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Out of the gajillions of events your nonprofit may have on its annual fundraising calendar, donor cultivation events may be some of the most important. After all, donors don’t grow on trees—although it’d be cool if they did…

Snap back to reality; let’s rewind a lil bit. What is a donor cultivation event? And how is it different than a regular fundraising event? A donor cultivation event, also known as a non-ask event or friendraising event, is a more intimate event tailored to, you guessed it, cultivating new donors!

Who you want to cultivate as a donor can vary greatly and, depending on your organization’s needs, probably includes major gift donors, high net-worth donors, recurring donors, and in some cases foundations.

Unlike your other fundraising events that typically consist of a hard ask, these events are centered around networking, socializing, and educating attendees about your organization’s mission and impact. The great thing about donor cultivation events is that they’re pretty low stakes for both the nonprofit and the attendees; they offer just enough information to captivate attendees and encourage deeper involvement but don’t put them on the spot to make a heavy commitment. 

Think of it as a Tupperware party where the attendees aren’t being pressured to purchase makeup or knives or whatever. We’re already sold!

The ideal endgame is for attendees to become major gifts donors, but your cultivation event is the first step to getting them in that sweet spot. According to fundraising expert Penelope Burk, 67% of respondents attending a donor cultivation event credited it as the reason why they made their gift. Donor cultivation events are, no doubt, a gateway to individual giving.

Author’s note: We hope you’re still with us! Need a break before you dive in the blog? Here’s our best right now tip: Stand up and stretch. Yawn real big and loud and secretly enjoy how much it annoys your deskmate. Swing your arms around. Then come back and finish reading because this actually is pretty effective event advice.

If you’ve always wanted to plan a donor cultivation event, there’s no better time than the present, so here are some guidelines to get you ready to cultivate!

Planning the event

Since these events are meant to be smaller gatherings, you’ll only need 1-3 months to plan. Donor cultivation events should be no longer than an hour; keep them short, sweet, and to the point.

First things first, get that budget set. As usual, the budget guides the size of your event and determines the tactics you’ll take to market the event. Need budgeting help? Sign up for our Plan, Raise, Engage 10-Day Event Strategy Series where you can get no-fuss budgeting worksheets and other valuable event planning tools.

Who to Invite

After you’ve determined the budget, determine the oh-so-important guest list. For donor cultivation events, it’s best to keep your invitees within the same peer group (whatever that means). If you decide to invite existing high net-worth donors, use your CRM’s wealth screening tool (like Funraise’s Wealth Screening feature) to filter out who you’d like to invite. Using your CRM to pull detailed donor data will help you hone in on your audience and get the right people to your event.

If you wanna plan a friendraising event, ask one of your major gift donors or board members to host the event and invite their friends to learn more about your nonprofit. The nonprofit still takes care of all the details and event costs, but the guest list is solely up to the host. This helps expand your potential donor pool while making your guests feel more comfortable by having someone there that they know.

Author’s note: Stretch break! This time, roll your neck to stretch it out and roll your eyes at how many different events you’re trying to put on this year.

Location

Where you decide to host the event is just as important as what happens during the event. Donor cultivation events are more intimate in nature, so hosting it at someone’s house is always a good way to go. Ask a board member or major gift donor that you have a close relationship with if they’d be willing to volunteer their home for a few hours. Another option would be an AirBnB, or even your office if you’ve got pretty cool digs. 

Whatever you choose, just ensure that it’s small enough for people to have meaningful conversations, but plenty of space for you to present your nonprofit case in a memorable way. Creating the right ambiance leaves your guests engaged and comfortable and cultivates a desire to learn more about the work you do and how they can become a part of it.

Program

Impact, impact, impact. Impact is the name of the donor cultivation game. Your organization’s mission and impact should be woven into the fabric of the event to drive your primary message home. Namely, your nonprofit’s work is important and only possible with the help of potential donors like them.

But remember, you’re not asking anyone to give any money. You’re simply stating where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and where you plan on going in a succinct, yet memorable way.

Your event should start with an informal welcome from leadership (CEO or ED) and make time and space for networking with a strong storytelling component included. You must make a clear connection between your work and how the involvement of the guests can make a difference. Drive the idea home that the work you do isn’t possible without them and use hard data or storytelling to back up your claims.

Author’s note: Final stretch break—you’re in the home… stretch! (go ahead, laugh!) Do some of those waist twists that kind of look healthy but also look like a dance. Then finish reading.

Follow-Up

All the donor cultivation magic really happens after the event is over. The follow up is where you work to nurture your relationship with the attendees. 

Follow up with guests and thank them for attending. Ask if they have a minute to talk about the event, then dive in to gauge how they felt about the event, what was most impactful, and if they have any suggestions. End the follow-up by asking if they’d be interested in getting involved with your organization and in what capacity. Their answer will set the stage for communication going forward and is hopefully the beginning of long-lasting donor relationship.

As you can see, donor cultivation events are different from any other fundraising event, so if you’re thinking of planning one, now is a good a time as any! Good luck, nonprofit friends.

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