Daily Nuggets: Blog
Funding ideas, motivational nuggets and stories from For Impact.

No More Special Events

Tom Suddes | September 20, 2003

With special, special thanks to Tom Peters, the man who WOWs me with almost every thought. Yes, the man is a crazy, contrarian, disruptive exclamation point! Which is why I love his thinking.

This is much longer than most of my WOW Emails … but it’s a pretty big “epiphany”
(both mine and Peters’ word). In fact, this WOW Email is itself meant to be
a “Memorable Experience“. As you read deeper, I’m
even hoping it could be a “Transforming Experience“.

I urge you to share it with your Board, your Development Committee, your “Gala”
Committee, your Golf Outing Committee, your Auction Committee. In fact, share
it with everyone and anyone who has ever had to go to a “nonprofit …
fundraising … function

Here goes.

Big One”, which I used to recommend.)


  • Special Events are NOT special!
  • Special Events are NOT even events! They are time-consuming, staff-burning, volunteer-abusive activities.


I always ask the question, “How many of you want to do MORE Special
?” I have yet to see a hand raised from thousands of participants.

Admit it. Your “Special Events” are not! They’re the ‘same old, same old’ … for you and for your “customers/constituents/stakeholders/prospects/potential investors/ investors”.


The goal of For-Impact leaders within a World Class Development
Office is to create “Memorable Experiences“!!

I have now gone from a “function” (in the old, old, old days)
to a “Special Event” (that is not really special) … to “MEMORABLE

For Impact Organizations are all about “MEMORABLE

I was “there”. I just couldn’t get the right “word” I was looking for. Tom
Peters found it. I added Memorable to ensure you could
distinguish the difference between a Memorable Experience
and a “not so special, not so event”.

We spend 1,000 man/woman volunteer hours to raise $1,400!
Have you ever actually stopped and asked those “volunteers
if they wouldn’t rather just give you the $1.40 an hour?

Have you ever actually stopped and asked your staff if they
have more productive ways to spend their time than coordinating
all these events?

“But our Special Event (Auction/Gala/Dinner/Newspaper Sale/Golf
Outing) … is DIFFERENT! We ‘raised’ almost $100,000!”

Yeah??? Do you remember your funding GOAL? ???
Again, you spent a huge amount of volunteer time and energy … AND months and
months of staff time … AND you actually “grossed” $100,000.

Simple business principle: You must deduct ALL costs and expenses from your gross dollars! Yes, that includes your staff time! When you do that, you actually “net” $35,000! Or, in other words, it cost you 65ยข to raise $1.00!!!

AND … (this is the worst)! No one who was at your event “experiences
anything about your For Impact Organization! They leave with their auction paddle,
a few golf balls, miscellaneous “stuff” … but no mention of WHAT you
do, WHY you do it or HOW you do it!!

to help:

  1. Communicate your STORY! …
  2. Share your VISION! …
  3. WOW the “audience” with what you do, why you do it and how you do it …

I know you think I’ve “lost it” (again!) “You and Tom Peters are both
whacko crazies who throw ideas at us that sound good (even exciting) but they
can’t be acted upon!
” I can hear you now: “We can’t do that
… we’re a nonprofit”! “We have no budget”! “Our volunteers won’t go along with
that”! “We’ve always done it this way!” “The Committee expects it.”

Etc., etc., etc. (Think “Sacred Cows”, “whine with your cheese”, etc.)

Blow it up! Abandon it! Re-imagine it! Turn the “Sacred Cow” into hamburger!

I know many of you (and your organizations) see this move from “Function” to

It’s not.


From “Special Event” to “Memorable Experience” to

It’s just not “special”. It’s not even just “memorable”. It literally and truly
and actually TRANSFORMS the people through the “experience“.

My first real “experience” with a “Memorable Experience
was at Notre Dame. Jim Frick and Fr. Hesburgh were so far ahead of the curve
when they began “fly-ins” to Notre Dame. The numbers were staggering: 111 people
brought in. 107 commitments. Over $100 million of commitments (on $130 million
campaign). It was about the “experience” of those who were flown in
for the weekend. Private jets (in 1975!) Mass at the Log Chapel. Dinner on top
of the library with all the lights on campus turned on. Customized tours of
areas of interest, etc., etc., etc.

If any of you have ever been to an American Cancer Society RELAY for Life Experience,
you know what a Memorable Experience is. Twenty-four
hours around a track with luminaries and survivors and families is a MEMORABLE
! It’s a moving experience! It adds to the “story”!
They still call it a “Special Event” but that’s because of the size of the bureaucracy.
They’re actually running Relay for Life as a skunk works entrepreneurial venture
separate business unit. Is it working? They raised $275 Million last year; and
hope to raise $1 Billion in the next three years.

Here are some Hewlett Packard WHAT IF’s:

WHAT IF … you are a For Impact Organization?

WHAT IF … you have a social entrepreneur’s mentality?

WHAT IF … you use creativity, not money?

WHAT IF … you bought into this whole “Memorable Experience”

WHAT IF … you carried it beyond your ‘events’???

WHAT IF … everything you did in your World Class Development
Office was a Memorable Experience?! Your Annual Report?!
Your Mailings?! Your Leadership Society WOW Packets?!
Your Recognition Events?!

WHAT IF … you turn a simple “tour” of your facility or new
building or whatever into a MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE???

This is what the Red Cross is doing in Maine as they move from a simple “event”
in their new building to a truly Memorable Experience
… which shows off the building as the “place” where they provide
training, services, and administer disaster relief. (They’re
not only going to invite Qualified Prospects/Investors but their families,
spouses and children to see the WHAT,
and HOW of the American Red Cross in their community!!!)

WHAT IF … it went beyond your Development Office??? To your

  • Your reception (area or receptionist) was a Memorable Experience?
  • Your introduction to your stakeholders was a Memorable Experience?
  • Every “Moment of Truth” (from Jan Carlson) was
    a Memorable Experience?

WHAT IF … every Board Meeting was a MEMORABLE
? Now you’ll get attendance! Now you’ll get people who
actually enjoy going to Board Meetings vs. the same old boring information
that exists at most Board Meetings.

(I speak from some personal experience here. I’m on the Board of one of the
finest For Impact Organizations in the world. Its cause is unbelievable. Its
staff is the best! Its founder and key Board members are truly exceptional!
And … its Board Meetings are dull, boring and forgettable. Who wants to drive
45 minutes to a “Board Meeting” to “review the finances” … to “listen to Committee
Reports” … to, occasionally, “hear about our impact???” No

Here’s the tip/idea/lesson: If you could make every one of your Board Meetings
serve, those who deliver, those who partner,
etc., wouldn’t that be awesome?

A Special, Special, Special Note!

  MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES require Creativity! Innovation! WOWs!
Artists! Mavericks!

Which means …

You cannot create Memorable Experiences with the same group of volunteers who have run your not-so-Special Events for the last ten years!

You cannot create Memorable Experiences if they are led by your Accounting Office … your Finance Office … your HR Department!!

Think artists! Think theatre! Think young! (Give that new staff person a chance to show off their creativity!)

If you’ve ever been touched by the Suddes Experience, you know I love to change your vocabulary … change the way you think … change how you speak and then act.

Here are some closing thoughts on old words and new words that could help you “get it”.

(But, remember the immortal words of Kevin Kelley, another great thinker/writer: “It’s much easier to KILL an organization than to change it substantially.”)


  • Special Events
  • A “Nice” Function (Read Gala, Golf Outing, Fundraising Dinner, etc., etc., etc.)
  • A Motorcycle
  • Shoes
  • A Cup of Coffee
  • A Costly Airplane Ride
  • A Circus (with 3 Rings and some Animals)


  • Memorable Experiences
  • A Knock Your Socks Off … Incredible WOW … Transforming Experiences!
  • The Harley Davidson Experience
  • The Nike Experience
  • The Starbucks Experience
  • The Southwest/Jet Blue Experience
  • *The Cirque Du Soleil Experience

*If you have not been to a Cirque Du Soleil “Experience” … go to one as soon as you possibly can! They’re in Vegas. Orlando. Multiple road shows around the country. You cannot attend a Cirque Du Soleil performance and not understand the word “Experience“.

I want you to think about these three things:

  1. Memorable Experiences as a truly transforming idea. (Change the Way you THINK!)
  2. Memorable Experiences as a very big deal in your For-Impact Organization … and within your World Class Development Office! (Change the Way you OPERATE!)
  3. Memorable Experiences as an incredible PREDISPOSITION IDEA … and a mantra for PRESENTING THE OPPORTUNITY. (Change the Way you FUND!)

This last is pretty exciting! It turns a Not-So-Special Event into a Memorable Experience … which is then used as PREDISPOSITION to PRESENT THE OPPORTUNITY!
(I know you’re tired of WOW! But I truly believe this is a WOW!)

This PREDISPOSITION is a big, big, big deal! Think about your Memorable Experiences as perhaps the BEST way to predispose for the presentation of the opportunity!

*Again, that means your Memorable Experience has to be tied directly to your For-Impact Organization’s reason for existence … (as opposed to an event tied to Golf or Gala or Dinner!)

Here’s the proverbial (SIMPLE) bottom line. Create Memorable Experiences!

Make them a showcase for both your cause and your organization!

Turn them into unbelievable PRESENTATION TOOLS … perfect PREDISPOSITION … and the OPPORTUNITY!!!

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3 Comments So Far

  • Sharon Reilly - March 19th, 2009 7:20 am

    I agree and have had experience on a smaller level and it works and people come, participate and enjoy. Thanks, and if you would please send any information you can, it would be appreciated for our organization who is helping inner city children and transforming their lives and our city.


  • Jeffrey Haney - April 5th, 2012 12:42 pm

    I have served on a number of boards, been in non-profit fund raising, and sold sophisticated Investment Management Research for years. Your sales approach is RIGHT ON. I was actually asked to leave as a Principal of a company for advocating common-sense approaches to sales for a new hedge fund….much of which you describe. On board duties, it was grueling at times to bring people into new ways of approaching their responsibilities and create memorable experiences. Keep up the fine and innovative work!


  • Bert Adams - Sand in the City - July 17th, 2013 11:38 am

    I agree the typical “Special Event”, (Gala, Auction, Golf Tournament) is boring, and not very special. What I find is interesting is that most NPOs don’t want anything but the Boring old same old same old.

    Given a chance to do a new, “Signature Event”, or an event that Grows New Friends and Supporters, they won’t do it. (Even if there is a track record of past success).

    I still go back to the 4 Questions any NPO should ask when planning an event:

    * Does the Event further our Mission? (In other words, is this event in line with what we are trying to do? I just love the $500 a plate gala for the homeless shelter!)

    * Does the event make significant $$? I’m talking NET here, after all expenses.

    * Does the event generate Publicity? If the event doesn’t get you 30 minutes of TV coverage, why bother. People give to who they know, and if people don’t hear about you from your event or your work, why do it?

    * Does the Event Grow New Long Term Friends and Supporters?? This is the most valuable benefit to hosting an event. Your event should bring you New Friends that help your cause.

    Let’s look at the Gala Auction with these questions:
    * Rare to find an NPO where having fancy parties is in line with their mission goals.

    * It can net significant $$. Make sure yours does.

    * Maybe gets a mention or one small photo in the society page of the paper. No TV coverage, (Because its basically a boring event!)

    * Who comes to these Auction Galas? Folks that are probably already your supporters. No new friends. Who did you hit up to donate items for the auction? Probably folks that are already your supporters. You might get someone invited that didn’t know about your mission and cause, but generally, this event doesn’t make any new friends or supporters.

    Contrast that to an event that can do all 4, and suddenly Events can really help an NPO, and grow your organization.

    Now, how does one find an NPO that can think about something new when offered to them??



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