Many fundraising teams are hosting major gift cultivation events often  – to open doors, make friends, cultivate potential supporters and thank your current donors.

Make sure your guests have a wonderful time!

Make sure your guests have a wonderful time!

All of these gatherings are wonderful opportunities to bring people closer to your organization.

We love small events as cultivation opportunities. Why? Because it’s easier to engage donors in a conversation when you are being social.

The setting is not as formal and intimidating as an office visit. The donor is more relaxed and so are you.

Here are just a few things you can find out from a simple conversation with a prospect at an event:

  • how enthusiastic they are about your cause
  • why they care
  • their personal experiences that tie them emotionally to your cause
  • their other interests, including philanthropic interests
  • their apparent level of wealth
  • their family situation

Here’s how to make the most out of these marvelous cultivation opportunities:

1. Turn your event into a party.

WHO wants to go to an “event,” anyway? Not me for sure. The word “event’ sounds so very boring.

But we’ll be the first one to attend a “party.”

So first of all, you need to turn your events into parties.

Having a fun, pleasant time is paramount to your donors. Why else would they bother to attend? Remember that this is a social occasion – you can’t be too serious or heavy.

Your most important goal is that they enjoy their experience with you. You need to be an excellent host and be all about your guests. Then they’ll be more likely to come back to another event.

2. If you are hosting a major gift cultivation event, then don’t skimp.

If you are entertaining wealthy people, or top corporate executives –  all these people are used to living nicely. They are used to good wine (no box wine allowed) more sophisticated food (no hot dogs unless it’s a cookout), lovely flowers and nice venues.

Make sure your food is nice and fits with your organization's personality.

Make sure your food is nice and fits with your organization’s personality.

If you are staging a quality reception, then you need to make it quality. On the other hand, if you are hosting a picnic or something low budget, you can still have good quality picnic food and trimmings.

Just don’t skimp. Whatever the style of your party – It’s worth it to entertain your guests nicely and with abundance.

But be sure the type and mode of entertaining totally reflects your organization’s culture.

3. Triage your guest list.

Some attendees may be very important to your organization: they will be the ones with deep pockets, or people you are cultivating for an immediate gift, or they may be long term donors. So slather attention on them.

Take a look at the guest list, and divide it by thirds. Identify the top group of most important guests.

Make a plan for them. Know who is coming, why they are coming and how you might move your relationship forward with them at the end. Think of questions you might want to ask them.

Assign these prospects to your staff and board members! That’s how you make the most of these events.

4. Give your board members official roles as “hosts.”

Board members often welcome an official role. Here’s what a host does:

  • Greets people warmly at the door.
  • Introduces guests to each other and fosters conversation among them.
  • Seeks out wallflowers (you know those awkward folks standing next to the wall clutching their drink) and welcomes them.

Give them a special name tag that makes it easy to recognize them as board member.  This makes them feel special too!

And, if board members are up to it – they can be assigned to a couple of guests for a cultivation conversation – “So glad you are here! What is your impression of our organization?”

5. Use a pre-event gathering to make people feel important.

Invite a small subset of the most important guests to arrive 45 minutes before the main event.

Then use that time to give people a preview and tell them why they are important to your organization.

We’ve found that the VIPs will come to a select, private, more exclusive event readily – and then they will stay on for most of the second event.

6. Offer transportation for older donors.

If you are inviting some older donors, arrange to have them picked up and brought to the event and then driven home afterwards.

You can have staff members do this or recruit board members or other donors who plan to attend the meeting.

Not only will they appreciate the ride, but that’ll increase the likelihood that they actually get there.

7. Manage the program with a charming iron hand.

Worried that your program is going to go on too long? Even when you tell people that they have 5 minutes to speak, they often go on much longer.

Our strategy is to have a skilled Master of Ceremonies who knows just how to get people on and off the stage. Encourage your MC to stand right beside the speakers when their time is up.

And be sure to let every speaker know what the MC plans to do to keep the program running.

I usually walk right up to my speakers and say with a big smile, “Remember, you are going to be charming and brief, right?” They laugh but the message gets drilled into their heads.

8. Casual events are often more fun and also more productive.

We like hosting porch parties at Gail’s house. She has a big porch – and people like to come to something that has a more casual feel.

The more relaxed your guests are, the easier it is to have a meaningful conversation with them. So try cookouts, porch parties, and picnics. You might be surprised.

BOTTOM LINE on Major Gift Cultivation Events

With a little planning, you can create major gift cultivation events that your donors will never forget – and you’ll go home with new information on where your donors stand.

There’s nothing like an experienced charity auctioneer’s coaching when it comes to a high-profit fundraising auction.

Sherry Trular of Red Apple Auctions, our auctioneer expert!

Sherry Trular of Red Apple Auctions, our auctioneer expert!

And I was quite impressed with the tips that Sherry Trular of Red Apple Auctions shared with us this week in our  Highly Profitable Fundraising Events series.

(It’s not too late to get all the materials, videos, and audios of this amazing series on how to raise the most money possible out of your fundraising events. )

Here are Sherry’s top 9 Points to help you raise the most money possible out of your auction.

1. You need a great sound system.

Your sound system can totally make or break both your live and silent auction.

Your auctioneer has got to be able to command the crowd for the live auction. If your guests can’t hear her, then how are you going to be able to sell anything?

If your silent auction is not getting the attention it needs –  your auctioneer can do some selling for you. She can remind people of certain cool items that are not getting bids.

Sherry told us about some Disney World tickets that didn’t have bids, and after she announced it – people were fighting to put their names down to bid!

2. You need terrific lighting.

Great lighting on your silent items is essential.

Use can lights to emphasize silent items.

Use can lights to emphasize silent items.

Think about your local shopping mall –  when store lights are down, you think they are closed.

You can’t see silent auction items if there is no ligthing.

Candlelight creates atmosphere – but are you there to raise money or not? J

 3. Run your silent auction like a store.

Sherry says, think like Target or Macy’s. You need to display your items like a store with different departments.

This is pure business and marketing.  You are selling stuff.  Lay it out to romance the buyers.

Your average return on each item will probably be about 50-65% of its market value.

4.  Run your live auction like a high end boutique – (not everyone shops there).

This is where your wildly expensive items will go. Think Tiffany’s or Saks.

These items are not for everyone at your event – they are for only a few.

A nice display with good sound for a live and silent auction. Courtesy of Sherry Trular.

A nice display with good sound for a live and silent auction. Courtesy of Sherry Trular.

You have fewer items but your average return on each item is usually 100-130% of value.

The more expensive the item, the nicer the display should be.

5. Focus on the live auction – that’s where your big profit really is.

Live auctions are FAR less work, more profitable. They require less check out and less set up. YAY!

AND they are often the center of the evening’s entertainment.

If you are not convinced, here are some real numbers that Sherry shared from auctions she has worked. A reminder – these auctions did have an experienced benefit auctioneer running the show.

Live vs. Silent auctions


6. Seriously consider an auction consultant or an experienced charity auctioneer.

Well, if I am going to spend money staging an event, I’ll always look at the Return on my Investment.Screenshot 2014-05-23 08.47.16

So if I think I can make 50% more money from my live and silent auctions, then I think spending money on an auctioneer who knows his stuff is a smart move.

7. Plan to highlight your “Fund a Need” in the live auction.

This is where you simply ask for donations to fund a special need at your organization. Often this is where you raise the most money.

With rare exceptions, a high profit auction event should include a Fund a Need.

Sherry says that smart nonprofits line up their bigger donors ahead of time. (Find someone to start the bidding at $5k for example.)

8. Use props to entice people to buy.

For example, provide sample of deserts if you are selling restaurant gift cards.

Provide a hand mirror if you are selling jewelry.  Make the displays interactive and you’ll sell more!

9. Add a “buy now” feature at 150% of the purchase price.

Sherry says this is a huge new trend.  It’s offers the chance for an instant purchase guaranteed at a certain price.

How to set up a guaranteed purchase.

How to set up a guaranteed purchase.

And it makes it really easy for people to spend money.

–       guys like it

–       it has a far easier checkout process

–       it attracts bidders thru psychology

Now, you have some great coaching for your next event!  I bet you can make it fun AND make tons of money.

Want to make your events highly profitable?

If you’d like all the tips from all the event experts, then you can still get the complete Highly Profitable Fundraising Events series with complete audios, transcripts (available soon), videos and powerpoints:

  • How to sell out your event
  • How to get the most out of your volunteer committee
  • How to nail high $$ sponsorships
  • How to set your event up for max ROI
  • How to set up an auction for max profit

If you think these will help you raise more money, then you can purchase and download them all right now to have in your own toolbox on hand for your next event!


What are YOUR favorite auction tips? What did we miss???

Please leave a comment and let me know!



Do you have a solid fundraising event plan and timeline? One that will guarantee a solid ROI?

Can you throw the best party in town?

Can you throw the best party in town?

Fundraising events take a lot of time and energy.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, fundraising events are here to stay.

They are part of the scene for many nonprofits.

Since you and your organization are committed to an event, let’s make sure it is the BEST event ever.

The Best Fundraising Event Plan is all about ROI

That’s the only reason you do events – to make money. If you want PR and community visibility, there are other less painful ways to generate good press.

Here is your path to a sane, efficient PROFITABLE event: a timeline that lays out what needs to happen when in order for it to all come together and make the most money possible!

You can download your Profitability Planning Timeline here.

Your Leadership

Who’s in charge of the event? What is the staff’s role and what is the role of your volunteers? Be sure you are absolutely clear on who has what responsibility!

Especially clear up who has what decision making authority – that will prevent conflict and hurt feelings down the road.

Nothing upsets a hard-working volunteer more than making a decision and then having it reversed by someone else. I know – it has happened to me!

Let's create this kind of excitement at your event!

Let’s create this kind of excitement at your event!

Your Volunteer Committee

I am all for a huge volunteer committee! Why?

Because they:

  • Bring their friends to the event! Your committee gives you reach into your community.
  • Are the “Social Stamp” of your event. Their names say whether the event will be full of fun people – or not.
  • Help bring in sponsors. Your committee’s connections open the door to many more sponsorship opportunities.

My tips: Have a big committee of folks who are well-known and well connected. (Well-liked  helps too!)

Bring in committee members of different ages, social and professional networks, regions of your community.

Don’t let your committee be a little social group – that will limit your organizaton’s reach via the event.

Your Budget

Early on, you need to set important financial parameters for your event:

Your financial goal – never hold an event without a goal. It helps everyone focus.

AND with the goal, it’s best to say “all proceeds from this event will go to a specific program.” For example:

  • All proceeds from this event will underwrite our programs for hungry kids on our community.
  • Or will help bring meals to lonely older people.
  • Or will help underwrite our fall performing season.

Be sure to put a limit on your event costs – invitations, postage, etc, or those may go out of control too!

Let's make it FUN for everyone - and highly profitable for YOU!

Let’s make it FUN for everyone – and highly profitable for YOU!

Your Sponsorship Committee

Getting those sponsorships is probably the most important thing you’ll do.

And securing bigger sponsorships requires tons of lead time:

  • You’ll need to enlist your committee members,
  • Draw up a prospect list and sponsorship benefits,
  • Decide who calls on whom,
  • Make your calls on the prospects,
  • Followup to close the “sale,” and
  • Get it all done in time to get on the invitation!

Your Venue, Food and Beverages

Your venue can make or break your event. Don’t let it be too large! Otherwise it will feel like there is no energy!

Be sure your food and beverages are ample, even if they are simple! You don’t want to be known as the party that ran out of food or booze.

Don’t forget to negotiate! You have more power than you think when securing a venue!

It's time to sit down for the auction!

It’s time to sit down for the auction!

Your Auction (Live and Silent)

If you are including an auction at your event – be careful – don’t go overboard with the silent auction stuff. Lots of tiny, cheap items are more trouble than they are worth.

I think the money is in the live auctions. But you need the crowd seated and pretty quiet and you need an auctioneer who understands nonprofit and charity appeals.

There are many, many decisions to make waaaaay ahead of time that can dramatically increase your event’s profitability!

Bottom Line: Create a Fundraising Event Plan that will bring in the ROI!

Be sure you make tons of money with your event.

iLeave me a comment and share your event tip with us all!