Small nonprofits shouldn’t rely on one-off fundraising events for long-term financial security.
For the love of God, not another raffle!
It seems as though I receive at least an email a week that a nonprofit whose email list I have ended up on is running a raffle. Raffles, for better or worse, are a staple of the fundraising world.
In my experience, organizations that run raffles tend to fall into one of two categories. The first are organizations related to an industry that is what you might call “gear-heavy.” A great example of this type is an organization working to preserve hunting and public lands. What hunter doesn’t want to buy a raffle ticket to get a brand-new Weatherby rifle, right?
The second type of organization are small organizations with no institutional fundraising program. They tend to jump from raffle to raffle, event to event, t-shirt to t-shirt, and have no strategy to identify, qualify, cultivate, solicit, or steward donors. They fail ever to bring donors into the life of the organization.
Now, raffles have their place. They can complement an annual gala; for the first type of organization, given sufficient interest and moderate usage, they can be a fun way to bring in additional revenue.
That said—I’m now speaking directly to the second type of organization—raffles are never going to spur growth, never mind sustainability. Organizations that are just barely hanging on tend to grasp at straws. That is what seemingly endless raffles are: a piteous cry for help.
The main reason raffles can't provide long-term fundraising stability for these organizations is that they are one-off bonanzas. They don’t promote belongingness, nor do they bring donors closer to your organization. Rather, they train ticket buyers to think of your organization as a casino where they might get lucky. Bidders don’t spare a thought for your work and don’t commit to your mission—they just want to end the night with the winning ticket in hand.
If you are working in development at one of these small institutions, tear up the tickets. Forget about raffles, and instead get to work building a fundraising program. Simply put, you can’t rely on your donors’ hankering for a brand-new truck. Long-term fundraising success depends on your inspiring donors to commit to your work and identify with your mission. Get started connecting with your donors, doing research on donors who give to similar programs, and kicking off an email or mail program that keeps donors in touch with your work on a regular basis. For the love of God, please don’t email me about your next raffle.
As I said, raffles have their place—but that place certainly isn’t at the center of your fundraising program. If you rely on one-off fundraising events, you’ll never really control your revenue stream. You will always be chasing the next giveaway or golf tournament, ever in search of a snazzier graphic tee. Stop asking your donors to roll the dice. Instead, start thinking about how to advance your own mission and the mission of your donors through strategic fundraising.