Making Events Great Again!

Events have always been an important tool when developing a Major Gifts program.  Fundraising is always about developing strong relationships with donors and if you hope to move them up the giving pyramid, an in-person relationship is always preferable to engagement solely through the mail or email communications.  A letter will never allow you to see the real time reaction of a donor’s response to the message you are trying to convey.  And an email will never replace the emotional connection that takes place when a donor sees or hears a testimonial from a person who has been positively affected by your mission.

The last two years have been a true challenge for Major Gift fundraisers’ ability to have genuine connections to donors.  Industrious organizations have made due with Zoom meetings, conference calls, Webex presentations and the now ubiquitous Virtual Gala.  But these advances in technology, although convenient when in-person opportunities are impossible, don’t provide benefactors the same opportunity to engage with your work that in-person events achieve.  Aristotle confirmed this understanding thousands of years ago when he wrote, “Man is by nature a social animal” and now organizations should work to bring people together so they can fulfill this natural inclination and help your organizations continue to thrive and achieve more good for society.

The following are some ideas to consider as you prepare to re-engage with your donor community through events:

  1. Get Feedback From Donors: The past two years have inspired a rollercoaster of emotions related to the anxieties, fears, hopes and concerns of individuals and their response to the Covid virus. As the worst effects begin to subside and individuals feel more comfortable gathering together again, organizations should survey their top benefactors and prospects to determine if and when to host their next event.  Many organizations have been successfully gathering for the past year with excellent results sharing their accomplishments, thanking their benefactors and raising needed funds to continue their impact. 
  2. One Size Does Not Fit All: Hosting an event does not always mean the same thing to different organizations.  When considering what kind of event you would like to host, be sure to survey your closest supporters.  You may find that they are itching to reconnect with other likeminded donors and would support a larger event or Gala.  You may, however, find that they are still tentative about gathering.  You may decide to hold off organizing an event or possibly host smaller events and show that you can successfully engage with donors to support your important work.
  3. Tell the Story of the Past Two Years: If your organization has survived, or possibly even thrived, despite the incredible difficulties of the past two years you have much to celebrate.  Don’t take for granted the sacrifices made and hard work done to ensure your organizations were able to continue their missions.  Utilize events to retell the story of what you accomplished together as a non-profit and philanthropic community.  Celebrating success, recognizing sacrificial efforts and highlighting what you accomplished when so many other worthwhile organizations were forced to shut down will bring your staff, donors and beneficiaries closer together and inspire them to do more in the future.
  4. Celebrate Your Heroes: Thank your donors and recognize those who went above and beyond to support your work during this difficult period.  Our donors are our heroes, as many of them made sacrificial gifts to fill in the gaps that were anticipated in early 2020 and continued to be generous to ensure that your organization not only survived but thrived.  Events are the perfect way to acknowledge their sacrifices and celebrate their generosity. 
  5. Raise More Money!!! Many organizations prefer to utilize events for information sharing or thanking donors for their past support.  Although these kinds of events should still be a priority, in the short term, you can use events to create an energy that makes soliciting a gift more effective. Because it has been so long since donors have been able to see one another and engage in person now is the perfect time to share your vision for the future and challenge attendees to help you achieve it through their financial support.  Announcing a targeted financial goal and/or enhancing that goal with a dollar-for-dollar match will inspire a relational energy that builds with every new financial commitment and put your organization in a strong position for the future.

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