Events: Fun or Funds?

My cousin Rob is an Optometrist. As a “side job”, he is an amazing woodworker and makes an assortment of wooden bowls of different sizes, usually from trees that have come down from snow and rain storms. Every year, Rob participates in a few Craft Fairs, one held at a synagogue as its annual big fundraising event.

It was either last March, or the March before, there was a huge rainstorm the day of the synagogue’s Craft Fair. Rob and many of the other vendors – who all had spent $200 upfront to reserve a table – made the trek in the rain to set up their wares. But attendance was significantly lower than in prior years. This of course impacted sales as well as the synagogue’s take, as the synagogue also received a commission on all sales. And of course they also sold refreshments.

So an event that generated $40,000 or so in the 3 prior years, and where the projected net income in the synagogue budget was $45,000, operated at a $20,000 loss. That might not seem like a whole lot of money to some. But with the end of the synagogue’s fiscal year approaching on May 31st, the $20K had to come from somewhere.

I have heard this story a lot. Weather certainly does impact the success of fundraising events. I cringe when synagogues in the Northeast tell me their big fundraising event is in February.

Success from year to year is unpredictable for other reasons besides weather. Having honorees at events with the hope that they will generate donations raises similar issues of unpredictability – for synagogues and big organizations, too. One year, the synagogue’s Person of the Year is Joe. He owns a company that makes corrugated boxes. He is on the board of the local hospital and the Chamber of Commerce. He provides you with a great list of his customers, his lawyer, accountant, and friends.

The next year, the persons of the year are Mimi and Dan. Mimi is a retired public school teacher and Dan retired 5 years ago as a school principal. Both are great people who have done so much for the synagogue in terms of being on the board and committees. Most of their friends are from the synagogue. The list they provide is of people with far less giving capacity than Joe’s list.

Everyone will have a great time. But the budgeted projection is for $70,000, based on the successful effort honoring Joe last year. The $45,000 income that is realized this year is great, but it leaves the synagogue’s board with end of fiscal year budgeting and fundraising challenges it wasn’t counting on.

The primary goal for synagogue events should be for fun and to build community. Costs should always be covered, and the expectations of fundraising should be modest at best.

Being short of budgeted income expectations from events means that synagogue bean counters will have to adjust line items, or approach the synagogue’s leadership – board members and other supporters – for additional contributions to make the budget. You can do this once in a while. People may become a bit concerned about the leadership’s budgeting prowess.

A donor centered approach to fundraising, asking people with capacity for meaningful gifts as part of a High Holy Day or end of year appeal will reap better results and will be more predictable in terms of budget projections.


P.S. Check out this Blog on this same topic.


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