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By chris

Here at DonorSearch’s blog, we strive to include the best content we can regarding prospect research and, more broadly, the nonprofit sector. With that goal in mind, we feature posts by guest authors from time to time to bring in a fresh perspective and new ideas. This guest post was written by Samantha Swaim of Swaim Strategies

Events as a Donor Cultivation Tool

If done well, events can actually be really great donor cultivation tools. The key is to match the kind of event to the kind of donors you have in the room. There are three kinds of events in particular that can be great sources of cultivation, each specifically geared to a different stage of the donor cycle.
  • Acquisition Events
  • Major Donor Events
  • Recognition Events

Acquisition Events

Acquisition events should be used as the first stage in your donor pipeline. They are great resources for organizations who are lacking a robust donor base and can serve as the foundation for a donor cultivation plan. The idea here is that you throw a free or fairly low-cost event and engage your biggest supporters to bring new potential supporters to the event. Table hosting at a breakfast, for example, can be a great way to activate supporters who already know and love you to reach into their circle of influence and bring new relationships forward. The key is that you understand that while this will be the type of event with the lowest fundraising potential—as it is geared to be a ‘getting to know you’ endeavor—it affords you a great opportunity to get a bulk of new contacts into your development pipeline. But, you must continue to cultivate them after the event, to migrate them along the donor cycle, or it will just be a great, free breakfast.

Major Donor Events

Do you already have a good, stable group of donors who give to you regularly? Then major donor events can be an opportunity to bring them together for a social engagement that celebrates your donors and your organization. These events are typically in the form of a gala, auction, dinner or house party. Major donor events offer increased fundraising potential because the relationships with your donors are already established, and can even further connect donors to your work. Because you already have these relationships and want to increase your engagement in them, major donor events should be designed with your donor base in mind. They should be the kind of event that would activate them. Don’t throw a dance party if you know your donors aren’t a big dancing crowd.

Recognition Events

Does your organization have a collection of lifetime donors? Then a recognition event should be part of a planned giving strategy to celebrate your top 5%. You make them the centerpiece of the event and show them your gratitude for all they’ve done to make your work possible. Recognition events generally have a low fundraising return from the event itself, but the real event goal is to get these lifetime donors committed to planned estate giving so that their contributions can continue indefinitely. Events can be a great way to reinvigorate your cultivation process when they are seen and planned to be in tandem with your development work. They can be an opportunity to deepen your relationships and cultivate major donors, as well as recognize them for all they do for your organization. Before you plan an event, assess where you are with your donor base and pick the right type of event to maximize your potential.

How data can help you with your events planning:

  • Acquisition — Who are you board members connected to?
  • Major Donor — What is the capacity of your donors?
  • Recognition — What is the wealth profile of your largest donors?
Major Gift Whitepaper Samantha Swaim is the Owner of Swaim Strategies. The staff at Swaim Strategies works alongside nonprofits as guides, coaches, and support to help deliver stunning events that meet and exceed goals.   
[Guest Post] Events as a Donor Cultivation Tool