Jumpstart Lasting Donor Relationships at Your Annual Event

A well-attended, profitable fundraising event takes time to build—most organizations find it takes years for it to generate a significant portion of their income.

It requires a great investment at the outset and careful maintenance along the way to keep the momentum going. And the wheels of profitable events only churn because of the enduring relationships these organizations have built with their donors.

Like events, long-term donor relationships also take time to develop. Someone who gives regularly, who anticipates every fundraising event with excitement, who secures sponsorships or bids on big-ticket live auction items—that kind of donor is carefully nurtured and cultivated. And they are an invaluable part of a successful fundraising event.

Cost vs. Benefit

A donor who gives consistently is far more valuable than a one-time donor because recruitment and solicitation cost money.

Let’s say a cultivated donor gives once a year for four years—you’ve only spent money on one recruitment campaign for those four donations. But with four one-time donors, you recruit four times. Over the years, it adds up!

The same principle applies to your fundraising events. If you use the event as a recruitment tool, you’re cutting down on lifetime recruitment and solicitation costs. It’s all part of the same package.

Just be sure to put in the time (personally!) maintaining those relationships even after the event is over, and each year will get better and better.

Reach New People

It’s common for first-time events to be funded by a few generous sponsors—which leads to their guests filling most of the ballroom tables. Some event organizers worry that those complimentary sponsor guests have come just for the free dinner and won’t engage in the auction or the paddle raise.

But that’s what makes an event the perfect environment for bringing in new donors! Those new people are already in the room eating and enjoying themselves. They’re a captive audience for your message and your story. You just need a presentation powerful enough to reach them and inspire them.

Ensure your program includes a captivating and emotional introduction to your mission and message. What drives you? Showcase your work and the impact you’ve had on your community.

Give concrete examples of how your supporters (whether financial donors or volunteers) have made it all possible. Include lots of photos and videos to make it feel real. Be inspiring!

  TIP: Someone who’s just a “supporter” of your mission now can become a “donor” later. Of course, fundraising is critical—but try not to focus too hard on what a guest can do for you now.

Don’t be discouraged, the process takes time. Maybe a guest can’t donate right now, but give them a chance to get involved and stay involved, and that may change in the future.

TEACH Future Donors to Support You!

Give new supporters who are just hearing your message for the first time easy and inexpensive ways to get involved. Let them get their toes wet, and it could lead to bigger donations down the road.

In addition to your big-ticket items and high-dollar paddle raise, make sure to offer entry-level opportunities to support the organization, such as:

  • Include inexpensive auction items so more people can “win” and walk away with an item.
  • End your paddle raise with a small contribution amount—like $10—so anyone can afford to pledge.
  • Raffle off an appealing prize, with tickets that are affordable and easy to buy. (If you want to raffle off a second bigger prize, hold two raffles and sell those tickets for more!)
  • Offer small one-time purchases that still financially support you. Here are some great ideas we’ve seen:
    • A glass of special champagne
    • A photo-op with puppies
    • Buying a homemade dessert for their table
    • Purchasing an attractive centerpiece

Philanthropy is a habit that can be taught! Show all these new people how easy and fun it is to support you, and you’ll be training future givers.

And be sure to use each of those engagement points to collect your new guests’ information for future opportunities to get involved.

Follow Up

Not everyone will donate their first time interacting with your organization. But don’t give up—your event was just the introduction. It often takes multiple touchpoints for someone to really become invested in a nonprofit organization.

Follow up your event with other forms of outreach—preferably without asking for money.

Give new contacts ways to help that doesn’t focus on dollars such as signing a petition, volunteering, showing up to a city council meeting or calling their senator. These acts don’t cost anything, and small acts of advocacy lead to caring more about the issue—and by extension, your organization.

Make supporting you about the messaging and the mission, which is what people connect with most!

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