Small VIP donor cultivation events are an easy way to open doors to new prospects — and engage current donors in your mission.

Porch party cynthia 1

My last Porch Party in April!

Here are my answers to your questions about donor cultivation events such as Small Socials and Porch Parties.

1. What’s the role of the board at a small VIP donor cultivation event?

Board members can play important roles to help make the types of event successful – especially if you have a small staff.

We recommend that board members host events in their homes. Since there is no ask, most board members feel comfortable in this role. In addition they can cover the costs of gatherings hosted in other places.  They can:

  • Help develop the invitation list
  • Share contact information for invitees
  • Send the invitation out from their personal email addresses
  • Personally hand-deliver invitations
  • Send personal notes to follow-up invitations
  • Handle logistics for refreshments and clean up

Tip: It is board members’ job to play host and hostess at events like this: welcome guests, serve refreshments, make introductions, and generally mingle.  

2. What kind of program should you have?

Most of all, the program needs to be brief. No longer than 12 minutes at most. Don’t make people stand up for a long time, because many of them will be uncomfortable.

It’s best if the CEO can share a description of the need your organization is addressing, and where your organization is headed.

It should include:

  • a short overview of how the mission and need
  • an emotional picture of the people your organization is helping
  • a call to action

Tip: Try to set the program up so that it encourages interaction with your guests. Include a question and answer period. 

3. Should you make an ask at a VIP Donor Cultivation Event?

If this is a cultivation event for major donors, then it means you are preparing these people for a future major ask.

So in this case, you’d want to share a general “invitation” to get involved, and let everyone know that your team will be following up in person.

Tip: If you try to make a general group ask – it goes not carry a lot of weight. Personal asks are far more successful.  say, 

4. I have a board member who wants to make a hard ask at a paid event. What to do?

You CAN make a hard ask IF you let your guests know ahead of time that they will be asked.

Good manners requires that you never ask without permission.

It may be awkward if your guests expect a purely social event, and then they are cornered for an ask. It’s extremely awkward and can be a put-off to the donor.

Tip: You should never, ever surprise your donors with an ask.

5. What kind of call to action should I make at a VIP Donor Cultivation event?

We like a call to action that inspires everyone to join the bandwagon, spread the word, get involved, and make it happen.

A call to action like this is inspirational. It has good energy and excitement.

It focuses your guests on the mission at hand, not on money.

Tip: Ask people for their help, before you ask for their money.  

6. Should you have a small charge to attend?

We recommend that you have small events privately underwritten.

Often the host will simply cover the costs. Or you can ask a donor to underwrite.

For a cultivation event focused on major donors, we prefer not to ask attendees to pay anything. However, we do think it’s entirely acceptable, for a big dinner or party – to ask attendees to pay an minimal amount.

Tip: A free event feels more gracious and welcoming to your VIP guests.

7. How many staffers should attend?

We like to have plenty of staff to attend if and only if they mingle with the crowd.

They should not be off huddling in a corner with their cell phones! This is a social event, really!

We like to have key program staff as well as fundraising staff.

If a major gift officer has an assigned prospect at the event, then he or she MUST be in attendance.

Tip: Your donors do enjoy getting to know the staff. 

8. How do you capture your guests’ information?

Ask your guests to fill out a Followup Card.

Have lines on the card for their contact information.

Include boxes for them to check off:

  • I’d like to get on your mailing list.
  • I’d like to make a gift.
  • I’d like to host a small social of my own.
  • I have an idea I’d like to discuss with you – please contact me:

Tip: Followup cards help guests SELF-SELECT what type of followup they want. 

BOTTOM LINE on VIP donor cultivation events:

Small VIP donor cultivation events like these are easy to pull off.

Just be sure they are fun, pleasant and social.

Then your guests will want to come back to another small gathering that encourages them to get even more involved.