Engaging Event Donors: Stop trying to make a pig to sing | npENGAGE

Engaging Event Donors: Stop trying to make a pig to sing

By on Mar 15, 2013


Love them or hate them, events are a constant staple in nonprofit fundraising. As a fundraiser, I figured the same amount of time and effort applied to the annual fund or major gifts would produce far better results.

But now I’m changing my mind. Fundraising events do have their place, especially if your goals include raising awareness, engaging news media, and engaging volunteers. Events are discrete projects, tasks with a beginning, an end, and easily articulated steps. They can be perfect for volunteers to get involved with. And, if communicated correctly, events can be rallying points, reenergizing supporters and bringing new donors in, giving your nonprofit an excuse to continue a relationship with them.

But how do you effectively grow donor relationships and giving? Should you try to engage them in a way that “converts” them to annual fund donors and then try to get them to give more?

I say no.

Stop trying to teach a pig to sing

Do you remember the old saw that goes like this:

“Don’t try to teach a pig to sing. It’ll just frustrate you and annoy the pig.”

I think it applies to event donors. In my experience, people who participate in a gala or a walkathon love their experience. They love being around the people and helping the nonprofit.

And they respond very poorly to all other attempts to get them to give.

Rather than wasting your nonprofit’s limited resources trying to turn event donors into annual fund donors, why not try engaging them in terms of the event?

Here are three ways to grow donor relationships without trying to turn them into anything other than an event donor.

  1. Take a page out of TED’s playbook: create your own TEDx

    TED is a nonprofit that holds large, expensive conferences devoted to what they call “ideas worth spreading.” Chances are great you’ve seen one of their TED talks on their site or referred to on blogs.

    These conferences were so popular, TED started licensing the idea to third party organizations to create TED-like events called “TEDx. These “TED extensions” have proven to be so popular that on average five TEDx events a day were being organized last June in 133 countries.

    Why can’t you do that? Why not invite event attendees to create an event extension, a “mini event” like yours but on their own, with the proceeds going to your nonprofit?

    If you have an annual golf tournament, ask a couple of the regulars to consider doing another small golf tournament later in the season. You could suggest they just have a foursome play golf and then chip in a donation to your nonprofit. Or perhaps they have their own fundraising ideas.

    If you have a gala, you might ask specific attendees to host smaller house parties. The goal would be to multiply your event without burdening your nonprofit with more organization responsibilities.

    You may find people who love events and love your nonprofit will start their own fundraising events on your behalf!

  2. Explore other funding opportunities

    Many nonprofit’s miss the fundraising opportunities that come inherent in special events. In my work on the global team with Twestival, I’ve been amazed at how many other ways there are to raise money! Twestival organizers have tried everything from a silent auction to buying tickets, to selling ads in an ad book, to guess how many jelly beans are in the jar.

    In my experience, the most missed opportunity is in sponsorships. Nonprofits simply don’t charge enough. When I work with specific organizations, I challenge them to set a dollar amount for what it would cost to rename their nonprofit. Most wouldn’t think of renaming their nonprofit so the “price” is very high. Then I invite them to set their event sponsorships.

    If you have event donors who you feel are major donor prospects, why not use the idea of sponsorships with them? Rather than trying to solicit them outside of the scope of the event, you could invite them to underwrite a portion of events costs, or give at a higher level for potentially more recognition. You’re still asking for a major gift, but you’re keeping it within the confines of the event.

  3. Compellingly showcase monthly giving

    A third way to engage donors with the larger life of your nonprofit but honoring their decision to be event donors involves monthly giving. Why not create an “event throughout the year” or a group of “Sustaining Gala” supporters? Your board chair could share the idea at the event using words like this:

    …Isn’t coming to this event wonderful? As you know, we’ve raised $XX,0000 tonight! Thank you! As you also know, the problem of [insert your cause] happens each and every day. So we’re starting an extension of this event called “The Sustaining Gala.” We invite each of you to use the forms being passed out now to commit to giving monthly gifts on a credit card…[insert some phrases about the impact these gifts will let your nonprofit make – but make the donor the hero!]

    Not everyone will participate. But every month, those who do will be reminded of the great time they had at your event. You could even use those communications to encourage them to bring someone else with them to the following event or to join the event committee.

What about you?

Event donors often like being part of an event. So rather than trying to get convince them into becoming some other type of donor, why not use the power of the event to inspire great giving?

Do you agree? Whether you do or not, let us know in the comments!


Concord Leadership founder Marc A. Pitman is the author of “Ask Without Fear!,” the executive director of TheNonprofitAcademy.com, and an Advisory Panel member of Rogare, a prestigious international fundraising think tank.

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