At the end of Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-award winning western, Unforgiven, Little Bill Dagget (Gene Hackman’s character) finds himself about to die at the hand of Edward Munny (Eastwood), one of the very criminals he’s spent his entire life protecting his little town from. “I don’t deserve this… to die like this,” Dagget says.

Munny pauses just long enough before pulling the trigger to reply, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”

Audiences at fundraising events these days are completely unforgiving, leaving little room for error before they turn on or tune out an event. And like Munny said, “deserve” has nothing to do with it.

It used to be that if a sound system was sub-optimal, a crowd would work to hear the auction and pay attention. I did a school event this year that had an unfortunately horriffic sound system, and the crowd took that as their cue to save some money. “What’s that? You want me to bid on what? I’m sorry, I can’t hear you, my 401k is down 37% this year!”

The event finished down 40% from last year’s totals. We’ll never know for sure how much the sound system cost them, but I’d estimate that half of that is attributable to how poor the sound was.

Start the auction too late? Unforgiven. Have too many speakers or too large a program? Unforgiven. Put on a poorly structured fund a need that doesn’t spell out what you need the audience to help you accomplish? No matter how badly you need the money, this year “deserve” alone has got nothing to do with it.

We have always advocated thinking of your event as theater, and planning your event so everything that happens does so for a reason.  This year, that reason has to be focused more tightly than ever before. We’ve seen plenty of evidence to back up our theory that people are attending less events than ever before. And if they are given the slightest hint that something is amiss, they are ruthlessly tuning out and saving their money for an event that deserves it more.

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