Gail’s Guide to Brilliant Major Gift Cultivation Events

You’re having events all the time – to open doors, make friends, cultivate potential supporters and thank your current donors.

Make sure your guests have a wonderful time!

Make sure your guests have a wonderful time!

All of these gatherings are wonderful opportunities to bring people closer to your organization.

I LOVE events as cultivation opportunities! Why? Because it’s easier to engage donors in a conversation when you are being social.

The setting is not as formal and intimidating as an office visit. The donor is more relaxed and so are you.

Here are just a few things you can find out from a simple conversation with a prospect at an event:

  • how enthusiastic they are about your cause
  • why they care
  • their personal experiences that tie them emotionally to your cause
  • their other interests, including philanthropic interests
  • their apparent level of wealth
  • their family situation

Here’s how to make the most out of these marvelous cultivation opportunities:

1. Turn your event into a party.

WHO wants to go to an “event,” anyway? Not me for sure. The word “event’ sounds so very boring!

But I’ll be the first one to attend a “party.”

So first of all, you need to turn your events into parties.

Having a fun, pleasant time is paramount to your donors. Why else would they bother to attend? Remember that this is a social occasion – you can’t be too serious or heavy.

Your most important goal is that they enjoy their experience with you. You need to be an excellent host and be all about your guests. Then they’ll be more likely to come back to another event.

2. Don’t skimp.

If you are entertaining wealthy people, or top corporate executives –  all these people are used to living nicely. They are used to good wine (no box wine allowed!) more sophisticated food (no hot dogs unless it’s a cookout), lovely flowers and nice venues.

Make sure your food is nice and fits with your organization's personality.

Make sure your food is nice and fits with your organization’s personality.

If you are staging a quality reception, then you need to make it quality. If it’s a barbecue, then have good quality BBQ food and trimmings.

Just don’t skimp. Whatever the style of your party – It’s worth it to entertain your guests nicely.

But be sure the type and mode of entertaining totally reflects your organization’s culture.

3. Triage your guest list.

Some attendees may be very important to your organization: they will be the ones with deep pockets, or people you are cultivating for an immediate gift, or they may be long term donors. So slather attention on them!

Take a look at the guest list, and divide it by thirds. Identify the top group of most important guests.

Make a plan for them. Know who is coming, why they are coming and how you might move your relationship forward with them at the end. Think of questions you might want to ask them.

Assign these prospects to your staff and board members! THAT’S how you make the most of these events!

4. Give your board members official roles as “hosts.”

Board members often welcome an official role. Here’s what a host does:

  • Greets people warmly at the door.
  • Introduces guests to each other and fosters conversation among them.
  • Seeks out wallflowers (you know those awkward folks standing next to the wall clutching their drink) and welcomes them.

Give them a special name tag that makes it easy to recognize them as board member.  This makes them feel special too!

Assign board members as official hosts!

Assign board members as official hosts!

AND, if board members are up to it – they can be assigned to a couple of guests for a cultivation conversation – “So glad you are here! What is your impression of our organization?”

5. Use a pre-event gathering to make people feel important.

Invite a small subset of the most important guests to arrive 45 minutes before the main event.

Then use that time to give people a preview and tell them why they are important to your organization.

I’ve found that the VIPs will come to a select, private, more exclusive event readily – and then they will stay on for most of the second event. Yay!

6. Offer transportation for older donors.

If you are inviting some older donors, arrange to have them picked up and brought to the event and then driven home afterwards.

You can have staff members do this or recruit board members or other donors who plan to attend the meeting.

Not only will they appreciate the ride, but that’ll increase the likelihood that they actually get there.

7. Manage the program with a charming iron hand.

Worried that your program is going to go on too long? Even when you tell people that they have 5 minutes to speak, they often go on much longer.

My strategy is to have a skilled Master of Ceremonies who knows just how to get people on and off the stage. Encourage your MC to stand right beside the speakers when their time is up.

And be sure to let every speaker know what the MC plans to do to keep the program running.

I usually walk right up to my speakers and say with a big smile, “Remember, you are going to be charming and brief, right?” They laugh but the message gets drilled into their heads.

8. Casual events are often more fun and also more productive.

I love having porch parties at my house. I have a big porch – and people like to come to something that has a more casual feel.

The more relaxed your guests are, the easier it is to have a meaningful conversation with them. So try cookouts, porch parties, and picnics. You might be surprised!

BOTTOM LINE

With a little planning, you can make your donor cultivation event your donors will never forget – AND you’ll go home with new information on where your donors stand!

What are YOUR tips for a fabulous donor event???

Leave a comment and tell me!