One of our favorite success stories is this:
There is an organization we work with that typically hosts one fundraising event (a ticketed gala/benefit) and one cultivation event (a celebratory evening with no cost to participate) each year. When debriefing on the June 2018 cultivation event, this organization’s executive director identified a woman who she felt would be a fantastic addition to the board of directors. After a full year of considered and thoughtful donor cultivation, that person was officially voted on to the board.
This person would never have volunteered to join the board if not for a year’s worth of cultivation efforts by the organization’s leadership – but she might not even have been identified as a good prospect if not for that cultivation event. This story has a pretty clear moral: even though coffee meetings, phone calls, birthday cards, and organizational updates are essential pieces of any donor cultivation strategy, do not underestimate the value of a cultivation event.
Why? Because none of the other items on that list involve a social gathering, and social gatherings are the perfect setting for three things:
Getting face time with new friends. Whether the event is a party or a panel discussion, a social gathering offers you a great excuse to invite anyone and everyone you want to get to know better, regardless of the closeness of your relationship with them. Encourage them to bring a guest, and your chances of a good RSVP rate are even better – and who knows, you may even find a future donor or volunteer among their guests.
Lots of Learning, Very Quickly. The social environment of a cultivation event lends itself to several brief conversations during which you will likely learn some of the key details of a person’s life very quickly: the names of their spouse and children, what they do for a living, and how they were introduced to your organization, for instance. If it’s clear that a conversation isn’t going anywhere, it is socially acceptable to excuse yourself to spend your time talking with your other guests. What’s better is that you can use the details that you learn at the event as an excuse to follow up with a personal note later. For example: did someone recommend a book for you to read? Check it out and let them know you did – it will make them feel valued and will give you the perfect opening for a continued one-on-one conversation.
FRIEND-raising (Rather than FUND-raising). The whole point of a cultivation event is that it is an opportunity to get together with members of your community in a way that doesn’t involve asking for a dime (in fact, it often involves thanking them for their contributions to your work). When everyone knows that the gathering is about FRIENDS, rather than FUNDS, it can take the pressure off both sides of the conversation and create room for real, authentic relationships to emerge.