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August 10, 2020
 
Donor Cultivation Events Are Friend-Raising Events
By Robin L. Cabral

Robin Cabral
Robin Cabral
Nonprofits, whether small or large, whether raising money for annual operations or for capital campaigns, should make donor cultivation events a top priority of their fundraising program.

The reason is straightforward: 70% to 80% of first-time donors will not give a second time. That means every nonprofit needs to continuously search for new donors. Donor cultivation events provide opportunities for nonprofits to get to know potential supporters, and perhaps more importantly, they enable potential donors to get to know your organization.

Nonprofits commonly ask, “So what should happen at these events?” Above all, don’t ask for money! Donor cultivation events should be pure “friend-raising” events. People won't give you money until they know you, and it takes time for relationships to develop.

Here are the key elements of a donor cultivation program that nonprofits should include at their first, or next, donor cultivation event.
  1. Consider where your event will be held. It's highly recommended that the event be held at your facility so that prospective donors are immersed in your organization. While many are held at personal homes, hosting these events at your site connects attendees directly to your mission.

  2. Include a component of networking where board members and staff can interact with staff. Board and staff should serve as greeters, welcoming prospective donors to the event. Board members and staff should serve as ambassadors, sharing their involvement with the organization and what it means. An important part of the host's job is to ensure that everyone mingles and meets a variety of board members, staffers, and volunteers who know the organization. Consider having light appetizers for guest mingling.

  3. Be sure to collect the contact information of those attending. This information will be critical for post-event follow-up. And, yes, follow-up is a critical component of cultivation events. (See no. 7 below.)

  4. Create a program for the event. Be sure that you have handouts prospective donors can take away with them. These should provide an overview of the organization, preferably by the board chair or executive director. Be sure to also highlight the organization’s history, mission and underlying philosophy, programs and services, financial numbers, and, most importantly, its vision for the future. Allow time for attendees to ask questions. Questions are a way to engage prospective donors in the organization. You can also identify those who are especially engaged, as they would be candidates for follow-up.

  5. The most important part of the event should be a moving testimonial. The testimonial should highlight how the organization has impacted the client’s life. If you can’t have an in-person testimonial, be sure to have either a video testimonial or a testimonial story.

  6. Another important element of the program should be tours of your facility; thus, the importance of point no. 1 above. Tours bring your programs and services to life. They can also demonstrate need. Sometimes a facility speaks for the need itself, especially for those tied to capital projects.

  7. End the event with a thank you and wrap-up. Be sure to thank prospective donors for attending and note that staff will be contacting them in a week to get their feedback and advice. This sets the stage for post-event follow-up. Then, be sure to reach out to them within a week.

    What often works well is a brief, personalized note in which you reference the people they personally met and a recap of one or two points made in the formal presentation, followed by an invitation to an upcoming event on your organization's calendar (and why you think it would interest them). A personal phone call should be made when staffing or volunteers exist. Personal follow-up phone calls allow you to ask questions to get a sense the prospect's level of interest in the organization. That process, sometimes called "qualification," will allow you to start to develop a potential pool of interested prospects for future engagement.
Cultivation events should not be a thing of mystery. They're about introducing your nonprofit to the people who may become your most important supporters, which is why they should be an active part of your development program. Follow the above recommendations and you'll be on your way to developing critical relationships with individual donors that can last a lifetime.

Robin Cabral, principal of Development Consulting Solutions, is a certified fundraising executive who works with mid-sized nonprofits to build capacity and improve fundraising results. Email her at rcabral@developmentconsultingsolutions.com or call 508-685-8899.
March 2019
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