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Who to Invite: 4 Tips for Nonprofits Hosting Donor Events

Donor events might seem simple on the surface, but they often require months of planning to achieve the desired results. For nonprofit professionals, all of this planning is usually conducted alongside other activities and responsibilities. Busy professionals like yourself often must split their attention in multiple directions to get everything done.

However, planning your next non-profit event should be one of your main priorities. In this guide, we’ll walk through tips that can help ease this planning process slightly, providing the direction necessary to understand who the best attendees will be and how you can target the right donor base. We’ll cover the following tips:

When you have the right audience, you’ll be more likely to see higher attendance rates and to achieve your ultimate goal. Ready to take your next nonprofit event to the next level and sell more tickets than ever? Let’s dive in!

1. Consider your goal for the event.

Your event’s goal will dictate who you’ll invite and the activities you’ll plan for them. Consider the following goals that a nonprofit might have for their next donor event.

Goal 1: Build donor relationships.

If your donor event prioritises building relationships with your supporters, you’ll probably want to limit your event attendance to those with who you want to have face-to-face conversations and create a memorable, personalised experience.

Let’s say your organisation is building up your major gift program. You might send personalised event invitations to your mid-tier and major prospects then review each attendee’s profile in your donor database. This will help drive conversations between these important supporters and your major gift officer or other key development team members.

Intimate and exclusive events are a key part of the major donation cultivation process. Generally, in these exclusive meetings, try to keep the attendance numbers small and personal to encourage personal interaction.

Goal 2: Increase recognition in the community.

If you’re working to increase your community recognition, open your event up to all of your supporters and other community members. Then, take additional steps during the event to continue expanding this visibility, such as:

Sell merchandise when attendees sport branded apparel, they’ll increase the visibility of your nonprofit beyond the event’s conclusion.

Hosting a peer-to-peer campaign leading up to the event. These campaigns encourage your supporters to involve their friends and family, informing them about your upcoming event and serving as promoters while collecting donations.

Partnering with local businesses. By forming relationships with local businesses, you can spread the word about your event through word of mouth and flyers posted on their premises.

In general, if you’re building your brand awareness in your community, you’ll want to gather as many old and new supporters as possible to attend your non-profit event. Try reaching out to your existing supporters and past volunteers to see if they’d be interested in helping to keep the event running smoothly.

Goal 3: Raise a certain amount of money.

Most of the time, one of the goals for a nonprofit event is to raise a set amount of money. Depending on the goal fundraising amount, you may find that specific audience and event types are better suited to help you reach your end goal.

If you’re planning an event that aims to bring in several major donations for your annual fund, you might host an exclusive event for your major supporters. By contrast, if you’re working to raise a substantial amount of money for a specific program, you might reach out to your entire donor base at large.

If you’re hosting an event where money isn’t a priority, such as a stewardship event, don’t ask for any. Not asking for money is oftentimes just as impactful as earning fast donations, supporting healthy donor relationships built on appreciation and respect.

Fundraising events can generate significant revenue, but with so many moving parts they often require more time to plan. So if you're running regular events or driving ongoing donations, you might want to turn to nonprofit event software to help streamline fundraising for your social impact organisation.

2. Be mindful of the nature of the event.

The nature of your event helps you set expectations for what the event will entail.

If the event has traditionally been an annual occurrence that the community looks forward to, limiting your attendance list this year will likely only harm your donor event, as doing so is in direct opposition with community expectations. Or, if you’ve traditionally held an exclusive gala for your major supporters, you might upset them by suggesting opening the event up to the community at large.

If this is the first time you’re hosting a particular type of non-profit event, you have the opportunity to set new expectations. You’ll need to take the following steps:

After you’ve hammered out these details, you can set the expectations among your supporters via marketing materials.

Make sure your marketing corresponds with your event type. You wouldn’t post a flyer in your local coffee shop for your exclusive gala. Instead, you’d send personalised invitations to your carefully identified major and mid-tier prospects. By contrast, designing customised invitations for community-wide events would likely be a lot of effort for little payout.

3. Think about hybrid, virtual, and in-person events.

In 2020, nonprofits had to rethink their event approach quickly. The pandemic eliminated in-person events almost entirely, forcing everyone to transition to virtual events. As vaccination numbers increase, entirely virtual events are no longer a necessity, but they’re not gone completely.

Many organisations discovered the benefits of virtual events, such as the increased reach across the nation and the potential to drive donations through online platforms. Therefore, as we continue pushing forward, we are likely to see many more hybrid fundraising events

Hybrid events are designed to take the best of both worlds from in-person and virtual events. Here’s how in-person, virtual, and hybrid non-profit events could impact your audience:

In-person events may be more popular with younger audiences. Until the pandemic comes to a complete end, audiences who believe themselves to be less susceptible to COVID-19 may be your main in-person event audience. Keep this in mind and offer safety options like timed ticketing to minimise large gatherings.

Virtual events can reach broader audiences geographically. When you invite people to attend a virtual event, it doesn't matter if they’re right next door or four states away. They can all attend and have the same experience. Meanwhile, in-person event audiences are more limited by geographic location.

Hybrid events offer new opportunities to engage major prospects. Recently, nonprofits have started sending invitations to major and mid-tier donors, inviting them to attend events in person, while other guests attend virtually. This provides exclusive opportunities for your most valuable supporters without excluding anyone from attending.

Depending on the format of your donor event, you might choose to invite different groups of attendees or different segments of your supporter database. Then, you can craft your invitations according to the structure of your event. For instance, sending physical invitations for in-person attendees and invitation emails for your virtual attendees.

4. Consider the audience your event would cater to.

Naturally, some types of events are more suitable for certain audiences. Understand who your target audience is and how your events will cater to that audience to help your event succeed.

For example, if the majority of your donors are elderly individuals with limited mobility, a 5K race might not be the most popular option. Or, if you work primarily with a young, vivacious audience of new college graduates who may have a lot of debt and few assets, a classic car auction would probably only appeal to a handful of people.

Analyse the individuals in your nonprofit CRM and consider the types of events that will most appeal to them. Or, consider your event and who in your donor database would be most likely to attend and enjoy the opportunity.

Understanding who your audience is and how they’ve engaged with events in the past will help you determine who to send your invitations to, how you will structure your event, and the type of marketing strategies you will employ.

No matter what, your event should be on brand for your organisation and for the intended attendees.

Donor events involve a lot of planning and hard work, but they can be a rewarding experience when you see your invitees in the audience. Be sure to choose these invitees based on your event goals, nature, venue, and interested audience members. Happy event planning!

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