Focusing on the end goal was a difficult concept for me to grasp when I began my career in fundraising at Children’s Home + Aid, specifically when it came to special events and board relations. My day-to-day was consumed with discussing board dynamics with auxiliary members, researching vendors and creating timelines for event logistics. Initially, it was difficult to carve out time to take a step back and think about the bigger picture when it came to donor engagement and retention. At the end of the day, the event is the vehicle, not the end goal. The goal is for the event attendees to become annual donors.

With that in mind, here are some suggestions to include in your event work plans to put a focus on event attendee retention and engagement:

  • Do your research. Incorporate researching attendees into your preplanning. Are you having a seated dinner? Seat a corporate partner next to a large donor’s table to allow for networking.  Make sure to let the donor know ahead of time, they will appreciate that you put thought into where they were seated for the event.  Doing your research will also help leadership to pinpoint the guests they need to meet or thank.
  • Thoughtfully plan your program element. Do not do the same thing year after year.  Learn from your audience and other members of the community about what engages the audience best. For example, we always rely on client stories, because we assume they are the most meaningful. At our luncheon this year, in a very organic way, we asked three staff members to stand up in the audience and tell a short story (not necessarily a success story) that compelled the attendees to donate. It was a change of pace that was well received; we had our highest onsite donations to date.
  • A memorable takeaway. It does not have to be expensive! We had a small budget for a takeaway from our corporate luncheon. After some brainstorming, we came up with the concept of a branded mug, not as generic as you may think. The mug had a special coating that you could write on, and all our kids decorated the mugs and wrote special “thank you” messages. We received a lot of positive feedback from donors that this touchpoint felt very personal and created conversation after the event was over.
  • Mobile Bidding! If your organization does not use mobile bidding, you should look into it. There are so many wonderful companies out there. The opportunity to collect contact information onsite allows us to communicate seamlessly with attendees post-event and enhance our database.
  • Post event follow-up. This is key. Many times you can be so relieved when an event is a success that you do not correctly follow-up with attendees and supporters. Some simple things you can do that go a long way are thank you calls.  Assign staff simple phone calls to say thank you to donors of a certain level. Additionally, a follow-up email to guests sharing the dollar amount raised, other fun details and photos is another great way to keep in touch.
  • Evaluate the event. As the event coordinator, you need to think through the entire event and track your suggestions for next year.  Often times I look back at past notes when gearing up for an annual event and remember a big change I wanted to make for the following year. This can often lead into well-informed changes in strategy. You should also make note of the things that guests truly enjoyed (speaker, location, etc.) and board or committee feedback. Evaluating your recent event should then be the first step in your planning for next year.

By utilizing some of the above stewardship tactics, all the work that you put into each event can pay off in the long run in the form of long-term relationships and stronger communication between your organization and those who support you.

Want more tips? Join me for the upcoming webinar!

On 8/11 you’ll hear firsthand from staff members how Children’s Home + Aid is leveraging technology to improve our work and better serve our cause. Register here!


Meghan Gauen, manager of auxiliaries and events, and Vered Siegel, development services manager, will share their challenges and the strategies they’ve employed to meet—and exceed—their goals  at Children’s Home + Aid using Raiser’s Edge NXT, the first-of-its-kind cloud fundraising and relationship management solution from Blackbaud.

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