I’ve been asked a number of times recently how we can use events more effectively to connect with donors, so I thought this earlier post, where the Sponsorship Collective’s Chris Baylis quizzed me on events strategy, might be helpful. Enjoy!

Why is it important to use events strategically rather than just focusing on raising as much money as possible on the day of?

What organizations sometimes overlook is how their events can be used as effective donor cultivation opportunities. So often your event is the only place where you can get face to face with some of your donors and learn about them and their motivations. Even with large galas, by putting the right strategies in place, you can begin to build a deeper connection with some of your guests with a view to continuing this relationship after the event is over.

It all starts with strategy! What are some techniques that have worked for you in the past?

I always advise having a strong “home team” at the event, which may include Board members, staff, volunteers, beneficiaries and even other donors, whose job it is to thank, interact and engage with guests, not only to make them feel valued, but to discover who your most passionate supporters and what makes them tick. But for this to work, you need enough of them there to ensure lots of one to one conversations can take place around the room, that they know and fully understand their role and that they are willing to take part in a debrief immediately following the event so that you can discover what your team has learned.

Sometimes for larger events, such as performances and shows, I have also organized smaller, private pre-event receptions for a select group of people where we can get “up close and personal” with some of your best prospects, learn about their motivations and how they might like to get further involved.

I love the focus on relationships, even at larger events. What are people NOT doing now that they could do to use events more strategically?

They are not seeing the events as cultivation opportunities, as ways to get to know who their potential donors might be, but more as “one and done” activities where the funding is only in the ticket sales, silent auction or sponsorship.

In the second post in this series we discussed how to use follow up meetings to build relationships with sponsors. How does this translate to the world of individual giving?

Following up with your event attendees can be excellent in helping to build that connection with your cause. In fundraising we often talk about segmenting donors but seldom apply this practice to events but it can be a very useful strategy with event attendees.

Segmentation can be complicated! Can you give some tips on how to do this as it applies to events?

Once the event is finished, I make it a priority to go through my invitation list and start to segment according to how engaged I believe they are with the organization, and then begin to follow up appropriately, prioritizing those that seem most keen to know more and have the most potential to support you in a more significant way.

My priority actions might include:

  • Determining who we might want to have a follow up, face to face meeting with
  • Who we might invite on a project visit
  • Who we might invite to a future, possibly more exclusive, event or activity
  • Who we might simply send a thank you to

I might even include event invitees in this list for segmentation. Sometimes I have been surprised to find that some of the people who couldn’t make it were actually more engaged than those who came, so it’s important not to leave those out when developing your follow up strategy.

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Brilliant! I think that we often overlook those who do NOT attend our events, great advice. What are some of other tips for using events in your individual giving strategy?

Tip #1 Think about how you can connect your donors before, during and after the event to your cause. Try enclosing some information with the invitation that focuses on how their support will make a difference, or sending a note thanking them for coming and include a story about a beneficiary.

Tip #2 Make it easy for people to give. I once attended an awards dinner for a charity where some powerful videos were shown that demonstrated the impact of what award winners had achieved. I was incredibly moved and was looking forward to hearing how I could donate to this very worthy organization. Unfortunately, no such information was provided, on the tables or in the speeches. It was disappointing as I wanted to get more involved, but I could only conclude that they did not need my money.

Tip #3 Particularly for organizations that are under-resourced, think about events that you are already doing and how they can be turned into fundraising opportunities, such as open days and program tours. These are often used only to raise awareness, but by being more strategic in your messaging, they can be fabulous opportunities to let potential donors know about your funding needs.

Originally published by the Sponsorship Collective, June 7, 2015.

Related articles:

Do your donor cultivation events effectively support your fundraising goals?

The Fundraising Tour: One of the best fundraising tools

Using events more strategically to engage donors

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