Confession: I have a love-hate relationship with special events for the purpose of fundraising. It may be residual trauma from one too many 16+ hour workdays suffered in the name of executing the perfect annual gala (don’t get me started on seating charts, y’all). However, years ago I came to the realization that events are not just about the experience we create at the venue, they are awesome tools that can expedite and deepen relationships, educate and inspire supporters, and move people to action….IF, they are executed with intentionality.
With this in mind, I offer you my three keys to creating greater value with your organization’s upcoming events.
Claim your intentions
I know what you’re thinking “Um Hannah…it’s a fundraising event. My intention is to raise money.” But my friends, if all you’re focusing on is that dollar amount goal, you are actually missing the point of gathering en masse.
You could spend months planning an incredible major gift solicitation instead. You could choose to invest in training and crisp, compelling marketing materials instead of dinners and entertainment. You could choose to solicit a single impact gift that would be equal to what you net in a gala event. Seriously, you really could do that instead (Ahem, I can teach you how…but that’s for another post).
So, here’s the Coaching moment. Ask yourself, and answer, the following prompts:
● What else (besides raising $) do we want to achieve through this event? Is it greater brand awareness? Do we plan to create a sense of urgency around the social need our mission addresses? Perhaps you want to invite your attendees to commit to taking action via volunteerism…. the options are virtually limitless. But I implore you to claim your intentions and let them drive the event experience.
● Have I given my team members enough context for them to understand how their role impacts our success? Sometimes leaders get so caught up in their own responsibilities, they neglect to connect the dots for those they train and delegate to. I see it a lot with my clients and I had to work really hard to overcome the habit myself. Context creates ownership. Ownership affects outcomes, and ultimately leads to greater success.
● Have we given our guests enough information to feel prepared for the experience we’re creating for them? Sure, some of your guests won’t read anything you sent them pre-event. But, many will really appreciate, and remember, that you clearly communicated what to expect, how to dress, where to park, what to bring and the many interesting opportunities they have to make investments during the evening’s festivities. A comfortable guest is a future happy donor.
It’s not mingling, it’s Cultivation (yes, with a capital C)
Hands down the biggest mistake I see nonprofits make at their fundraising events is having the entire development team working behind the scenes. The people who know who your current donors and hot prospects are should be working the crowd! That means having one-on-one conversations with attendees, making introductions of other staff and board members to prospective donors and acting as illustrious hosts for the gathering. How do we ensure our Development team can work their magic?
- Invest in event staff or bring in plenty of volunteers to run registration, set up the silent auction, act as spotters during your live auction, etc. I promise it will be worth every penny.
- Event preparation must include time for prospect research because we need to know who is in the room, and who they came with. This information helps us have more meaningful conversations and make deeper connections.
- Involve your Board in cultivation efforts. They should be partnering with the Development team. That means they need to be prepped, given assignments of who they are to connect with and how they return intel from their conversations to staff.
The real magic is in the follow-up
Immediately following a major event is when your team needs to be ready to respond, make plans with your new friends, and send out tons of thank you notes to attendees and donors. Stewardship – the care and feeding of our relationships – is the key to lasting support and engagement.
● The best event experiences create a flurry of activity – requests for site visits, volunteer applications, phone calls to the executive director to make introductions, and yes, donations will come pouring in if your guests leave inspired. Be ready.
● Giving each Board member a short list of attendees to call and thank for their support, and a stack of pre-addressed and stamped thank you cards to sign and mail will expedite your stewardship efforts. More importantly, it will make your supporters feel like VIP and your Board members feel their personal impact.
● What comes after follow up? Follow through…with recording attendee interactions in your donor database that is!
So, there you have it my friends. I hope something I’ve shared here will inspire you to try something different this event season. If you put these three keys into practice at your upcoming events, I’d love to hear from you! As always, stay safe and joyful…and enjoy gathering!