Top Event Strategies for Major Donor Cultivation

Attaining donors is complex and requires a diverse set of strategies, so you shouldn’t expect to attract philanthropists with the same tactics you employ for lower-level donors. As donor cultivation is time consuming and costly, it’s imperative your time is spent wisely and no opportunities are wasted. Once secured, the lengthy stewardship process begins with the goal of turning each donor into a multi-gift contributor. Ideally, each donor will move up the pyramid in support of your mission. First, you must get the donor’s attention, but this is no easy task. Remember, one of your most powerful tools is your current connections, which will help you create future relationships. A great way to develop relationships is to host a cultivation event: you can invite the friends, neighbors, co-workers and/or family of a current donor or volunteer. But how do you get started?

10 Strategies to Create a Successful Cultivation Event:

  1. Identify a current donor or volunteer who is a strong advocate and ask them to host an intimate, invite-only gathering in their home. Assure them that your staff will handle all the logistics and that their efforts will be spent on creating the invite list and networking. An exclusive cultivation event will allow one-on-one interactions, encourage personal/specific opportunities and appeal to a higher-level donor.
  2. Assign one staff member to lead the event, which will simplify the process for the host and staff. The host may meet with your team or key staff members to brainstorm and plan; however, assigning one team member as their point of contact will streamline communication.
  3. Build an impactful attendee list – there will be lots of time and effort dedicated to these cultivation efforts, and you want to ensure that each person’s time is used productively. Meet with the host in advance to identify your targets. Allow the host to suggest the direction of the list, but make sure they accept your guidance. Together, you will create a dynamic list.
  4. Research each attendee to customize the cultivation strategy. Create and rank the guests in order of priority. Your staff will want to uncover interests, community or family connections, and any other pertinent information. For example, if you are a zoo or aquarium and your main prospect’s hobby is bird-watching, make sure that your aviculturist attends with a bird in tow. Studying the guest list in advance will increase your odds of success.
  5. Choose the appropriate personnel to attend and supply them with invaluable information. Ideally, you will invite staff that can comfortably mingle with donors. You want these volunteers and staff members to share their stories, experiences and insight. Guests will see first-hand how dedicated your supporters are and why they are loyal to your organization.
  6. Showcase your mission by communicating your purpose clearly and concisely. Develop an elevator pitch that will interest the potential donor and provide ample opportunity for them to ask questions. Major donors should will questions regarding your budget, funding and community impact, so create cheat cards for volunteers who need extra support. Supplying current statistics will deepen the impact of conversations, therefore enhancing the connection.
  7. Create an agenda for the evening that allows time for you to tell your story. For example:
 7-8 p.m.     Guests arrive, open bar; passed hors d’oeuvres 
Allow your guests to take their time arriving so they can interact with their peers.
Some attendees will know each other and want to connect.
8 p.m.    Ask guests to be seated
8:10 p.m. Welcome (host)
The host should welcome guests and briefly share why they are involved in your organization.
8:15 p.m.  Presentation
Present one of your successful efforts. Dive deeper into the details and explain how it benefits the community. Allot time for questions.
8:35 p.m. Thank you (host)
The host should thank guests for attending and encourage guests to get involved with your organization.
8:40 – 9:30 p.m.1:1 interaction with guests
  1. Don’t ask guests to commit during the event. The event is valuable for your organization to learn about each person and their passions and interests and should be viewed as a networking opportunity that will open the door to further conversations. Use this one-on-one time wisely and retain as much information as possible. Even if a potential donor seems enthused, this is not the time to ask them to commit.
  2. Create a leave behind for guests to take. They will not remember everything, but a pamphlet will allow them to reflect on the information presented. If the budget allows, pass out promotional items such as pens, notepads, magnets, etc. These will remind them of their evening with your organization, keeping you fresh in their minds.
  3. Follow up with each potential donor a few days after the event to share information on subjects that piqued their interest. Invite them to other events you’re hosting when they fit into the target audience. If they asked questions at the event, follow up with the answers, creating a non-intrusive way to sustain your connection.

Executing a successful donor cultivation event is time consuming and tricky, but should be a team effort. Once you have presented your organization’s mission in a way that engages the guests’ attention, each minute with the potential donors should be spent wisely. Guests agreed to attend your event because they have an interest in your organization. This is your time to shine, prove your worth and secure their support. Enjoy learning about your local populace and have fun cultivating these potential donors!