Donor Event Planning

Donor Event Planning

Many organizations time their donor events for the fall months. Doing so entangles them with everything else normally scheduled for the fall. Some advance planning now – in May – will save you the traffic jams later.

I differentiate donor events from fundraising events in that they are not necessarily designed to raise money in the moment. They are more for donor introduction, cultivation, and appreciation. Consequently their success is measured more so by WHO is there than by HOW MANY are there.


Fundraiser’s Almanac – May


Donor events can take many forms, from field trips to coffees or luncheons, house parties, open houses at the office, and so on. In general, I separate them functionally as follows:

Introductory Events are used to introduce new donors to your work. The participants may know nothing about you or may just be new donors still needing very basic information about your organization and its programs. An important message to this audience is one of differentiation. How are you different from other, similar organizations? – essential geography, board members, not part of state or county government, and so on.

Cultivation Events are used to dive a bit deeper into specific programs or projects, for example preserve stewardship, the importance of endowment, or a new project acquisition. The participants may be new or may have been around for a long time. As you plan, keep in mind the two primary factors that influence giving – that what you’re doing is worth doing and that your organization is one that can get it done.

Appreciation Events are used to show donors how their financial support has made a tangible difference. Tell stories at each event, but particularly to this audience. What issue was addressed? What obstacle was overcome? What mission was accomplished? Whose lives were affected?

In each case, the work of the event is not done from the podium, but rather in the mixing and mingling. The program is therefore kept to an absolute minimum – 20 minutes would be a long program. This implies that staff and board are briefed beforehand on the objectives for each event and know the essential talking points. They are also reminded that the objective is as much about learning about the donors’ reactions to the material as it is about giving them information.

And in each case, consider the podium messenger. A partner talking about their relationship with you at an introductory event is better than you talking about you. A landowner talking about their dream for protecting their land can provide powerful testimony for an appreciation event.

Here are several additional thoughts:

  • Start with your top prospect list (T100). Work with your host to invite those THEY want to invite, but preferentially select people off a list that you prepare. Some appreciation events also allow participants to bring guests. This can be a good thing.
  • Make the invitations personal. Ask board members and hosts to personally invite guests with a printed invitation and a phone call, both.
  • Spend the money for good food. The food does not need to be lavish, but it can still be memorable. Spending a few extra dollars on food and beverage is a valuable investment.
  • Know who’s coming and make board contact assignments. Brief your hosts and board members about the expected guests. Make assignments as needed to facilitate introductions and help make everyone feel welcome.
  • Have name tags. Nametags help board members find people they do not know and help guests enjoy the company as well. Nametags can also be used to differentiate board members, current organizational members, legacy club members (planned giving donors), and so on using colors or colored dots.
  • Take pictures. Assign this task to someone. Try to get at least one picture of everyone there. The pictures can be filed to help future board and staff identify specific individuals. Make sure the name tags can be read in the photos!
  • Record what you learn. Take notes and file the notes in the office.
  • Plan the follow-up. Cultivation of major gift prospects does not end with the event. It starts there. Communicate with everyone who attends immediately after the event, and ask board members to call their assignments within the following two weeks. In every case, ask what we learned and what the next cultivation step might be.

Do you have tips for getting the most from your donor events? I invite you to share them here.


PS: I had a great time last week at the PALTA Conference. Look for me soon at LTA’s Southeast Conference. See you there!


Related Posts:

Donor Strategies: Good News, Save the Date

Working with a Top 100 List in 2015

Photo credit: People at Dream Lake by Walt Kaesler.

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