It seems that over the past several years, not a month has gone by without a new tool introduced to assist our fundraising efforts. From online fundraising portals and text messaging to streaming video and social media, the number of tools is literally growing faster than our ability to leverage them. In addition to “traditional” development tools such as direct mail, in-person asks, and mass market media, a whole set of apparatus that was barely known even fifteen years ago — email, websites,  and customer-relationship management platforms — has become not only accepted but required aspects of the development portfolio.

More and more, we work with nonprofits who feel compelled to embrace the latest tools for fear of missing out on some unknown pot of gold. And so we find ourselves engaged in a kind of technological arms race, adding one tool and then another, unsure of how they integrate or even their usefulness — but reluctant to risk being left behind.

And yet even in this climate, participatory events continue to grow and become more and more successful. In fact, the number of fundraising events continues to grow each year. Why?

In many ways, great events combine the most effective aspects of the many different fundraising tools. Great event programs share some basic characteristics:

  • They educate participants how to use one-to-one fundraising techniques, and then mobilize them to do so;
  • They leverage the power of personal interaction;
  • They integrate the use of offline and online platforms; and
  • They are powered by deep customer insights and focused on specific aspects of an organization’s case.

So in some ways, events simply take the most successful pieces of other tools and combine them. In that way, events often get relegated in the corner as the most simple development tool — deserving of neither advance planning nor follow-on analytics.

However, events bring in an additional component that no other development tool can match: The experience. An event program culminates in the experience itself. Rather than ending with a piece of paper, a brochure, or a web page, an event program actually interacts personally with each individual. An event incorporates all five senses — moving beyond sight and sound to completely engage the whole person. And further, events multiply that immersion by dozens, hundreds, or sometimes thousands of interactions with other people. Done correctly, this experience is an unmatched way to allow donors and constituents to see, feel, and interact with an organization and its cause.

In any increasingly cluttered and technology-driven world, the risk we each face as nonprofit professionals is that our life’s work — our passion for cause — can only translate so far via an LCD screen. To leave our mission in the hands of someone else’s computer monitor is to leave the vast majority of our impact at the doorstep of those we serve. I like to say to my team that I love the new electronic tools — but no one will ever share Thanksgiving dinner over Facebook. Neither will you be married over YouTube, appreciate a friend’s laughter through a message board, or enjoy a child’s embrace via text.

Experiences, like our call to serve, are inherently part of what makes us human. That’s why the most successful nonprofits of the next decade will find ways to use to technology to enhance, rather than replace, the set of experiences they create for their donors, clients, and constituents. The best things in life happen when we are together.

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