Impact Giving: How Fundraising Events Support The Mountaineers

Our development program utilizes many strategies to reach this goal, but one of the most important efforts of our annual plan takes place through the form of fundraising events. Fundraisers account for over 30% of our philanthropic revenue and they’re one of our donors’ favorite ways to give.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
March 01, 2020

Welcome back to our monthly Impact Giving blog series where we shed light on how charitable donations support mission-enhancing programs of The Mountaineers, such as scholarships and conservation efforts,and the strategies we use to in our fundraising program. We’ve already previewed a few ways donors choose to elevate The Mountaineers with philanthropic support, and this month we’re excited to pull back the curtain on one of the most popular ways that donors and sponsors make a difference in our community: fundraising events!

In case you missed them, here are the first four blogs in our online series:

  1. Why is Earned Revenue Not Enough? 
  2. An Insiders Look on Scholarships
  3. How Year End Appeals Support The Mountaineers
  4. Planning your Legacy with The Mountaineers Summit Society

 

Events as Fundraisers

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, The Mountaineers relies on public support to reach our fiscal year goals. In 2020, our board of directors approved a fundraising goal of $1.62M. Our development program utilizes many strategies to reach this goal, like year-end appeals, major gifts, and planned giving, but one of the most important efforts takes place through the form of fundraisers and special events. Accounting for over 30% of our philanthropic revenue, fundraising events are one of our donors’ favorite ways to give. But what makes these events so successful?

Events can serve as the catalyst to transform casual donors into enthusiastic champions of our organization. They provide the ultimate stage to strengthen relationships with current and potential donors, build partnerships with brands, celebrate heroes from our Mountaineers community, and recognize those who have gone above and beyond and inspire the best within us. They also allow us the chance to hear directly from people whose lives have been positively influenced by our programs. In short, events make giving much more fun! 

Vik Sahney, Rich Draves, and Gavin Woody race in our signature Tyrolean Traverse, helping to raise an additional $24,000 at our annual gala. Photo by Trevor Dickie.

Fundraising Events and ROI 

Events often critiqued for their perceived return on investment (ROI). This is primarily because events can be expensive, the rewards are challenging to value, and the benefits often pay off for the organization well beyond the day of the event. According to Charity Watch, a good expense ratio to aim for is 35% or less. The Mountaineers largest fundraising event, our annual gala, historically results in a 72-78% profit margin, which is ~10% better than industry average and a fiscally responsible expense margin for a fundraiser.

Beyond the financial success of Mountaineers events, these gatherings are inherent community builders. They create an engaging setting to invite our close friends and family and provide an opportunity to welcome new supporters.

When run well, events provide a holistic approach to a successful fundraising program: 

  • Engage and retain existing donors and open the door to new relationships.
  • Provide in-person storytelling to share impact on how we make a difference.
  • Create and maintain a highly visible profile, strengthen goodwill and brand recognition, and provide a stage where celebrities and influencers want to be seen. 

Jimmy Chin with Mountaineers board member Steve Swenson at the Gala VIP reception as they chat about winning the Oscar for Free Solo. Photo by Sam Ortiz.

Fundraising Events at The Mountaineers

Fundraising Gala

Now in its sixth year, The Mountaineers Annual Gala: Adventure with Purpose has grown from its birth in 2013 as a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Jim Whittaker’s summit of Mt. Everest - where we raised $287,000 in support of Mountaineers programs - into an annual community celebration everyone looks forward to. To see that level of success in our first year was an incredible accomplishment for The Mountaineers, and with a presentation from Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in Jim’s honor and a special appearance by Eddie Vedder, the event surpassed all expectations.

The Gala is now a fixture in The Mountaineers skyline as our signature spring event that raises over $400,000 each year and serves as the largest pipeline for unrestricted support. The unrestricted revenue received at the gala provides the most powerful kind of financial leverage that allows us to utilize funds where they are needed most, including programs like our need-based scholarships fund, volunteer leader development, lodge renovations, teaching structures, conservation-driven initiatives, publishing support, or outdoor youth programs.  

A History of Gala Honorees

  • 2013: Honoree Jim Whittaker with special guest Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. 
  • 2015: Honoree Fred Beckey with special guests Mike Gauthier and Alex Honnold
  • 2017: Honoree Dee Molenaar with special guest Kit Deslauriers
  • 2018: Honoree Tom Hornbein with special guest Lynn Hill
  • 2019: Honoree Helen Engle with special guest Jimmy Chin
  • 2020: Honoree Governor Daniel J. Evans with special guests Sally Jewell and Sir Chris Bonington

Fall fundraising events

With The Mountaineers Gala directly supporting our annual fund, each fall we hold an event dedicated to supporting mission-enhancing initiatives, like our Conservation and Advocacy Program, to build excitement coming into a new season. Our fall event has rotated its format each year, including:

  • 2017: Your Mission: Protect The Outdoor Experience 
    • A downtown corporate breakfast with Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario.
  • 2018: The 40th Anniversary of the First American Ascent of K2
    • A weeklong series of events included The 50-Year Member Luncheon, a special Beta & Brews in partnership with REI, a 400-person event at the Seattle Program Center, and a private in-home fundraiser. 
    • 2019: Action Alert event series supporting Mountaineers Conservation and Advocacy
      • This series included Cocktails for Conservation in partnership with Mountaineering Club and a private in-home soiree called An Evening of Advocacy.
      • The philanthropic revenue received in the Action Alert events successfully funded our recent expansion of our conservation impact.
    • 2020: Shortly after the gala we will announce the format of our September event, which will continue to support Mountaineers Conservation and Advocacy efforts.

    We have many opportunities throughout the year for you to support The Mountaineers by joining us at a fundraising event. The next time you see an invite, whether from a personal friend or e-invitation, please consider attending! Each year, more than 1,000 people join us for a fundraising event to connect with old friends, make new ones, and celebrate the achievements of our community and the heroes who help to make it all possible.

    Upcoming Fundraising Events

    • The Mountaineers Gala 2020: Adventure with Purpose - Saturday, April 4, 2020.
      • We don't want you to miss your chance to be in the room to witness Sally Jewell honor Governor Daniel J. Evans with The Lifetime Achievement Award and hear from our very special guest Sir Chris Bonington. Consider securing one of the few remaining tickets available, but act now before it's too late.  We expect to sell out in the next few weeks. Tickets start at $200.
    • Link Sar’s First Ascent: An Evening with Steve Swenson - Wednesday, April 8, 2020
      • Eighteen years after his first attempt to reach the summit of Link Sar, Steve Swenson, legendary alpinist, Mountaineers Board Director, and Mountaineers Books author, finally stood atop the notoriously technical peak in Pakistan’s Karakoram. Proceeds from ticket sales and additional donations will directly benefit Mountaineers Books, a nonprofit publisher, in honor of our 60th anniversary and as a reflection of the tremendous work to educate and inspire alpinists around the world.

    GIFTS CHANGE LIVES

    At The Mountaineers, we rely on philanthropic support from individuals to sustain donor-funded programs and fundraising events are just one part of the big picture that helps us reach our goal. When you make a gift, you support initiatives that have been important to our outdoor community for 114 years:

    • You develop volunteer instructors, the heart of all of our programs, and elevate The Mountaineers ability to teach people how to be safe and responsible in outdoor adventures. 
    • You inspire fierce advocates of our wild places so that the health of our environment is protected for the benefit of generations to come. 
    • You provide scholarships that increase access to recreation and conservation programs for youth and adults, ensuring the outdoor education is accessible to all.
    • You connect young people with the outdoors, especially those who otherwise wouldn’t have access to the experiences we provide.
    • You publish titles that spotlight important conservation issues and reach millions of Americans to educate and inspire action.

    Thank you for your incredible support. 

    The Mountaineers® is a 501(c)(3) organization supported through earned revenue and elevated through charitable contributions, tax ID:27-3009280, 7700 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115.

    If you are inspired to make a gift, please visit mountaineers.org/donate or call 206-521-6006.