Alright, y’all, let’s get frosty. We’re heading into one of the testiest event-based fundraiser debates, ever: open bar vs. cash bar.
Before you can make that decision, you and your committee have to weigh the event’s purpose, financial goals, and audience. Some events, such as fashion shows, generate the vast majority of revenue prior to the event. But some, like black-tie galas and golf tournaments, rely heavily on on-site fundraising via silent and live auctions and direct appeals. In these instances, you should seriously consider providing an open bar, even if limited. And here’s why …
Let’s get ready to rumble…
Your guests may have just spent over $100 for an event ticket or $1,000 for a golf foursome, and you are positioning for them to spend even more during the event to support your mission. Don’t sabotage the fundraising mojo by nickel and diming your guests over beverages!
…but Emily, open bar is expensive!
In the grand scheme of things, budgets considered, an open bar will not break the bank. It can, however, assist your fundraising abilities significantly.
If you are asking your guests to literally reach into their pockets to pay for beverages during the night — money that goes to the venue, none of which does your organization see — you are successfully thwarting your ability to fundraise.
You’re making them think about money and how much they are physically, in-the-moment spending at your event; this is a very bad strategy.
And, strategically speaking, you can bake the estimated bar expense into the ticket price.
…but Emily, does it really help?
You’re offering an evening of sophistication or a day of golf. Your guests are away from work, children, and other stresses. Most adults enjoy adult beverages in situations like this, so why make it a detraction?
Listen to me, fundraising friends, nothing loosens the purse strings (and the lips for you gossipy kind) like a few libations. One of my favorite colleagues used to say, “After two drinks, everything is affordable!” And you know what, she is right.
When your guests are dressed to the nines enjoying a cocktail or sipping a cold beer after a day on the links, they are more relaxed and apt to bid as they peruse the silent auction.
Additionally, the time your guests are not spending in line at the bar, they will be spending networking and visiting with other guests — one of the marketable perks of fundraising events.
Social and business connections make people happy.
Complementary libations make people happy.
Happy people are more generous at fundraisers, especially when they are aiming to impress those social and business connections your event just helped to foster.
… but Emily, aren’t we encouraging drunkenness?
You may be concerned about the safety and/or behavior of your guests considering some feel that open bar is synonymous with invitation-to-get-trashed.
This is understandable, but remember, we’re talking about adults here, most of whom respect their limits, even if the booze are free, and who recognize that this is a professional event and not their favorite niece’s wedding.
In my two decades of offering an open bar at fundraising events, I have experienced exactly two incidents that required the staff to “shut off” the guest and/or call and Uber.
And if I’m honest, I think those people would have behaved the same even if the drinks weren’t complementary. Some people just behave poorly, y’all. (I’m looking at you, Uncle Doug …)
Event momentum begins at registration. Don’t foil your evening and fundraising capacity by interrupting your guests’ flow by asking them to fork over cash for a drink.
Don’t believe me? Give it a shot and compare your on-site fundraising numbers year over year. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised.
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