I knew something was wrong, but we were not sure what it was. The 2016 fundraising banquet seemed like it had gone really well. The speaker was dynamic, the music was good, the food was delicious and the feedback was great. Despite this and all the hard work we had put into preparing for the event, the results were not what we had hoped for. Looking back, it was the least successful fundraiser we had held for many years. Something had to change, and we knew it.
As we began planning for the 2017 banquet held in October, our committee met earlier than ever to begin brainstorming. The first few meetings were rough. We had been doing this banquet the same way for so long that it was hard to ‘think outside the box.’ After many discussions, we agreed that we had done a good job of entertaining people in previous banquets but not such a good job of engaging them. One of the team said it best:
“We have to connect with people’s hearts.” With engagement as our mandate, we decided to take a big risk and reinvent the entire event.
Our first change was maybe the riskiest. We decided to eliminate our silent auction. Held an hour before the banquet, this auction was a key part of our fundraising strategy. While many attendees enjoyed it, it failed to convey what we, as a ministry, were all about. After much discussion, we decided to create an interactive CLC World event that would highlight our work in eight CLC countries. There would be one table for each country. We’d display each country’s artefacts, books, Bibles, images, maps, flags and fun facts on each table. Our creative graphic designer designed passports to be stamped as each attendee visited a table. When they completed the tour and had all eight stamps, they received a free book.
As we planned, one of our leaders suggested that if we wanted to engage our donors, we had to start by engaging our CLC members first. We decided to have two team members ‘adopt’ a CLC country and be responsible for collecting the artefacts and the display’s set-up. On the night of the event, they would then stand at their table, sharing about their country and stamping attendees’ passports. We then held a meeting with our entire team to explain the new concept and to ask for their feedback. We also held a group training session two days before the banquet and briefed everyone as a team. The momentum and excitement about the banquet were palpable in the days leading up to the big night.
Our second big decision was to create a theme for the night and to agree upon a compelling project to fund with an achievable but meaningful financial goal. Reaching the heart requires good storytelling, so we decided on the theme: Your Story Matters: How God empowers ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. We picked three compelling stories from the life of our ministry and recruited passionate storytellers to tell them. We decided to stretch out in faith and seek to fully fund the launch of the Africa Study Bible (NLT) in both Sierra Leone and Liberia in 2018. This would require $10,000 (USD). It was doable but not easy!
Our last decision was to ask our worship leader to pick songs to enhance the stories and help reinforce the ideas we were presenting. Little did we know that he would write original songs that were the highlight of the evening!
As we opened the doors that evening, people streamed in and adjusted very quickly to the new set up of exploring and learning. With surprisingly few technical glitches, the programme got underway after the dinner, and people were captivated. We were blessed to have one of the contributing editors of the Africa Study Bible share some of the unique features of this wonderful new resource.
Right before we closed, a representative of the Bethel Deliverance Church and their pastor, Bishop Eric Lambert, announced a special presentation. To everyone’s surprise and delight, they made a donation of $5,000 (USD)! This incredibly supportive local African-American church had sent seventy people to attend the banquet because, clearly, they were engaged with our ministry objectives. With their help and the support of all who attended, God blessed us in such a marvellous way that we are now able to fully fund the Bible project! I can honestly say, lesson learned! Go ahead, trust God, take a risk and be willing to change. More importantly, engage your team if you want to engage your supporters.
CLC World Magazine