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The risks — and rewards — of reinventing signature events

By Susan J. Ragusa, contributing columnist, Inside Philanthropy

There’s a great Bette Davis quote that goes something like, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” It puts me in mind of the recently departed month and the image of decrepit Father Time ambling out of the year. Certainly for nonprofits that depend on a year-end fundraising blitz, December has never been for the faint of heart. Nor, for that matter, is January, when the donation tally is complete.

That high-stakes setting informs the success story I have to share. Last year, I was part of a daring December initiative. A nonprofit organization of which I’m a board member, Astor Services for Children and Families, took a popular free event and, for the first time, required a contribution to attend. That’s practically the definition of risk-taking for nonprofits. Yet, the outcome was an event that generated positive buzz and raised a significant amount of money — in fact, more than other signature events in recent years. How it was accomplished may be of value to others — at any time of the year.

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