Engaging Prospects At A Nonprofit Event

Week 6 of 100 Donors in 90 Days focuses on events as new donor cultivation opportunities. Events bring out polar responses from fundraisers. Some love them, some hate them but almost all agree that events can be a major “time-suck.”

This week’s conversation with Shanon Doolittle explained how to be successful at engaging new donors – during an easy to run event. And, while the accompanying worksheet is an experienced event planner’s guide to success, I found her talk to be a perfect combination of best practices and creative ideas.

Here are a handful of her suggestions:

    1. “Know why you’re doing an event (hint: to find and cultivate new donors). Don’t overburden yourself with too many event goals. One is more than enough.” This will help you succeed at your one goal instead of trying to raise a large sum of money, while finding new donors, while creating new systems for data collection, while introducing a new board to some major donors, while ensuring corporate sponsors feel appreciated, while celebrating an anniversary, while – well you get the idea. Keep it simple.
    2. Integrate the mission into the experience. Hold a small fundraiser at a mission-related store to make planning easier and off-set costs with potential for in-kind donations in exchange for publicity. Or, encourage attendees to bring a mission-related item to donate (e.g. dog toys for an animal shelter or baby items for a family services organization). This will help attendees think about the mission before they come – even if they are only coming to network.
    3. Take pictures at the event and display pictures of past events. Shanon’s theory is simple – people like to see themselves in pictures. It’s both exciting and helps event-goers feel like they are special to the organization. Important enough to make the wall. And people who feel important to the organization will, in turn, put more value into the relationship.
    4. Put information and/or signage about the organization in the bathrooms. I thought this was incredibly clever. Almost every person will see it while waiting on line or drying their hands. Use your captive audience to inform, excite, and/or educate about your nonprofit.
    5. Follow up. While Shanon takes you through a step-by-step path to following up, I think it is important to highlight her last step. If, after three touch points, the prospect has not responded, place them on a separate events-only list. If they are not ready to give to the organization – you will only anger them by badgering them for a donation again and again. If they come to another event, you will have the opportunity to correspond with them again. But, if they are only interested in coming to events and never offering a straight donation – celebrate them for their role. Maybe they will bring friends who will contribute. Or maybe they will just help you sell tickets to events – either way allow them to develop a positive feeling about the organization and you will have the possibility of a long-term relationship on the donor’s terms.

Engaging prospects at a nonprofit event is stewardship, plain and simple.  And stewardship helps turn prospects into donors.


If you would like to hear Shanon or any of the other 11 fundraisers who share their best ideas in 100 Donors in 90 Days click here.