The current climate is ever-changing – and it is ideal to consider smaller-scale ways to safely gather supporters or potential supporters of your organization, once we have been cleared to do so. House Parties are an effective way to gather a smaller, targeted group of guests on behalf of your organization. Successful house parties are hosted by an individual or a couple on behalf of an organization, with the host(s) covering all or most of the associated costs. Most of the time, these events take place in the host’s home, but there are times when an alternate location is used – especially under the current circumstances (we have seen them hosted in parks, country clubs, and so forth.) Invitations for house parties are sent to a very targeted and intentional guest list, determined with the goal for the evening in mind.
For purposes of this article, House Parties are smaller-scale events with a targeted guest list. (Large, ticketed events with sponsors are a separate tool, more similar to an evening fundraising event.)
House Parties in the Current Context
We are living in uncertain and ever-changing times. As gatherings become “normal” again, it will be increasingly important to consider the size of the event post-COVID19 – keep it small! There is a real possibility that we may not be able to host large gatherings in the fall (whether due to regulations or due to comfort of guests), in which case it may be ideal to hold a series of smaller house parties rather than your typical annual event. While planning, consider the best location to safely gather your guests, whether a patio, yard, large living room, or other large space. Also remember to consider other safety measures – how you will serve food and beverages (with minimal contact), how you can eliminate multiple touches of materials (such as pens and envelopes), etc. Making sure your host and your guests are comfortable in the party environment will be crucial.
Identifying Goals and Follow Up
Identifying your goals for the house party is the most important step in planning. Your goals and intended outcomes will help determine your host, your guest list, and your program. There are several reasons you might host a house party – building awareness; connecting with current or potential donors; making an ask.
For house parties to introduce your project or organization to potential donors, make sure to work with your host to identify the best way to get guests in the room. It’s also crucial to determine follow up steps for each prospect to keep them engaged; what cultivation steps are appropriate? Who will be responsible for those steps?
House parties can be a great cultivation tool for current or prospective donors. This party can be a stepping stone or a final step in the cultivation path for prospects not yet involved with the organization or current donors you may be asking for an additional or increased gift. Make sure to work with the host to identify next steps for each guest. You’ll want to identify what the ask is for, the amount, the appropriate method, and whether any guests should be primed prior to the event.
For house parties that include an ask, set your intentions in advance. What need will you share? What kind of ask will it be? If guests do not give at the event, how will you follow up with them? Regardless of what you determine to be your goals or intended outcomes, make sure they are clear to all involved. The goals shape every piece of the planning purpose, as well as the details of the evening.
What Makes a (Good) Host
The best hosts are long-term supporters who are passionate about your mission and happy to share their history with the organization. Genuine passion is a motivator and disingenuous interest is obvious.
Your host should be someone who has a connection to your target audience, is comfortable “working the room,” and is supporting the specific project or piece that you are presenting. (It is much easier, and more meaningful, to make an ask once you’ve given! If the host hasn’t given, why should their guests? Again, this includes if they have underwritten some (or all) costs of the event.) An added bonus is a host who wants to use their gift, or an additional gift, as a challenge to their guests.
It’s important to set expectations early with your host. How involved do they want to be? What specific tasks are they interested in managing? What is their preferred method of communication? Your host is helping your organization by hosting this party, and an easy way to show them your gratitude is to meet them where they want to be with respect to the party.
The Guest List
Your house party guest list is formed based on both your host and by the goals for the evening. Are you inviting cold prospects, prospects you are cultivating, current donors, community leaders, or a mix of all three? Current donors (or volunteers) can be a great tool, as they are already excited about your organization/mission/project and can share that excitement with prospects. Just be sure to find the right balance for your goals. And remember, a connection to the host will help get guests in the room.
A few tips from the field to keep in mind while planning your guest list:
• Identify the capacity of the venue – both the comfortable capacity and the max capacity (particularly observing COVID-19 restrictions).
• Not everyone may be able to attend, so make sure to invite more than your determined capacity. It is helpful to come up with a “B List” of guests. These aren’t people of less importance, but maybe have less of a connection the host and to your targeted goal. Determine the best time to invite that second group – it can’t be so late that they know they are B List! As the planner, you also want time for RSVPs and follow up before final counts are due.
Party Program Components
Your host can help identify the best format and timing to appeal to the guests in the room. Common elements that we suggest are included in a standard house party flow include: • Mingling – Have your host and any volunteers introduce staff to prospects as they arrive and get settled. The host can also use this time to share their excitement, connection, and passion on an individual, more tailored basis.
• Introduction by host – Open the program with the host sharing their connection to the cause/organization/project and reasons for their support.
• Video to introduce project and/or organization – Videos are helpful to capture details of the organization or project in a visually-appealing way.
• Present gap, solution, and current status – This piece of the program will align with the identified goals of the party. Depending on the intended outcome for the party, you might be sharing your current project and campaign; an identified piece of the campaign; a scholarship; a specific program; etc.
• Call to action – The call to action is most effective if presented by the host; however, if they are not comfortable, a captivating staff or volunteer is another great option. The call to action will be based on your goals for the event and the guests in the room. Is it an ask? A soft ask? Is it a “watch for an invitation to our follow up party?” Is it ”tell your friends?”
As we may be social distancing for awhile longer, it will be increasingly important to consider ways to safely gather when conditions allow. House Parties can be a great tool to productively (and safely) spread the word about and support your organization. And now is a great time to start planning that next opportunity!