Your event is not just an event. It’s an opportunity to move folks along a relationship continuum and “what’s next” when it comes to their involvement with your organization. I like to think of this involvement in four levels:
- Investment (every fundraisers’ favorite)
For example, some of your event attendees may be involved with your organization as volunteers. So your next goal is to get them to invest, or to invest more than in the past.
On the other hand, this may be other attendee’s first encounter with your organization. So your next goal with them is to get them interested by signing up for your email list or following you on Facebook.
So, how do you make those changes happen? To start, think of hosting an event as planting a seed. Once that seed is planted, it’s your job to nurture the seed and make it grow through your work. Here are seven steps to guide you through this process:
1. Build follow-up into your event timeline.
Don’t make event follow-up an afterthought, or something you push to the back burner. Block out time on your calendar ahead of time for writing thank you notes or making phone calls. As I like to say, events without follow-up are like trees that fall in the forest when no one is there. It happened; so what? Big thud.
2. Gather information and feedback.
One of the main reasons to host an event is to gather information. I recommend finding the intel you need in three ways:
- Donor-focused debriefing
- Assign top prospects to staff and/or volunteers for cultivation at the event. If you have a sit-down event, it may be useful to assign one point person at each table to be the chief listener/observer (e.g. Who seemed most moved by your video? Who clapped the loudest? )
- After the event, check in with these folks to see what they learned. Enter relevant information into your database.
- Develop an individualized follow-up plan for each assigned prospect. Events are best seen as a giant donor cultivation strategy. If you don’t follow up on that cultivation you’re leaving money on the table. Some examples of well-placed follow-up might include:
- “I hear from Susi that you’re interested in volunteering with our pet therapy program?”
- “I so enjoyed meeting you at the Gala last week. Would you be interested in meeting for coffee to continue our conversation?”
- “We’re holding a tour for folks who expressed interest at the event in learning more about our program. Would you be available on one of these dates?”
- Overall event-focused debriefing Bring your event team (staff and/or volunteers) together to evaluate the event. Ideally, this meeting should be planned in advance and held a week after the event. Ask your team: What worked? What didn’t? What are lessons learned for next time?
- Survey event attendees.Asking people to participate in a survey is a great way to engage folks, strengthen your relationship with them, and learn more about what your supporters care about. You can:
- Send a quick written survey (either with your immediate thank you or a week later when you send information reporting on your event results) using free tools Survey Monkey, KwikSurveys, Googledocs or Typeform.
- Randomly call a sampling of attendees and ask them if they have time to answer a few short questions to help you improve the event for next year, or
- Ask event attendees to complete a short survey before they leave.
3. Say thank you.
When it comes to an event, you can never thank too much. From attendees to vendors, it is time well spent. I recommend the following thank you activities for different event stakeholders:
- Attendees: The very least you can do is send a thank you email, which you can easily automate and set up in advance with the help of a donor database system. Don’t forget that you can segment your attendee list and send a slightly different email to different groups (e.g., first-time attendees who paid; first-time attendees who came as guests; repeat attendees; table buyers, etc.).The more you can personalize your post-event thank you, the better. I like to take snapshots of folks at the event; then send to them with a handwritten personal note. Or, you can have volunteers call folks and leave a nice message. These personal touches make you stand out, and remind folks that they’ve joined a real community by virtue of their event participation.
- Volunteers: Don’t forget to call and thank the folks who worked so hard to make your event possible. For those who worked especially hard, send a bouquet of flowers or give them a special gift (e.g., a framed photo from the evening or a scrapbook of event memories).
- Sponsors and Vendors: These folks all need thank yous too. Perhaps send them a copy of the program, or a photo from the event, which shows off their logo. Prepare copy in advance so you can get these out as soon as possible. You want to impress these investors so they’ll renew their support next year.
4. Share event results.
Everyone wants to know how much the event raised. Tell them!
Send an email and also put this information up on your website. Wherever you previously promoted the event is a great place to showcase the results and say thanks. Consider a big photo showing off your mission. Try to stay away from photos of people standing at podiums speaking or sitting at tables eating. Here’s a great example:
The right tools can help you raise more money. Find out how donor management, peer-to-peer, and donation pages can boost your individual giving.
5. Remind Donors They Were There.
People like you to show them you know them. This is especially true if they already gave to your organization, and you’re asking them to give again. You may know that most of the cost of their ticket, or their auction item purchase, wasn’t technically a charitable gift, but they don’t think of it this way. They want to be thanked for their generosity.
I like to create a special segment in annual campaigns for event attendees. All these folks get a special note from a volunteer that thanks them for attending the event, and encourages them to join the annual campaign this year as well.
6. Ask Donors to Get Involved With You Other Ways.
This is a good strategy for any prospective lead, including folks who are simply following you on social media. Always ask yourself “What do I want this supporter to do next?” You can ask them to:
- Subscribe to your blog.
- Share your event video with their friends.
- Follow you on Pinterest or Instagram.
- Sign a petition or pledge.
- Watch a new video on YouTube or Vimeo.
- Become a volunteer.
7. Build a Donor Journey
You are a Sherpa. A journey guide. Supporters will engage with you in multiple ways, at multiple entry points, in their journey towards passionate investment in your cause. Your event is but one stop along the way. Your job is to assure it is not the last stop – but just a stepping stone towards the next destination.
May your donors’ journeys be long and fruitful.