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I had the pleasure of speaking at BloomCon in February on donor prospecting. I love donor cultivation events and they’re fertile breeding grounds for donor prospecting. Audience members asked me some great questions on donor cultivation events, like “What if I put a few pledge forms out? Is that ok?”

My answer? No. Why? Because then you’d be leaving money on the table. That donor would give far more in a face to face visit with a specific ask amount than in a discreet envelope.

So what’s the recipe for winning donor cultivation events?

Most people think it’s a house party or open house cocktail reception with a welcome from your leadership (Executive Director, CEO or Founder), your volunteer leadership (Board Chair) and finally, a brief but meaningful testimonial from a client you’ve served. That’s a start but to really make an impression go for immersive experiences where donors and prospects can experience your mission up close and personal. According to Adrian Sargeant’s latest research on Relationship Fundraising “the more immersive the experience the more likely to result in a donor impression.”

So where should you start?

5 Questions for a Winning Donor Cultivation Event  

1. What are you already doing with clients that would be meaningful for your donors to see?

2. What high value “VIP” volunteer opportunities can you create to allow donors to feel a part of your mission in a fun, engaging way?

3. Who is your audience: major donors, midlevel donors, prospects, board members, media, stakeholders, etc?

4. What is your event concept and event plan from start to finish?

5. What is your follow-up plan for everyone who attended?

To pull off a meaningful donor cultivation event you need to unleash you inner wedding planner. You are literally producing every moment of this experience from start to finish! From invites and phone follow-ups to assigning board members or staff as “handlers” for donors at the event to do great donor discovery to thoughtful follow-up that includes a face to face visit to make the ask!

Your event should reinforce your mission at each turn and be seamless, convenient, and tightly managed. Think valet parking, a green room where they can mingle with other donors and enjoy refreshments, a welcome from a board volunteer, an orientation with a testimonial from a client if possible, being attended by a staff member or board member throughout the experience and a warm thank you and follow up to learn what they thought afterward.

If you are a virtual or global organization don’t lose hope. You can still engage donors in your mission. Maybe you have a select group of major donors join an ad hoc committee to read scholarship applications. You only have enough underwriting to fund 20 scholarships but reading those 50 heartbreaking applications inspires them to help fund the remaining 30!

How can you make it a win? The secret is in leveraging what you are already doing with your clients by adding a high-touch tightly managed donor element.