Ideas for Getting the Most out of Your Events

Ideas for Getting the Most out of Your Events


by David Allen, Development for Conservation


It’s time to think about what’s going to happen this Fall.

At the very least, we’re in for a whale of an election, and it’s shaping up to be one of the most expensive election seasons in history. (Late October might not be the best time to put your appeal in the mail!)

Many land trusts time their donor events for the Fall. I like the timing because it serves to remind donors of why they support the organization immediately before they are asked to renew or join. A little advance thought given to these events NOW – in the Spring – will help you get the most out of them 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, rather than by HOW MANY are there. And they can’t – or at least shouldn’t – be thought of as singular events. We get the most out of these events because they are connected to other parts of the donor experience and because the follow-up is planned just as comprehensively as the event itself is.

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.


Think about inviting new members to these events and consider also the possibility of aiming several events at different segments of your membership. Host events aimed at an older audience, at young professionals, or at women in philanthropy. Host events aimed at birders, or flyfishers, or gardeners. One size does not fit all here.


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?


Especially for appreciation events, consider the podium messenger. A partner talking about their relationship with you 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.


Regardless of the primary purpose of the event, the work 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.

Here are several additional thoughts:

  • Board members need to be there. You don’t need your entire board to be there at any specific event, but you do need to have some Board members at every event. Set up an events list NOW for the rest of the year and ask your Board members which events they are planning to attend.
  • Start with your top prospect list. Work with your host or a host committee 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. In each case, you will want to plan their follow-up in advance.  If nothing else, ask everyone who came if they had any questions about what they learned and let everyone else know that they were missed. Ask Board members to call their assignments within the following two weeks. There will be five different kinds of participants to follow-up with:


Those who came and enjoyed themselves.

Those who surprised you by coming – guests of the first group, or those who dropped in without letting you know beforehand.

Those who said they would come and didn’t.

Those who responded to the invitation but couldn’t come.

And those who ignored the invitation altogether.


  • Renew your event sponsors right after the event. If your event had business or individual hosts or sponsors, make sure you circle back with them afterward. Give them a brief report and let them know how much you appreciate their participation. If they were there, ask them how they saw it and ask business sponsors how you might be able to make it more valuable for them. And use the occasion to request their sponsorship of next year’s event as well.


One last point – I often get asked whether you should charge money for people to attend donor events. And I really don’t have a satisfactory answer. I’ve had donors chastise me for “nickel-and-diming” them after they just gave $1,000. And I’ve had donors chastise me for using their donation to buy them dinner and drinks.

Here’s the answer that seems the most appropriate: Put a fishbowl at the back of the room and invite people to help defray the costs of the event by making voluntary (or even suggested) donations. But, don’t charge people to attend.


Cheers, and Have a great week!



PS: Portions of this post originally appeared on this Blog in May of 2015.



Photo by Agnieszka Bladzik courtesy of



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