Fun events may bring in hundreds of attendees, but a fundraising event is not an end in and of itself. Often the charity never sees these folks again (or at least not until the next event) because these folks are golfers or ‘thoners, not donors. These events are a waste of your precious resources.
Don’t tell me that you “raised awareness.”
Unless you raised awareness towards a particular end (usually generating greater philanthropic support) – and you have a plan to intentionally build on this awareness — then everything your attendees may have learned about you will go in one ear and out the other. Awareness that isn’t reinforced lasts about two seconds.
Don’t tell me that you “raised good money.”
Did you really? Well, think again. You generated some money. But the money is generated at a very high cost (50 cents on the dollar is “good” for special events, compared with ranges from 2% to 20% for most other fundraising strategies; plus most folks calculate this 50% return without factoring in the time spent by staff and volunteers). The dirty little secret of events, if we’re being honest, is that net/net events usually are money losers.
Don’t despair! Events have a place in your comprehensive development/marketing strategic plan. But there’s a reason some folks call them ‘friendraisers’ more than ‘fundraisers.’
How to Turn Event Attendees into Ongoing Donors
Think of every single attendee as a potential major donor and lifelong evangelist.
When folks begin to give to you through an event they are “casual” supporters. Don’t let them stay that way! Develop a strategic approach so that you convert casual event attendees and donors into ongoing, engaged annual fund investors.
Think of your event as one step in a series of strategies leading up to an ask.
An event is really a giant donor cultivation tactic, where your goal is to make an emotional connection with your guests so that you can fan the flames of their passion and make a larger ask at some point down the line. If you’re letting your event be a stand-alone one trick pony you’re really wasting your energy and resources.
So how do you avoid a one-night stand with your donor?
For starters, you call them in the morning! And to do this, you need to have their name and contact information. It’s amazing to me how many organizations allow businesses to fill up tables with their employees, and don’t bother to even capture this basic information about who was in attendance. Without this, you can’t reach out and build stronger relationships with these folks – no matter how inspired they may have been by your program. It is absolutely insufficient to merely send a thank you letter to the director of corporate relations. Every single person at the table needs a thank you!
This holds true for guests of your board members and donors as well. Ask for their names and addresses. Just because someone comes as a guest, or a walkathon participant or pledger, does not mean they know much about you. If they give to you once, and really don’t know you, then what on earth makes you think they’re going to want to give again?
They might, but only if you treat them well. Only if you show them you’d like to get to know them better. Only if you delight them, intrigue them and make them feel taken care of.
Bottom line: it’s what you do after the event that counts when it comes to donor retention.
Before the event it’s fine to focus your energy on getting folks to attend (otherwise, you’ve nothing to work with). And it’s fine to fill the event with mission moments (otherwise you’re not going to inspire anyone). But if you stop here you’re not going to build sustainable relationships with your attendees.
You absolutely must plan for this follow up in advance of the event.
People are most inspired in the warm afterglow of the event, and it fades very quickly. So prepare ahead and hit the ground running so you don’t miss opportunities. It begins with knowing who your attendees are, and then getting to know them better. Don’t keep them in a box labeled ‘event donor.’ You’ve got to get them out of the box and play with them! Connect with them emotionally if you want them to connect emotionally to you.
Let’s begin at the beginning and make sure you have a way to follow up with everyone who attended:
What will you do to capture contact information?
- Use a sign-in sheet (or drop business cards in a fish bowl) so attendees can be added to your mailing list for updates and/or information about volunteer opportunities. Consider a raffle prize as an incentive for taking this action.
- Collect credit card information for folks who’ll later be participating in your silent/live auction. When they sign up, include an opt-in box for your newsletter/mailing list.
- Ask attendees to donate via pledge cards on the table. Offer an incentive for doing so now, such as a raffle prize or matching gift that’s good only right now. This also gives you their valuable contact information.
What will you do to retain the attention of what I call ‘hangers on’?
These are the folks who come as unpaid guests of other donors. Often, especially when corporations buy a table, there can be quite a few of these folks. Don’t write them off. If your event does a good job of inspiring folks about your mission, there’s absolutely no reason these guests cannot become individual donors to your organization.
- Put in place strategies to get their contact information. Perhaps simply ask the administrative assistant who puts the table together.
- Send them a thank you for attending and let them know how much the event raised, and what the funds will be used for. Maybe enclose a snapshot of them at the event (I’ve found folks love this!)
- Develop a system of ‘drip storytelling’ that informs and inspires them over time about your mission and accomplishments.
- Write a special note in the next appeal they receive from you that shows them you appreciate them (and connects the dots for them by reminding them they were at your event).
What will you do to capture attention from the ‘pledgers’?
If you host a walk-a-thon you’ll often have scads of folks who write checks. Many of the same follow-up suggestions apply. These folks are connected to their friend at this point; not to you. But you can change that by providing them with inspiring stories about your mission. Operate under the assumption that they’re already part of your community, and include them. Folks like being a part of a community if they’re warmly welcomed and embraced.
What will you do to learn more about your new, potential supporters and also help them to learn more about you?
- If you have phone numbers, try giving them a call to get their feedback on the event. Don’t forget to make notes in your database. And take the opportunity to find out if there are other ways they’d like to become involved. Offer to send a link to subscribe to your blog or e-news so they can be apprised of upcoming events.
- Send a one or two question survey with something like SurveyMonkey. Folks like to give advice and since these people are new to your organization they are your best possible resource for feedback about your event. This is a great “action” in which they can engage and help you, without having to go back into their checking account. It shows that you already are embracing them and valuing them as contributing members of your community.
What will you do to build stronger relationships, now that you have contact information and have learned a bit more about your attendees? Remember, you want to strike while the iron is hot! If you wait too long the donor will forget about you. So it’s imperative that you plan your follow-up before you hold your event.
Create a thoughtful, intentional follow-up plan for every single donor or category of donor. (e.g., first-time ticket buyers; first-time attendees as guests of others; silent auction and/or raffle donors only; etc.) Then do it! Event 360 has a free, downloadable white paper that outlines “4 Steps to Converting Event Donors to Organizational Donors.” In a nutshell:
- Identify: Capture all the information you can about the donor;
- Engage: Send communications that reference the event experience in some manner;
- Qualify and cultivate: Assign event donors as major, annual or planned gifts prospects, then personalize their experience, and
- Convert: Ask!
Your sample post-event donor engagement plan might look something like this:
- A day-after phone call to thank folks for being there (that’s it! just a warm, authentic shout-out filled with gratitude);
- A handwritten thank you letter that tells them how much the event raised;
- A handwritten note on their newsletter that thanks them again for attending (and reminds them you noticed them and know who they are);
- A year-end report or video link that references their event attendance and commitment to the event’s goals, and
- A personal note on their annual appeal thanking them for their event attendance as asking if they’ll now consider supporting your annual campaign.
Put all your strategies into a calendar. Think about the things coming up within your organization – back to school, a big event, a popular volunteer activity, etc. – and tie your communications to these events. Maybe offer them the opportunity to be the first to sign up or to get a sneak peek. Or just give folks the opportunity to do something fun, like join a contest or post a photo to your Pinterest or Instagram account. Think creatively about little gifts you can give to your donors.
Turning event attendees into ongoing donors requires patience and persistence as well as strategy. If you feel you can’t get this all done on your own, recruit other staff or board or volunteers to help. Be patient. Don’t write folks off just because they don’t respond with a gift or other action right off the bat. You’ve got to do the relationship building first. Cultivating event attendees takes about a year until they’re ready for an increased ask. But you’ve got to start immediately after the event or folks will forget who you were and why they attended. Seriously, don’t delay!
For Creative Ways to Connect With Your Donors…
Check out the newly revised Creative Ways to Thank Your Donors. You’ll get 33 ways to send little gifts to your supporters – from the tried-and-true to the dare-to-try. Plus you get 4 exercises to help you come up with all sorts of ways to rock your donors’ world. And lots of resources links too. Get started today!
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