I’ve seen my fair share of events. During my tenure at LIVESTRONG, we were fortunate to produce events around the globe. They ran the length of the athletic spectrum and also included events more programmatic in nature like summits, cocktail receptions, galas, and even a startup incubator.
In recent years, the competition in the event space has become steep. There is no shortage of opportunities for supporters of any cause to find an event to participate in. What I really appreciate about this influx of options is how it has forced a rethinking of the “typical” nonprofit event. While we tell ourselves that we innovate on a regular basis, anyone who has operated a successful event or series will tell you that the drive to change or iterate lessens each year that you hit your numbers (either attendance or revenue).
Last week I attended a luncheon hosted by 22Kill. 22Kill works to raise awareness for veteran suicide and educate the public on mental health issues. As the wife of a veteran, this cause does hit close to home but what stood out to me was how dialed in they were to who they were, what they were there to do and how they did it.
First, their event was geared toward “Leaders in Construction”. It was held in the middle of the day, on the Friday going into Labor Day weekend. Here’s why that’s genius: Most working folks know their office is going to be a ghost town on this particular Friday afternoon so they are more inclined to attend this lunch and then start their weekend early. From the organizer’s side of things, they could position their ask to the hotel for a meeting room which was probably sitting in “wasted inventory” because of the lack of demand during this day/time, keeping costs low.
Second, they were hyper specific about their audience. I should go on the record to say that my ticket came from one of my clients, who has a relationship with 22Kill. However, as a female in non-profit consulting, I was not their target audience. From the title of the event alone “Leaders in Construction”, you probably guessed this was a male dominated event. Add to that that the guest speakers were a former UT long snapper and a decorated Marine and you get a room packed with middle to late aged gentleman who were clearly friends and supporters of our Armed Services and passionate University of Texas Alumni. This crew could come from work and feel comfortable showing up in jeans and a button down or slacks and a polo. They were easy going and seemed to generally network in the same circles (which always works in your favor when it comes to table sales).
Finally, when it came to the program, I was reminded just how important it is to select the right messenger. When someone can speak first-hand about the impact of your organization’s mission and work, your attendees will listen. The Marine involved in the program, who was not over-scripted or encouraged to curb his language, spoke very openly about the struggles he had as a wounded veteran. Similarly, Nate Boyer offered his perspective on the VA, his predictions on the Notre Game, and the budding situation with Colin Kapernick. Neither ever apologized for speaking honestly. The combination of vulnerability and authenticity struck me. They were obviously supporters and advocates for 22Kill but they were also unabashedly themselves, and no one in the room was worried about the political correctness of the two intertwining.
At the end of the event, the organizer allowed time for smaller organizations, who 22Kill would ultimately point veterans’ toward for programs and services, to speak to the group. During their brief comments, he showed the text-to-give thermometer which tracked the progress of this particular event and its ability to share profits with its smaller partners. As someone in a non-profit sector, I know the lift involved with direct service. As a guest at that luncheon, I also knew I wanted to see this group of people be able to help more veterans. And like so many others in the room, I gave again.
Sure this event was a luncheon but it was more than that. It was a really smart fundraiser by 22Kill, who made a tactical strike on Austin and walked away with raising $60,000 for our Warriors.