Here are a few best practices that your organization to leverage at your next cultivation or stewardship event:
• Identify a target audience. The entire experience of the event should reinforce your organization’s mission and create personal, lasting memories for your attendees. Identify a target audience, and then let that audience influence the event’s details. Fundraising events can focus on multiple demographics including young professionals, children, parents, seasoned patrons, or the community. The details of your event will reflect the characteristics, likes and dislikes of your target audience which in turn will increase attendance, engagement, and return on your investment. Once your target audience is established make sure leadership, staff, and volunteers spread the word. Build a list of desired attendees and use all relationships that are connected to your organization. As your guest list starts to fill up, incorporate research into your preplanning to allow you to understand which guests will value different parts of the event experience the most and plan for staff and board to engage with specific guests.
• Create real moments. Fundraising events provide a tangible platform to build and deepen relationships with supporters by letting them experience the mission live and in person. Remember that your event should be about creating real moments and points of humanity that connect your attendees to something bigger than themselves. This is the value of events that can’t take place over an email or perfect piece of direct mail. Construct every part of the event experience to evoke your mission and attendees will leave with a stronger bond and deepened commitment to your organization. Make sure that all staff and volunteers understand that the attendees’ experience is the true content of the event and that they are prepared to share their passions and create personal connections with all attendees—not just the traditional VIPs like board members and special guests.
• Post-event follow-up is key. Events will often bring a slew of brand-new donors into your house-file who have not yet built up loyalty to your organization. Too many asks too soon will wear out these new donors, but not following up soon enough will leave the donor stationary. You want to use the excitement from your event but also leave space to build a relationship before repeating an ask for a gift. Examine your current donor file for an indication of the average timing between first and second gift. Fill the space in between that time with a welcome series to educate your new donors on your mission, share success stories, and invite them to volunteer—all forms of engagement that do not include a direct ask for a gift. By the time you ask for a second gift, the donors will have affinity for your organization and will be more likely to repeat or increase their support.