables and attend with part of their staff, some common demands are: to share the table with interesting people (e.g. sometimes they want to speak to a specific politician) or to place their table placed in a central part of the venue.

Another incentive is to know more about the host organization. That is why many organizers place one or two members of their staff in each table, so they can explain the organization’s work and link the guests with the appropriate person according to their interests.

Having said that, it is important to highlight some common challenges derived from including the private sector in such events:

  • The organization’s reputation. An institution should carefully evaluate which companies are suitable to support the event (and the organization in general, beyond the event), in order to protect the organization’s image (e.g., organizations normally choose not to receive support from companies involved in illegal activities; and organizations working on climate change or sustainability often do not accept support from oil companies).
  • Competition. Usually, there are many organizations, especially NGOs, hosting fundraising events, and the companies they seek to engage are almost always the same (and they have a limited budget allocated to their participation in these activities). So it is important to offer some kind of differential incentive.
  • The organization’s line of work. If the organization works on particular sectorial issues, a big challenge is to make companies being interested in and learn more about the subjects. The following challenge is to make companies include those issues in their works.
  • Context. Economic and political instability, which affects the companies’ profitability, is another challenge when summoning them.
  • Innovation. While an organization may host annual events, usually its research/work agenda does not change at the same pace. Moreover, results become more visible in the long term. So the challenge is to present the organization’s work in an interesting and innovative way to continue capturing the donors’ attention.

Finally, an important recommendation for organizations who venture into this type of events is that preparing them is really burdensome and time-consuming. Efforts include considering the budget, finding a venue, defining the image and slogan, selecting participants, sending out invitations (and following up on them) and, after the event, acknowledging attendants and following up on those who committed to support the organization’s work. However, these extra efforts are justified by with the expected results: remember that a fundraising event may be the only moment in a year to bring together all the audiences of the organization, and the amount collected could be the main source of funds to continue working.

Some brave colleagues

Some organizations doing fundraising events (the majority with the modality of a “fundraising dinner”) are:

  • Fundesa, a Guatemalan think tank formed by entrepreneurs in their personal capacity, supported by more than 30 private companies;
  • Universidad Torcuato Di Tella and Universidad de San Andrés, traditional Argentinean institutions which bring together not only the private sector but also former students and many academics;
  • CIPPEC, with a recognized dinner among the policy community, bringing together more than 1000 private entrepreneurs, policy makers, journalists, academics, and representatives of the international cooperation and local CSOs); and
  • Fundación Vida Silvestre (a CSO working on sustainability and climate change issues, what means that their audience is narrower), Chequeado.com (that makes public discourse analysis); Asociación Conciencia (an organization with 30 years of experience working to strengthen citizenship participation and education); all in Argentina.

We would really appreciate to hear and learn from other organizations’ challenges when trying to engage the private sector in funding their work.