Boost Event Sales: 4 Ways To Sell Out Your Event

Welcome to the third installment in a four part series on: ‘The Secret Behind a Profitable Fundraising Event: 4 Steps to Success.’

If you need to catch up, here are links to the first two installments:

How to Build a Blueprint for a Successful Fundraising Event: 5 Winning Strategies to Get Started.’

‘Creative Ways to Drive Event Sponsorship: 4 Protips for Revenue Growth’

This series has provided tried, true, and tested methods that every nonprofit organization planning a fundraising event should follow if they would like to have wildly profitable and sustainable events. 

Hopefully by now, you’ve begun implementing a strategic plan and you’re brainstorming creative ideas for event sponsorship for your next fundraising event.

Good for you!

If you’re just stopping in and this is the first article you’ve read, take a moment and follow the links back to the prior articles, because they will certainly make this next step so much easier to master!

Out of curiosity, have you ever hosted your annual fundraiser, had every seat filled and then ended up with barely enough money to pay the catering bill?

Do you feel like your mind’s been read?

You are not alone, there are many out there that have the same struggles. 

Good news is there is a solution!

What if you could sell-out your event a two months prior to the actual event date and be confident those attending are going to give back to your cause? Talk about a huge stress ball falling off your shoulders!

What’s more it means you’d have the final two months leading up to your event to focus on important things like preparing the event for phenomenal guest relations. 

This idea of selling out months in advance might seem like a total pipe dream, but it’s obtainable!

It’s time to begin building the marketing tactics that will not only generate a sold out event, but more importantly ensure those seats are filled with the right kind of people.

Let’s get you there! 

#1 Convey Your Vision

Remember that strategic plan you were encouraged to develop before you moved forward with any other part of your event planning?

Well it’s about to come in handy again. 

The most important first step to effectively marketing an event begins with knowing how to tell a good story

Here’s the secret sauce:

  1. Attendees need to understand exactly what your organization does way before you ever consider asking them to purchase tickets to your event. 
  2. Potential guests need to feel a sense of connection to your mission and develop a desire to want to help your organization do more. 

You obviously know what your nonprofit does, but do others? Truly? 

Spend time finding what others “think” they know about your organization and use this to tweak your marketing to ensure you are truly building awareness on what you do. 

Marketing for an event is like dating. You’d never ask someone to marry you on the first date and you probably shouldn’t be asking someone to attend your event if they don’t know anything about who you are or what you do.

Imagine if you asked someone to marry you the first time you meet for coffee? Talk about awkward! (And most likely a hard NO!)

Court your attendee:

  • Introduce your organization.
  • Warm potential attendees (and sponsors) up.
  • Make sure you’re compatible.
  • Form a lasting relationship for years to come.

Start telling your story months before you advertise your upcoming event, so that when you announce the save-the-date, connections will already be made and attendees will know all about you and won’t need to be educated on why they should be supporting your cause in the first place.

#2 Choose Your Audience

One of the biggest no-no’s organizations make when selling tickets for their event is focusing all their energy on getting the tickets sold, and not on selling the seats to the right demographic. 

Is your organization guilty of hosting a contest where the individual or team that sells the most tickets gets some special prize?

It’s okay, you are not alone. 

It’s time to throw out the pizza and ice cream parties or free tickets to the local theme park. These types of incentives are only encouraging your staff and volunteers to find any warm body to attend your event, and not be selective about who they’re actually asking to show up. 

Part of your strategic planning involves identifying potential sponsors that have similar values to your organization or some kind of connection to your cause. Your potential attendees should be identified the same way. In fact, it is highly likely a good portion of your attendees could end up being future sponsors. 

Always start with marketing to those you have access to first, before trying to acquire a new audience:

  • Prior attendees
  • Supporters
  • Affluent individuals in the community
  • Board member’s family, friends, and connection
  • Past and present sponsors

Utilizing your existing audience first, is the best low hanging fruit your organization can tap to fill your seats with individuals that have a high likelihood of giving back. 

Expanding on sponsored tickets a bit more, it is important that your organization takes the time to woo them beyond asking for their sponsorship. Gifting a sponsor with free tickets to your event, doesn’t imply the high level execs are going to actually be the ones to attend.

In fact, it’s common for a sponsor to turn around and gift those tickets to any employee for a job well done. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely you’ll see these types of attendees bidding on more than a gift basket in your auction if they participate at all. 

Pro-tip: Consider hosting a VIP cocktail hour or virtual concert prior to the event start and send out an exclusive invitation to your sponsors and those C-Suite Execs you’d really like to see attend. If you can wine and dine them with a little special treatment, chances are they’ll be more likely to stay for the main event. 

#3 Spread the Word

Whether you’ve already sold out your event or not, developing a marketing strategy that involves consistently communicating to your audience (and potential audience) is an incredibly powerful tool. 

Keep the excitement high for those that have already committed to attending. The last thing you want is for your attendees to decide in the days leading up to your event that something more important came up.

Keep your attendees engaged:

  • Send and post teasers on what the event experience will be like.
  • Hint at something guest could only see or experience in-person.
  • Build excitement about a unique theme, a special guest performance, or the type of food being served. Booking Entertainment can help you find the perfect talent for your event!
  • Share some of the carefully selected, once in a lifetime, auction items you have available such as Travel Experiences by Winspire or European Inspired Jewelry Collection by Jewels With A Purpose.
  • Create the feeling like your event is the “can’t miss” event of the year.

On the other side of the coin, is the opportunity to grab the attention of those that haven’t committed to attending:

  • Create a buzz.
  • Demonstrate what a guest may be missing if they do not attend.
  • Promote guests, sponsors, and entertainment.

Updates in their inbox, a presence in their social media feed, or even a flyer at their favorite coffee shop are all fair game and can be effective. Looking to improve your social media strategies? 7 Ways to Win at NonProfit Social Media is a handy dandy eBook that answers the “W’ questions about social media do’s and don’ts.   

Pro Tip: Spreading the Word when tickets sell out and after the event occurs is effective marketing too. It future proofs the following year’s event.

#4 Say Thank You

This last step to successful marketing is the most overlooked and yet the most valuable. 

Your event was a smashing success and you’re not sure if you are more excited that your organization raised records funds or that come Monday you can FINALLY relax. Take a moment to celebrate with a glass of bubbly or a much deserved personal day. But, a wise organization knows the relationships that were built during your event have only just begun. 

Circling back around to the dating example, consider how you’d feel if you treated someone to a phenomenal first date, and after the fact they didn’t call you again. Or worse yet, you don’t hear from them for months and then out of the blue they need a plus one for their friend’s wedding.

You’d feel a little used wouldn’t you?

You might think this seems totally outlandish, but one of the number one complaints attendees and sponsors alike is that they never hear from the organization again. 

If you were successful at filling your seats with proud attendees who were invested in your cause, then they most certainly want to be acknowledged for their generosity. And by acknowledgement this extends beyond a mandatory donation receipt that says thank you. They want to hear from you. They want the opportunity to celebrate success with you. 

Ensuring the same or similar audience is excited to return the following year, means you’ve got to keep their attention after the event is over. Attendees need to know that their gift was meaningful to your organization. 

If you don’t follow up with a thank you . . . what do you think will happen the next time you invite them to purchase a ticket?

Securing all those sponsors and being selective on your attendee list took a lot of time and effort. Don’t put yourself in a predicament where you are starting over from ground zero every year because you didn’t keep connected with those that already showed their interest in your cause. 

There are many ways to say thank you, without breaking the budget. 

Here are some great ideas:

  • Write a thank you card– taking the time to personally recognize and thank your attendees for their contribution plays an intricate role in any future relationship. Don’t make it too formal and stuffy. Throw in a little personalization to really seal the deal. 
  • Share your progress (no matter the size) – If a donation you received from an attendees ultimately helped complete or contribute to a project, give them pictures or statistics of what was accomplished. This can be done through sending an email or personal phone call, depending on which is more appropriate. Let them know that because of their contribution they have helped raise $X amount of money to complete an ongoing project.
  • Extend an invite – Now this isn’t your opportunity to invite them to another fundraising event. Invite them to an event that will help them learn more about your nonprofit and what you do. This is a great way to not only get your attendees more invested in your cause but allows you to find out more about them. (Hint hint: This could lead to a future sponsor!)
  • Include a photo – Depending on the cause, involve your nonprofit members or those it impacts by taking a photo holding up a “thank you” sign. This is not only meaningful but makes them feel appreciated.

Fundraising Help offers some ideas to help you get started.

Taking the time to personally recognize those that played an intricate role in your nonprofit event is a necessity. Show them you appreciate their support. 

Let them know that you’re excited for them to grow with you and you can guarantee they’ll be looking forward to doing the same!

Key Takeaways

Let’s explore some of the Key Take-Aways in this article:

  • Stop just selling tickets, focus on telling stories that lead to purchasing tickets.
  • Focus on a campaign of selling tickets vs. Selling hardcore for 2 weeks and then stopping.
  • Promote. Promote. Promote. Email marketing means consistently communicating not just the month prior to your event, but all year AND specifically 6 months prior to the event. 
  • Write emails as you were writing a personal email to a friend.  Keep it simple.
  • Begin your marketing efforts with those that already know all about you and your event, those people should need little to no background information to commit.
  • Strike while the iron is hot! Meaning, don’t think it is too early to sell tickets for next year. Selling to a prior attendee while the event is still fresh in their mind is a recipe for success.
  • Make an impression. The impression your event leaves on an attendee, creates a marketing tool you just can’t replicate through words, photos or video. It’s truly priceless.
  • Collect email addresses from every attendee – yes that means that if 1 person purchases a table of 10 and you don’t know who the other 9 attendees are.  Set up a system to collect this information on site if needed.  
  • Get social smart. Social media marketing can spread the word about your cause, but don’t rely on it solely to sell tickets. It’s a “throwing glitter in the air and hoping some sticks” method. 

With a great marketing plan in place, that is shared with everyone in your organization, you’re sure to set yourself up for a sold out event filled with a roster of rock star attendees.

The last step in setting your nonprofit event up for profitable and sustainable success involves landing a winning team of volunteers. 

Are you retraining volunteers each year or worse yet begging them to come back? 

Then don’t miss the upcoming article on 4 fool-proof steps for creating a winning volunteer team.

Guest Author

Danielle Snelson

Virtual Event Producer & Event Fundraising Educator

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Additional Resources:

FREE Facebook Group – Nonprofit Event Fundraising

Profitable Nonprofit Events Discount Code