Imagine hosting an event where you don’t sell tickets or ask for donations—instead you simply give your top-tier prospects a night to remember. It’s an exclusive gathering, it sparks interest, and if done right, it’s a great way to revive your donor list. This type of donor appreciation event is known as a cultivation event, an opportunity to highlight your organization’s mission and needs in a creative way, without coming right out and asking for donations.

A cultivation event is held in a fun, comfortable environment, typically in the form of a house party or a cocktail reception, in order to engage in high-level mission interactions that will leave your guests feeling emotionally gratified and more invested in your mission. Your leadership team, volunteers, board members, staff, and a client you’ve impacted will all attend this event with the goal of making mid to major donors feel as though they’re attending a party rather than a fundraising event. By sharing your impact and starting conversations in a comfortable, relaxed environment, your donors will leave feeling emotionally gratified and more invested in your mission.

A well-planned cultivation event can be one of the most powerful forms of nonprofit marketing. Not only does a cultivation event have potential to secure major gifts, but it also helps to build a stronger connection between your organization and your larger donors.

At a BBCON philanthropic conference session, Penelope Burke, Author of Donor-Centered Fundraising and Donor-Centered Leadership, pointed to research findings to share the potential of cultivation events, citing the following insightful statistics:

  • Among donors who went to donor cultivation events on a scale of 1-7 with 7 being most satisfied, donors ranked themselves 5-7.
  • 33 percent of donors who attended made an unsolicited gift
  • 35 percent of solicited donors who made a gift credited the event with why they made the gift

Here are eight tips to keep in mind when hosting a cultivation event.

1. Nail Down Specifics

Once you’ve determined the date of your cultivation date, you’ll need to add the event to your company calendar, find a location, and set a start time. Next, you’ll want to create a project timeline for when everything should happen and what steps need to happen between now and the event.

As you finalize the specifics of your event, here are a few other steps you’ll need to take:

  • Book special guests as far in advance as possible. This might be a client who has been impacted by your cause who can share their success story.
  • Decide what roles staff, volunteers, and board members will play.
  • Confirm all attendees as they RSVP.
    • In general, an average response rate is between 10 and 30 percent of those invited. Because response rates for events can be low, invite more people than you expect will attend your cultivation event.

2. Turn Your Event Into a Party

Your donors will expect to have a fun, enjoyable experience without feeling pressured to give. Unlike other events, a cultivation event is a chance to engage in meaningful conversations that aren’t too heavy or serious. Your goal is to create a relaxed atmosphere for your guests, and help to deepen their connection with your organization, so that they are ultimately more inclined to give on their own accord.

One simple word can change your event entirely: party. The word party has a more fun, comfortable, and relaxed connotation, which could entice more donors to attend. On your invitations, email communications, and marketing materials, use the word “party” rather than “event” to describe your gathering.

3. Stage a Quality Event

A cultivation event is an extension of your brand, which is why you want a keen attention to the details. Your invitees likely have deep pockets and are used to attending lavish events and gatherings. They aren’t accustomed to drinking box wine and eating finger sandwiches. The trick is to appeal to their tastes while also keeping your budget in mind.

It’s also important that your party reflects your organization’s personality and culture. For example, if your nonprofit organization is based in California and supports children’s orphanages in Mexico, you might choose to have a taco stand at your event. Just make sure it’s a taco stand that delivers high-quality meals.

Pro tip: Encourage your staff to help with serving so they are in a position to strike up personal conversations with guests.

Originally published on Classy, read the full article here