With the fall gala and fundraising season just around the corner, many nonprofit organizations that are busy planning events should also give careful thought to how to turn attendees into loyal donors.
Many people who attend a fundraising event do so because a friend or a family member has invited them — or because it's a social night out — but not necessarily because they are committed to the cause for which funds are being raised. However, these attendees may well become committed donors, but this won’t happen on its own. You need a plan to help them along the way.
There are steps you can take to stimulate interest before, during, and after the event as a way of developing a relationship with donors who may be interested in supporting your charity in a more transformative way.
Consider the following when considering how to turn event attendees into long term, supportive donors:
Actions you can take to steward event attendees before the event:
- Be sure that you invite your major donors to the event. Events are great opportunities to invite potential donor prospects as well.
- Encourage your donors to invite their family and friends. Ask those donors to give you the contact information of their guests beforehand. Send them (and any new event attendee), a personal note sharing your excitement about their attendance. Don’t forget to include information about your organization!
- Send invitations with the goal of upgrading donor’s event contribution, i.e., higher priced, table, etc.
- Carefully strategize who sits at each table. Assign a Board member or staff member as “ambassadors.” Ensure that there is a Board member or staff member “ambassador” sitting at each table.
Actions to consider during the event:
- Ensure that a Board member or staff member “ambassador” circulates during the event and introduces herself personally to each table.
- Research event attendees; share what you learn with your identified Board and staff event “ambassadors.” Create “talking points” to use in discussions with donors and prospects.
- Create emotional moments during the event to highlight your mission. Those moments may be visual, audio, or even an in-person testimonial from someone who has been impacted by your organization.
- Develop a strategy in advance to try to set up a follow-up meeting, and be sure to establish a system for capturing notes for development prospects and donor files post-event.
Actions to take after the event:
- New attendees – Have a board member or other member of the nonprofit who has a relationship with the new attendee call the attendee. Mention the donation made, how the money will be used, and learn about their possible interest in the organization.
- Repeat attendees who did NOT donate – Send a handwritten note from a board member who has a relationship with them or from the executive director. Thank them for attending and ask about their interest in learning more about the organization.
- Repeat attendees who DID donate – Call if a relationship exists or if they donated more than $1,000; send a note to everyone else. Mention the donation made, how the money will be used, and learn about their possible interest in the organization.
- Donated but did not attend – Call if a relationship exists or if they donated more than $1,000. Mention success of the event and how the money donated will be used. Ask about their interest in learning more about the organization.
- People who donated significant auction items – Initiate a call by the person with a relationship and a letter of acknowledgment. Executive director and/or board chair may send a note as well. Mention how the money will be used and ask about their interest in learning more about the organization.
While you don't have to follow this post-event plan precisely, it's important to develop a post-event stewardship plan before the event, so that immediately afterward, you can put this plan into action.
Additional Options to Consider:
- To which categories of attendees do you want to reach out? Silent auction and raffle donors, first-time attendees, etc. Who will be doing the follow-up? Board members with relationships, staff with relationships, others?
- What vehicle will you use to steward your donors? Will it be a handwritten note, a telephone call, or a visit? Will you use email and social media? How? What is the message? What do you intend to share with them?
- When will this stewardship take place? Immediately after the event? A week or so later?
In thinking through your post-event stewardship plan, seek buy-in and ownership from the board and be ready to implement relatively soon after your event concludes. That way, your event will be more than just an event: It will be a key part of your strategy to cultivate potential new donors!