Small VIP donor cultivation events are an easy way to open doors to new prospects — and engage current donors in your mission.
We had a blast in my free webinar on Donor Cultivation Events this week — I drilled down into how to create the perfect donor cultivation event.
And I shared my go-to tips that can transform a simple gathering on your porch into a compelling, engaging experience for your donors.
We had tons of questions at the webinar and I’m answering many of them here:
1. What’s the role of the board at a small VIP donor cultivation event?
Board members can play important roles to help make these events successful – especially if you have a small staff.
They can help pay for events. They can host small cultivation gatherings in their homes. They can:
- Invite people to come to the event (hand deliver invitations?)
- Help identify potential attendees and share contact information
- Follow-up invitations to encourage people to come
- Handle logistics (put them in teams for food, drink, invitations, clean up)
- Be hosts at the event – greeting people and making them comfortable
Tip: I like to have board members make followup calls after a small event, thanking and asking guests they thought of the gathering.
2. What kind of program should you have?
A cultivation event needs a short compelling program showcasing your organization’s work. It must be brief, especially if people are standing up.
It should include:
- a short overview of how you are making your community better
- an emotional picture of the people your organization is helping
- a call to action
You can use:
- a short video
- a testimonial
- a story shared by program staff
- a short performance if you are an arts organization
Tip: Your program should evoke an emotional connection- with pictures, words and stories.
3. Should you make an ask at a VIP Donor Cultivation Event?
Well if this is a cultivation event for major donors, then it means you are preparing these people for a future major ask.
So why muddy the water with a small, impersonal group ask?
Tip: I say, NO ASK at a cultivation event. It defeats the purpose.
4. I have a board member who wants to make a hard ask at a paid event. What to do?
You CAN make a hard ask IF you let your guests know that they will be asked.
Good manners requires that you never ask without permission.
It may be awkward if your guests pay a lot and then they are cornered for an ask. I would not do it.
Tip: You should never, ever surprise your donors with an ask.
5. What kind of call to action should I make at a VIP Donor Cultivation event?
I like a call to action that inspires everyone to join the bandwagon, spread the word, get involved, and make it happen.
A call to action like this is inspirational. It has good energy and excitement.
It focuses your guests on the mission at hand, not on money.
Tip: Ask people for their help, before you ask for their money.
6. Should you have a small charge to attend?
I prefer to have my small events privately underwritten.
Often the host will simply cover the costs. Or you can seek an underwriter.
I prefer NOT to ask donors to pay anything. BUT I think it’s entirely acceptable, for a big dinner or party – to ask attendees to pay an minimal amount.
Tip: A free event feels more gracious and welcoming to your VIP guests.
7. How many staffers should attend?
I like to have plenty of staff to attend IF and ONLY IF they mingle with the crowd.
They should not be off huddling in a corner with their cell phones! This is a social event, really!
I like to have key program staff AND fundraising staff.
If your major gift officer has a prospect at the event, then he or she MUST be in attendance.
Tip: Your VIP donors do enjoy getting to know the staff.
8. How do you capture your guests’ information?
Ask your guests to fill out a Followup Card.
Have lines on the card for their contact information.
Include boxes for them to check off:
- I’d like to get on your mailing list.
- I’d like to make a gift.
- I’d like to host a small social of my own.
- I have an idea I’d like to discuss with you – please contact me:
Tip: Followup cards help guests SELF-SELECT what type of followup they want.
Small VIP donor cultivation events are easy to pull off.
Just be sure they are fun, pleasant and social.
Then your guests will want to come back to another event!