We knew something was wrong, but we were not sure what it was. Our team had hosted a donor banquet and it had gone really well. Lots of people had commented that it was their favorite one yet and that they had a great time that evening. The speaker was dynamic, the music was good, and the food was delicious. Despite this and all the hard work we had put into preparing for the event, the results were not what we had hoped for. In fact, after subtracting the expenses for the banquet, it was the least successful fund raiser we had held in many years. Something had to change, and we knew it.
As we began planning for the banquet again this year, our committee met earlier than we ever had and began brain storming. The first few meetings were rough. We knew we had to hit the reset button, but we had been doing this banquet the same way for so long that it was hard to truly “think outside the box”. After lots of discussion, 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 put everything on the table, take a big risk and reinvent the entire event.
First and maybe most risky, we decided to eliminate our silent auction. This normally took place in the hour right before the banquet and had been a key part of the fund-raising strategy. While many people liked this aspect of the evening and looked forward to it each year, it did nothing 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 countries of the world. There would be artifacts, books, Bibles, images, maps, flags and fun facts on each table. Our very creative graphic designer came up with a really interesting Passport concept and people got it stamped at each table they visited. When they completed the tour, and had all eight stamps, they got a free book.
As we were making plans, one of our leaders suggested that if we wanted to truly engage our donors, we had to start by engaging our CLC team members first. It was quickly decided that we would have two team members “adopt” a country table and be responsible for collecting the artifacts, setting up the display and then standing at the table to share about the country and stamp the passports as people came by. We took an entire chapel session to explain the new concept and to ask for feedback, we held a group training session two days before the banquet and then we debriefed as a team. The momentum and excitement about the banquet was palpable in our building in the days leading up to the big night.
The second big decision we made 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 story telling, 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 story tellers to tell them. We decided to stretch out in faith and seek to fully fund the launch of the Africa Study Bible in both Sierra Leone and Liberia in 2018. This would require $10,000 after all expenses had been taken care of. It was doable, but would not be easy.
One last thing we decided was to ask our worship leader to come up with songs that would enhance the stories and help reinforce the ideas we were presenting. Little did we know that he would write three completely original songs that were the highlight of the evening. As we opened the doors this past Saturday night, people came streaming in and some were disoriented by the new set up. Very quickly, however, they got adjusted and started exploring and learning. With surprisingly few technical glitches, the program got underway after the dinner and people were captivated. We were even 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 came to the front to make a special presentation. To everyone’s surprise and delight they made a donation of $5,000. This same church had sent over seventy people to attend the banquet and were clearly engaged with our ministry objectives. After counting up all the donations that came in designated for this project through the banquet, were amazed that a little over $15,000 was raised. After banquet expenses were deducted, God had blessed in such a marvelous way that we were able to fully fund the project and we had met our goal. Lesson learned – trust God, take risk and be willing to change. Even more important – engage your team if you want to engage your donors.