7 Tips to Create a Wildly Successful VIP Donor Cultivation Event

porch party
porch party!

Porch Party this spring!

Why Major Donor Cultivation Events?

Donor cultivation events – they happen everywhere, and they happen often.

Sometimes these gatherings feel awkward. Then other times, they are easy and enjoyable. They just flow like a river.

We find that a lot of major gift fundraising happens in quasi-social situations.

Social events such as porch parties can be terrific opportunities to meet special donor prospects that you’ve been trying to see.  They give you the chance chat with a donor who is interested in getting more involved.

We use small VIP events all the time as fundraisers. We try to pull together a small, special group of supporters who can help our cause.  And we mix and mingle.

But it takes skill to pull this off beautifully. How do you make these types of events work really well?

Here are our tips to help you organize a donor cultivation event that really works.

1.   Each VIP donor cultivation event needs to be exclusive.

When major donors get together, they usually prefer to hang with other VIPs. They enjoy meeting and getting to know other people who are making thing happen, who are leaders in their communities or fields, and/or have a special status.

Tip: Try a private VIP reception BEFORE a larger gala or reception. VIP’s are more likely to come if they know they are in a very small group of peers. 

2.   Have a VIP donor send the invitation.

Who is doing the inviting really matters. How you frame the invitation really matters. Who gets your guests’  attention? Who will they respond to?

Tip: If the invitation comes from a special donor or well-known leader in the community, then it will be more appealing to potential attendees. 

3.  Select a welcoming location for your donor cultivation event.

The location sets up the environment for your event.  It can be stiff and formal — or welcoming and relaxed.

Tip: We prefer events in someone’s home. The ambience is relaxed and social, and that’s what you are after.  

4. Set a casual, “social” tone – not business.

I once read that the success of any donor cultivation event depends on the attitude and energy of the host.

If you are hosting, you MUST be gracious, charming, considerate and happy. That sets a lovely tone, because the guests will pick up on your energy.

Tip : Greet people warmly, and welcome them. It makes them feel at ease and happy too. It’s vitally important that your guests enjoy themselves

5. Use name tags for donor cultivation events – always!

We are great fans of name tags. Even more, we simply think they are good manners.

People really do want to meet each other, and they so appreciate having the person’s name so that it’s easy to see.

Tip: Name tags will help YOU too if donors you don’t know well come in the door.

6.   Be careful with the program.

You want to share amazing stories about your mission, but above all, do not go on too long.

Your guests may be in a seriously social mood and really enjoying themselves. So keep the program short, snappy, hard-hitting, and upbeat.

Tip: Use an Emcee to introduce and/or cut off presenters who go on too long. The Emcee can also help pull out questions from your donors and encourage an open-ended conversation.

7.   Launch the program with a testimonial from one of your guests.

This is a lovely way to set the tone. There’s nothing like a heartfelt message at the very beginning – especially from a VIP peer.

Tip: Your volunteer can say: “I also want to welcome everyone tonight. I care about this organization because . . .” – and just have them fill in that sentence.

BONUS TIP – Use a Follow-Up Card

If it’s appropriate, you can invite your guests to share their opinions with you on this card.

You can ask:
_    What do you think of our organization’s plan?  

_    Do you have any suggestions or ideas to share with us? 

_    Please share your contact information if you’d like.

Bottom Line on your next donor cultivation event:

Here’s how to stage a small major donor cultivation event that can move major gift fundraising forward.  They give you access and a way to touch base with important donors.

But be sure that your guests enjoy themselves. That’s a vitally important objective.  If they do – then they will come back for more!