Mired in the minutia of your upcoming event? Busy printing table cards instead of talking major gifts with your best potential donors?

Development professionals frequently view events either as necessary evils or huge time sinks (sometimes both), but whether your organization is committed to doing a gala or a golf outing, there are several things you can do to make that event your fundraising friendDelegate, delegate, delegate

1. Finding volunteers to assist with event basics is essential.

You, as a development professional, possess a special skill set that “normal” people don’t have. While it is tempting to take on the martyr role and do things yourself, mailing invitations, packaging the silent auction items, stuffing the swag bags, and prepping the party favors are all things that can be done by engaged volunteers who support your cause.

That way, you can spend your time using your unique talents to inspire philanthropic support.

2. Sponsorships or gift requests?

Many organizations have event sponsorship structures that haven’t changed in years. Some communities have a cadre of sponsors who “rotate” among the leadership categories, simply shuffling places with one another from year to year. You may have sponsors whom you consider “automatic”—but at what cost?

Philanthropy is about inspiring financial support to make great things happen. As a development professional, it is your responsibility to educate and engage in ways that don’t always have the same dollar amounts associated with them. Why not ask your lead donors to fund a particular need instead of a standard, arbitrary amount?

Associating monetary contributions with specific projects — and more importantly, their outcomes — helps sponsors and donors feel greater ownership in your mission.

3. Lead your leaders

While it is important that your volunteer leadership sees you as committed and passionate about your organization, resist the temptation to let your guard down in stressful situations. The event chair to whom you vent about the incompetent catering manager may also be the person with whom you need to discuss a complex planned gift.

Keeping your cool and professional polish goes a long way toward building and retaining donor confidence in you and your organization.

4. Prepare your list

Organize your thoughts and strategies for the event by preparing a mental list of priority donors/potential donors with whom you want a brief conversation. The point of an event is not only to raise funds, but also to build awareness and interest that lead to participation and ownership.

5. Avoid the trap of the check-in table

Some development people think the event check-in table is an ideal post for them because they get to see everybody and say hello. In practice, however, it ties you down in one location and leaves you unable to talk with key people when opportunities arise.

6. Work the room

Excusing yourself from your lunch or dinner table for a moment and stopping briefly at other tables to “just say hello” is not only OK, it is vital – and expected in your role as a development professional. Although some events don’t present the ideal atmosphere for in-depth conversations that lead to agreements on major contributions, they can open doors to next steps in the process.

7. Frame the conversation

Smart word choices are a defining characteristic of top fundraisers. Setting a collaborative tone can turn brief donor interactions into huge progress.

Let’s say you see Mr. Smith, who is on your list of people to connect with, at the event. You greet him, thank him for being there, and then use that opportunity to secure a next step. The typical development professional might say, “I’d like to talk to you about our pediatric oncology project.” What if, instead, you asked, “Would it be OK if I gave you a call next week to continue a conversation about helping kids beat cancer?” In all likelihood, that question will get a receptive response, to which you can simply reply by thanking Mr. Smith and then moving on. (Just be sure you call that donor next week!)

8. Thank you, thank you, thank you

Prioritizing thank-yous is key in keeping that good event vibe going. Many organizations unwisely process all the follow-ups and thank-yous as a batch, so the $10,000 sponsor gets his/her thank-you at the same time as the $125 single-seat buyer. In the wild world of development, all gifts are NOT equal. Be prepared to quickly sort out the key donors and potential donors who require a prompt hand-written note of thanks.

Changing the way you use events to meet your goals will not only make them enjoyable for you, but will also boost progress with donors, resulting in more donations and more money to accomplish great things.


An Advancement Resources Coach can provide specific advice on strategic conversations to set the stage for fundraising success.

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