Events can be an essential part of the fundraising mix. Not only can they directly raise funds for your organization through ticket sales, auctions and sponsorship, they also provide many opportunities to deepen donor relationships and attract new donors to your organization.

The key to success with donor engagement and recruitment through events is in being strategic in how you go about it.  There are many event options out there, from galas, walks and runs to receptions and garden parties.  Regardless of the type of event, through appropriate planning and strategy, there are ways in which you can build a stronger connection with donors that will ultimately lead to more committed support.

Pre-event donor cultivation

Donor engagement doesn’t only have to happen at the event. You can begin to connect with attendees before the event even begins.  By creating plenty of momentum before the event through strong communications and by being available to attendees for any kind of conversation that they may want to have with you, you can increase their chances of showing up, for getting their friends involved and for being ready to engage on the day.

Simple ways in which you can do this include calling all respondents and letting them know how happy you are that they are coming (you could even involve Board members in making these calls) or sending personalised welcome notes to respondents expressing your delight, so that they feel truly welcome.  For larger scale activities, such as sponsored walks and runs, you absolutely should be connecting with your attendees regularly so that leading up to the event, the excitement builds. This is particularly important if you are relying upon attendees to collect sponsorship or to get friends, colleagues and family involved too.

RSVP by phone

Depending upon the size and nature of the event, one way to build connection is by asking everyone to RSVP by phone, rather than by email or mail.  This gives you an opportunity to have a conversation with the caller and learn more about them. Many times I’ve found that some of the people who say that they cannot make it have a greater interest in your organization than the people who can. They just are unable to be there on the day and are truly disappointed. By speaking to them at this point you can determine their level of engagement and identify other opportunities that could engage them in a different way or at a different time.

Build a “home team”

You are only one person so it is possible that you can’t talk to everyone at the event, particularly at larger events.  By building a team of people whose role is to get to know your event attendees, you can further your reach and learn more about your attendees – why they came, what their motivations are and whether they are more likely to get involved at a deeper level.

These Home Team members can include members of your Board, your senior management team, program staff and even people who’ve benefitted from your programs and activities.  The trick is in giving them the tools and the information to support them to have meaningful conversations with guests.  These tools can include briefing notes that might include guidance on their role, logistics (timing, venue, parking etc), the guest list, stories about your work and beneficiaries and, of course, your Case for Support, which is essential in helping them to feel comfortable in talking about the organization and its funding needs.

Need some help creating your Case for Support? Download my template here

Ask your donors to be your champions

Your most committed donors are often your best advocates.  Many times I’ve gone to events and overheard other donors talking enthusiastically about the organization and why they support it. That kind of advocacy can be very powerful in engaging others who do not yet know much about what you do.

There is no harm in being proactive, which you can do by going directly to some of your closer, committed donors and asking them if they would be willing to talk about your work, and their own support for it, with other guests.  In most cases, if they are passionate about your work, donors find this kind of opportunity flattering and it gives them the chance to do more for a cause that they care deeply about.

Pre-event briefing

On the day of the event, bring all your Home Team members together for a quick meeting to remind them of their role.  This role includes acting their as a representative of the organization and ensuring that guests have all that they need. Most importantly, they are there to build a connection with the guests, listen to what they have to say about why they are there, what moves them about the organization’s work, if there are any indications of whether they would like to know more (e.g. would they like to come on a site visit or meet with members of staff?) and in particular, if they are making any offers of support.

Immediately after the event
While the temptation might be to just go home after an exhausting day, DON’T!  This is the time to have a post event briefing where you bring together your Home Team and find out about the discussions that happened between them and your guests. Armed with that information, you can ensure that you follow up with everyone appropriately.

It’s crucial that this briefing happens the same day, as our memories fade so quickly when the excitement around the event begins to fade.  By the next day, not only can your Home Team begin to forget important facts, they will also start to forget the way that guests expressed their thoughts and opinions.  For example, did the guest at the event seem enthusiastic about the work or in getting to know you more? Were they moved by any of the proceedings? Were they even turned off by a particular message or approach? So schedule a time to get people together for a quick meeting once the proceedings are over, so that you can exchange thoughts, conversations and experiences.

In the days following (hint: your work has only just begun!)

Your event is over and a great time was had by all!  It’s been a lot of work and now you are ready to go on a nice break, right? Actually this is the best time to follow up on all those new connections and build on the enthusiasm developed through your event.

As well as thanking all those that were involved, including your Home Team, staff, sponsors, host and your event donors, within the next few days you should also be following up with everyone that came, not only to thank them for coming, but to offer the opportunity to know more and to engage with your mission.

For those that you or your Home Team were able to have a deeper connection with at the event, or those on your priority guest list, think more about what your next steps should be with each individual, and who should be taking them.  If your event was larger scale, segment your list into groups and focus more one-to-one attention on the top priority group and then work your way through the list, thinking about what the most appropriate next step should be for subsequent groups.  This way, you can ensure that you make the most of the connections that you made at the event.

So when planning your next event, think about how you can be more strategic in your approach pre, during and post event. Build an enthusiastic and knowledgeable Home Team who can cultivate relationships on behalf of the organization on the day and make it personal with individual calls and follow ups.  And don’t forget about your invitees that couldn’t make it. Maybe there is a budding relationship waiting to happen!

Do you have an event in the pipeline? How would you use it to build a better connection with your donors?  Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!

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