Integrating Your Big Event Into Your Donor Cultivation Plan, Part 2
Updated: Sep 11, 2019
Fundraisers and boards often lament the fact that fundraising events are so expensive to produce. BUT, when done right, events are a key component of your donor cultivation plan, particularly for your major donors.
Part 2: Before the Event
Sure, the logistics part of planning an event starts months in advance of the big night. But the donor cultivation aspect of the event actually starts then, too. Here are some notes to consider in the months and weeks prior to your big day.
Six donor cultivation steps to take prior to your big event
Make turnout calls. They serve a dual purpose: they help get people to your event, but they also provide a personal touchpoint to your most important donors. Even if they don’t attend the event, your personal touch helps maintain their connection to the organization. Reach out to everyone who came to the event in the last two years (and gave a gift--why spend time trying to bring back someone who doesn't give?) and personally invite them to come back. I like to say something along the lines of, “I hope you had a great time last year! I’d love to see you there again this year. We’ve got a lot of fun in store, and of course, the cause can’t be beat!”
As registrations start coming in, be sure to capture the name of every guest. This is harder said than done, especially if you’ve got table captains or corporate guests. The importance of sharing names and email addresses of their guests is often lost on the table captain. You may have to hound them. But the cost of not hounding them is high. I once found out a year later that the CEO of a Fortune 500 company had been at my organization’s gala, and we hadn’t realized it. And that leads to...
Research every person registered. You don’t need a full-time prospect researcher, and you don’t need a full profile on every attendee, but a quick search on LinkedIn would help you avoid the situation I mentioned above. What a missed opportunity to have that kind of wealth and power in the room and not have started a relationship! If you have a small staff, perhaps this could be farmed out to a volunteer.
Create a seating chart that puts an ambassador at every table. Put your CEO, major gift officers, or development director with the most important donors. Put an enthusiastic and charismatic participant at each table. If that’s not possible, put an enthusiastic and outgoing program staff representative at each table. You want people to have fun AND leave with a strong connection to your organization.
Study your seating chart and make a plan for how you’ll make sure to connect with the most important donors. It can be hard to find the donors you need to connect with during the cocktail reception, but at some point in the night, you know exactly which table to visit to find them and deliver your heartfelt personal thanks.
Generate excitement. Drop hints about big surprises. Promote exciting auction items. Share impact stories. The more pumped your donors are about your event, the more likely they will remember it throughout the year and think, “Hey, I like that organization!” the next time they hear your name.