Who doesn’t love a free lunch? Or is there is no such thing as a free lunch?

Last week I attended my first meal-fundraiser of the season. This embarks the near half dozen I have plotted on my calendar going into October. You know what I’m talking about: banquet hall, an introduction by B-list or local celebrity, an eye-watering story told by a kid, and then of course, the ask. Having been on the planning committee of these events, I love trying to find the little variations from of this event between different organizations. For example, the group at my last luncheon differentiated luncheon by giving out breath mints as a party favor. I typically see so little variation between these events that this small gesture got me thinking – whoa, they really went all out.

But that’s just it. Are they going all out? If you and me can predict the fundraising flow of a 90-minute gathering, does it compel us to participate more?

Don’t get me wrong; I know it can work. I’ve seen over a million dollars fundraised over pasta salad, which directly impacted student’s lives and their families. So, I’m not saying the wheel is broken across the board, but I think about the room to innovate. There are so many variations of the ask; the clunky ways people pass around envelopes and uncomfortably price their “free” lunch or value the story they just heard. Is it peer-pressure that makes us start to feel philanthropic?

Running a successful fundraising event is very difficult so I don’t want to undermine my colleagues. But just imagine if the for-profit sector did the same fundraising campaign just as their competitors. How would they differentiate? Would they go beyond breath mints? What could be different?

Here are a few examples off the top my head: Perhaps provide an actionable opportunity for the audience to share with their social network on the spot; maybe even provide them with a small incentive for doing so. Or give them the opportunity to create a pen-pal relationship with a student in need, starting with the first letter written right there on the spot. And for party favors, why not auction a lunch with your b-list celebrity? A live auction can certainly create the peer pressure to give! We all know if we can provide donors meaningful (and frequent) engagement with the organization, they are much more likely to give more and for a longer time.