How I Launched a Capital Campaign with a Porch Party

Porch Party: Boost Donor Engagement before Campaign | GPG

Is it possible to launch a big new project, initiative or even a grand capital campaign with a party? Absolutely!

You may know that we are fond of donor cultivation events. Why? Because if these events are done well, then they can bring many benefits to your organization.

Watch this 3-minute video for a personal example of how the Cape Fear Botanical Garden used a garden party to set up early lead gifts before the campaign got off the ground.  

The Benefits of Small Social Gatherings

What are the benefits of small socials and porch parties? First of all, it’s wonderful to pull a special group of people together in celebration of your organization’s mission and its impact in the world.

You build enthusiasm by simply adding energy and enjoyment to the gathering.

And, don’t forget the power of the people in the room.

When you gather a special group of VIPs or important stakeholders together, everyone can see who is there, and who supports your work.

Gatherings like this can build credibility and momentum for your cause. And your capital campaign.

My Strategy for This Particular Porch Party

Let me tell you the story of how I used a party to lay the groundwork, carefully and strategically, for mega fundraising.

The Cape Fear Botanical Garden leaders wanted to build a new Visitors Center as a welcoming entrance to the Garden. The new Center would offer spaces for educational classes, kids activities, a gift shop, and meetings.

Most of all, the new Visitors Center would also provide a grand, beautiful space for important events, weddings, and conferences in the city.

Here’s what we had to work with:

  • Our construction estimate was $10 million. That was a big number for a small organization.
  • There was no major gift program and the Garden had only a few major donors of note. So we were worried about having enough prospects to make the goal.
  • There was a loyal board, interested in making this happen. The board’s connections were solid and after some training, board members were willing to open doors.
  • A group of wealthy older ladies had founded the Garden 15 years earlier, but many of them were no longer engaged with the organization.

Putting Together a Customized Capital Campaign Strategy

One of the hallmarks of our work as capital campaign consultants, is that we develop tailored, customized campaign strategies. We are not cookie-cutter, working off templates.

So, for this unique campaign, we had to be creative.

We looked around at our possible campaign prospects, and found a few, close at hand. Several of the women who had founded the Garden were identified as possible lead donors. A couple of them could possibly even be million-dollar prospects!

Given that these ladies were not as engaged or connected with the organization as they used to be, we needed a reengagement plan.

That’s where the Porch/Garden Party came in.

Our Garden Party Was A Home Run!

We decided to have a Garden Party to honor our founders.

What a lovely idea. These women had worked so hard to found this organization. They deserved the recognition!

Now, kids, families, gardeners, environmentalists, and nature lovers, all could visit the Garden and enjoy themselves. What a wonderful gift to the community!

So, naturally, a party honoring our founders was an easy sell.

(Everybody should consider honoring their founders – especially before a major capital campaign. It’s an easy way to reconnect, build good will, and generate enthusiasm.)

Honoring Our Founders

The party hosts sent a paper invitation featuring the names of the honoree founders. We invited everyone to wear hats, and enjoy the private garden at a board member’s home.

Several of the founders spoke a few minutes and there may have been a few tears shed as they recounted their early adventures and camaraderie.

And, guess what happened a year down the road. The ladies became happily reengaged with the Garden. As we got organized, two of them stepped up to serve on our Campaign Planning Committee.

Million Dollar Gifts!

Best of all, down the pike, some million dollar gifts came forth from this special group of founders. One donor chose an important naming opportunity Another one gave anonymously. A third donor made a smaller to honor their family.

The $10M campaign ultimately closed out with $12 million raised!

This social event was pivotal in bringing together key supporters, building enthusiasm and setting up several million dollar gifts. It was a perfect early cultivation opportunity for our lead donor prospects. 

Why Early Cultivation and Engagement Pays Off

It can be challenging when your team evaluates your donor prospects, and realizes that many prospects are not ready for a campaign. They need to be reengaged before you can move forward in launching a capital campaign.

When we run capital campaign feasibility studies, we often find that donor readiness is an issue.

With all the planning, time, and money that goes into a capital campaign, you want to first make sure your prospects will be ready to give generously when the time comes!

In my example above, we needed a way to make our major prospects feel special and honored. We wanted them to feel deeply part of this community endeavor and the fundraising goal that went with it.

Be Intentional

One most important take-away is to be intentional with your party. If the goal is to prime your major prospects, then find ways to honor them.

Always remember your objective and let that guide you as you create your party invitations, agenda, and follow up. 

Ensure Your Porch Party is Well-Timed

Another critical aspect – don’t forget timing. This is of utmost importance. Imagine if we had waited until we were well into the campaign to throw the garden party, trying hard to meet our goal. 

Instead of appearing gracious and appreciative of our honorees, we could have appeared desperate and transactional. Which, of course, is the opposite of how you want to be seen by your donors.

By laying this kind of powerful and encouraging groundwork, your major prospects will already be involved and excited about the direction of your campaign. As a result, they will push for its success and will feel committed to its completion.

Your campaign will come in over-goal, and all because of the valuable foundation you created by building donor readiness, and creating excitement and enthusiasm for your campaign.

Bottom Line: Strategic Porch Parties

Make sure you treat your porch party as the important event it is. By strategizing your event correctly, you’ll save time and money in the long run.

And you’ll build goodwill and joy within your donors. Plus – they’re so much fun!