Thursday, April 10, 2014

Relationships Are the Key to Donor Cultivation

by: Samantha Swaim
It can be easy to get caught up in the weeds of your event. Themes. Centerpieces. Linen colors. Will your guests like the chicken?

But these are not the things that are going to secure fundraising success at your event, and losing valuable time here will distract you from the most important piece. The best thing you can do for your event is exhibit trusted leadership of your organization by cultivating your relationships well.

People give to people.

CommunityAction’s Celebration of Community Spirit was wildly successful again this year because of the relationships they cultivate. When their development director and executive director move through the room, it’s like a family reunion. Everyone in the room genuinely feels like these leaders are their friends—because they are. These leaders let relationships drive their work instead of the other way around. They clearly understand that to create a strong community for the people they serve, they actually have to build a strong community for the organization.

These two women are seen as largely impactful community leaders in Washington County, speaking out, building relationships and investing in their donors and organization partners. They understand that these relationships make their very important work to eliminate poverty and create opportunities, possible.

The work they do all year to cultivate donors and supporters pays off in spades the night of their event because they have created a room that is there to support the work and is ready to give. Their special appeal is by far their biggest level of engagement at the event. Their focus here maximizes their fundraising as the special appeal is the largest opportunity to raise money the night of your event.

There is no raffle or auction package that will do more for you than your appeal. And your special appeal cannot be successful if you haven’t done the work well in advance of your event. You should always be working on this, because these relationships will help your organization year-round if done well.

Be careful where you spend your time on an event. You need linen, but no one will remember what color it was. People will remember feeling like they were a part of something bigger than themselves that inspires them to give more and do more in their community.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Using Space Creatively to Better Your Event

Once you’ve found the right venue to suit your event, getting creative within the space can enhance the whole experience of your event. Most venues are big, open spaces—a blank slate—that welcome creative ideas.

Having all of your event activities in one location, and allowing guests access to all areas at all times, can adversely impact your fundraising. If your audience walks in and takes their seat because you’ve allowed them to, they won’t walk around and spend money on the silent auction or raffles. And if they can’t get to the silent auction items because of layout, they won’t bid either.

The trick is to take a look at your program and the flow you’d like to create with your crowd, and then build the elements of the space to match. Doing so can be as simple as shifting seating and adding some pipe and drape.

American Red Cross held its annual Surviving inStyle event at Castaway this year and transformed the big, open space into different, smaller spaces that they moved the crowd through to create different experiences within the event. 

When guests arrived they walked into a silent auction with cocktails and passed appetizers. The auction items were stationed around the perimeter to allow space for people to move through and bid. The space where the live auction and special appeal took place was a stage set with theater-style seating, but access to this space was cut off by beautiful pipe and drape ‘walls,’ essentially creating a space-within-a-space. When the program began, the drapes were pulled back and guests were invited to take a seat.

While guests were in the program ‘room’ raising money, the silent auction space was quietly flipped by catering to house the dinner buffet tables. After the program, guests were invited to mix and mingle in that space again. The program room was then reset with cocktail tables and a live band for an intimate dinner party, all of the walls were pulled back and guests moved freely within the larger space.

All of these decisions were based on how to focus the crowd on the fundraising. Allowing people to stand and talk when you want them bidding are at odds with one another. By seating them and removing all other obstacles, you allow your crowd to focus. But they won’t sit there forever without food and drink either, so a tight, focused program allows you to raise the money and then allow them to move into the party once the fundraising is done.

Thinking about the options of your big open space, and how you can create momentum for your crowd, allows your event to evolve over the evening and play into the human economics of time and attention to maximize fundraising.