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Strategies for developing your nonprofit donor base

Spring and fall are the seasons of choice for gala events or so it would seem.

I am often asked by organizations that are holding galas or other fundraising events, what is the key to turning event attendees into loyal donors?

Firstly it's important to recognize that this is not easy. Most folks who attend a fundraising event are doing so either because a friend or family member has invited them, because it is a social night out or for a host of other reasons that are not necessarily about donor commitment or loyalty.

But there are a number of things that you can do to stimulate interest throughout the event cycle to develop relationships with some donors who may be interested in supporting your charity in a more transformative way.

Create a post-event donor strategy

Here are some ideas for a post-event stewardship plan:

New attendees that did donate. A board member, ideally one with a relationship or assigned designee, should make a personal call to new attendees. The board member should mention the donation made and how the money will be used and learn about their possible interest in the organization.

Repeat attendees that did NOT donate. Handwritten note sent by board member or executive director with a relationship. The note should express gratitude for continued support of the event and ask about their interest in learning more about the organization.

Repeat attendees that did donate. Call if the attendee donated more than $1,000. All others should receive a note. Mention the donation made, how the money will be used, and learn about their possible interest in the organization.

Donated but did not attend. Call if the person donated more than $1,000. Mention success of the event and how the money donated will be used. Ask about their interest in learning more about the organization.

People who donated significant auction items. A personal call and letter of acknowledgment. Executive director and/or board chair may send a note as well. Mention how the money will be used and ask about their interest in learning more about the organization.

Have your post-event donor plan in place

While you don't have to follow this post-event stewardship plan to the letter, it's important to have already developed your post-event stewardship plan before the event occurs. You will be ready to put this plan into action immediately following your event.

Think expansively and creatively about how you can recognize your donors. But, the important part is to be thoughtful with your approach.

Key things to think about:

  • Who? What are the categories of your event attendees? For instance, are they silent auction and raffle donors or first-time attendees? And, who will be doing the follow-up? Board members with relationships, staff with relationships, etc.
  • What? What vehicle will you use to steward your donors? Will it be a hand-written note, a telephone call, or a visit, etc? Will you use e-mail and social media? And, how? What is the message? What do you intend to share with them?
  • When? When will this stewardship take place? Immediately after the event? A week or so later?
  • Other follow-up and planned engagement? What planned follow-up after the initial engagement will you schedule in?

Have your plan in place and do not wait until it is too late. Think through your post-event stewardship plan, seek buy-in and ownership from the board, and be ready to implement fairly soon after your event concludes.

While these are some of the hardest folks to take from transactional to transformative, it can be done with a bit of thoughtful planning and strategy.

Don't let your event just be an event. Use it as a way to cultivate potential new donors who may be interested in who you are and what you do.

To learn more about Robin Cabral, visit Development Consulting Solutions.



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.