Paul Etherington’s 5 Tips for Doubling a Not For Profit’s Revenue and Attendance

Toronto’s Paul Etherington is the guy every fellow young professional (YP) wants to chat with when it comes to advice on charitable involvement, business, or how to throw an unforgettable party. He is, after all, behind one of the most successful YP-run charities in the country, the beloved motionball. motionball is a non-profit organization that benefits the Special Olympics Canada Foundation (SOCF) through a series of nationwide sporting and social events, including the motionball galas. To date, motionball has raised $4 million for Special Olympics Canada. Because Etherington doesn’t have time to do coffee with everyone (though we’re sure he would if he could), we offer the next best thing: a series where he answers some of your most asked questions and offers inspiring words of wisdom…

I was recently asked by the event director of an upcoming charity gala in Toronto what best practices I would be comfortable sharing with him to help him and his organization double both the event’s net revenue and attendance over the next 12 months. 

Here are my top 5 suggestions:

1. Build a volunteer ticket committee whose sole focus is ticket sales. 
You’re looking for social centres of influence who can sell a minimum of 20 tickets each. Build an incentive program for surpassing your minimum ticket sale requirements like receiving 2 comp tickets when you sell 20 tickets, or 2 VIP tickets when you sell 30 tickets. Be sure to also initiate weekly sales competitions as well, because nothing’s more powerful than competitive spirit. 

2. Often the easiest path to greater revenue is simply lowering expenses. 
Make sure you have a team member whose sole role is budget management. He or she will need to question every new line item and push to keep expenses tight. There’s always room to cut expenses – sometimes you just need to get creative! 

3. The key to any successful not-for-profit event is corporate cash sponsorship. 
Galas are incredibly expensive – you need a dedicated sponsorship team with contacts and who are comfortable making asks. At a minimum, your cash sponsorship goal should be to cover every expense so that all dollars spent by event participants (event and raffle tickets, silent auction, etc.) go directly to the charity as net.

4. It’s just as important to create a roster of products and in-kind sponsors. 
Décor, food, AV, venue and entertainment are all areas to explore these kinds of relationships with; if the supplier buys into your cause (and, more importantly, your way of business) they will often and happily provide you discounts. If you are easy to work with, pay on time, and are willing to be loyal to their services and refer them to other potential clients, I have no doubt that discounts will be offered.

5. Be sure to have a strong social media presence. 
It’s rare to have a large marketing budget for a not-for-profit event (especially in the early days) so you must rely on consistent, targeted, creative social media promotion to attract ticket buyers. Turn your Facebook friends and Twitter followers into your ticket committee!


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