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Your charity, their party

publication date: Oct 23, 2012
author/source: Janet Gadeski
If your charity is known and loved, even within a small area, supporters will offer to host and run events for your benefit. Best case: new money, new friends and high media interest. Worst case: no money, misinformed guests and a tarnished brand.

Where to turn for tips on making these third-party events as terrific as you and the hosts want them to be? ArtezInterAction, held mid-October in Toronto, knew just who to ask: Lynn Wilson, Director of Events at SickKids Foundation. She helps keep tabs on over 1,300 third-party events each year (that's three or four every single day) that together raise $16 million for the foundation. 

At the one-day conference, she shared her secrets for success. 

Stay ahead of the hosts 

The first step is simply to get people to let you know they're planning an event on your behalf. Better yet, train them to ask whether their event would be suitable. When that happens, Wilson calls it a "solicited event," and she much prefers them to unsolicited ones. 

"Solicited events are better because we can help influence the outcomes and control our brand," she states. When she's able to approve events in advance, she can do a much better job of stewarding the host and the event, both along the way and afterwards. 

"Unsolicited events can be trouble," she warns. The event may not align with your brand, especially in the way money is raised. She's also dealt with annoyed donor-guests who received inaccurate tax receipt eligibility information from their enthusiastic hosts. 

Consistent policy, process 

SickKids now has so many would-be event hosts that it's created an online process that describes and registers the event and integrates the information with the donor database. 

Once someone has filed an online application, Wilson assigns a relationship manager to the event. That person starts a discovery process to get more information about the proposed event and supports the host throughout if the event is approved. The staff member provides an online "brand in a box" kit to create posters and invitations, coaches the host on CRA regulations, and tries to keep the host's attendance and revenue expectations realistic. 

Levels of success and stewardship 

You won't be surprised to learn that third-party events are just like individual donors: a very few at the top of the success pyramid account for most of the revenue. At SickKids, 80% of the third-party event revenue comes from just 20 of those 1,300 events. The hosts with the highest revenue are stewarded much more intensely than the others. 

"Since we can't provide the same level of service to every event," Wilson explains, "there are criteria for the level of attention they [hosts] receive, the kind of gift agreement they sign, and allowable designations." Doctors and family members of patients, for example, speak only at events above a certain level. 

Events are a lot of work. And with third-party events, most of that work is done by someone else. But Wilson readily admits the downside: a typical host burnout period of about five years. Her retention strategy includes a yearly review of the event and the relationship, and brainstorming ways to add variety and new opportunities that will refresh the event. 

Tips that work for everyone 

Wilson's practices are equally valid for charities with just a handful of third-party events, or even one, in a year. Develop the relationship early. Be available to answer questions and generate ideas. Steward the hosts before, during and after the event. And keep an eye on your retention rate to keep your third-party revenue growing.

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