Your evening event is an important element in your development program – and a rare opportunity to be face-to-face with your donors. Events are often costly and time consuming, so taking every opportunity to make the most of them is critical. Simply gathering donors together and then making an ask doesn’t ensure people will give. And though there is no magic formula, there are a few critical pieces you can put in place to create a better environment for giving.
Purpose and Goal
Each event should have a purpose and a goal. This helps drive the planning and expectations. Typically evening events have a focus on donor renewal and cultivation. Perhaps they made a first time gift at a luncheon or through some other engagement. As this is a time when you can deepen engagement with your mission, the evening event can secure a renewal or an increased gift. Is this an annual event, or perhaps the celebration of a successful campaign?
Determine the financial goals for the event. How much money do you need to raise? Are you trying to increase donations at a certain level? Will you be using the proceeds for general operations or perhaps for some kind of program expansion? It’s important to be clear on these details.
Events as Cultivation
We often refer to cultivation as a gardening term. Always remember that cultivation is a process, and your evening event is an opportunity for donor cultivation. Take a look at your top prospects and those in the pipeline of your major gifts program. Evening events can be a great way to move them up a level, especially if you take strategic steps with your Donor Development Committee to invite them.
Compelling testimonials show how this person’s life is different because of your mission. Throughout the year be collecting stories from program staff that could be used in your event. You need to select people who are comfortable and dependable on the stage. The use of videos can also be part of the testimonial when appropriate. Be sure to rehearse with the patron/client so they are comfortable, and you get to see if they need coaching. Program staff can play a role in sharing testimonials but avoid using development or executive staff in sharing testimonials. If you have an emcee, it’s important they have been prepared to step in if needed.
Match and Challenge Gifts
Leverage gifts in the form of Match or Challenges can take your event fundraising up a notch. People respond favorably to these opportunities to increase the impact on your mission. Know the difference in types of leverage (See last month’s Round Table Round-Up for details!) The main thing is to be clear, consistent, and accurate in how you describe your match or challenge. Seek your match or challenge from one of your significant donors. They could be an individual, foundation, or corporation. Sometimes pooling several donors together to make the match large enough can also work. Share with them the impact you’re trying to achieve with the leverage.
Honoring someone who has made a significant impact on your organization can also increase the results of your event. Choose someone who has been a longtime donor, leader, or volunteer whose name will be a draw for people to attend the event. They should be willing and able to share their passion for the organization at the event. Honorees can also be a great way to increase sponsorships. Engage one or two people from their network to be on the committee to make sure all the right people are invited. Look for small ways to make it special for the honoree, like a food choice, color scheme or flowers.
Opportunities to Give
Events often offer multiple ways to give. A compelling ask from the stage is probably the strongest way to raise money at events. Choose the right person, usually a board member, donor, or volunteer who can share a blend of their passion for the mission with the theme of the event. Auctions and raffles, while not mission-focused, can add to your bottom line. Fund-a-Need and Giving Trees can also be ways to give.
Your evening event can be an even greater success if you implement these strategies!