by John Mainella and Michael Pettry, principals, Cape Fletcher Associates and consulting partners of CICF

The season of special events is squarely upon us in Central Indiana. Whether springtime galas, summer golfing events or the increasingly popular breakfast fundraiser, most organizations are in the midst of special event season.

But special events are a lot of work. Then again, you already know that no doubt.

Here’s where many not-for-profits leave tremendous opportunities on the table. After all the work that brings a special event to life, they forget that the actual value of the event likely lies in what happens following the event. Which existing donors made a second-mile gift or increased their giving level? (A move up the giving tiers!) Who made a first-time donation to the organization? (A candidate for renewal and increased giving!)

We recently had a conversation with an executive director lamenting about all of the time and energy that went into planning and executing an event but forgot to invest intentionality and strategy into what happens in the days and weeks after the event.

Whether you are a seasoned staffer, just starting your journey in development, or a stalwart board member, here are three suggestions to increase the longer-term benefits of your special events.

Record event attendees into your database and segment this group. Organizations use databases for many reasons, but one is especially important: to grow the base of support. Even though a donor may have given at a special event, they should be added to your database and segmented into their own category.

For the next year or so, use this segmentation strategy when you want to communicate with or solicit the constituency. A good rule of thumb to remember is that the likelihood of retaining a first-time donor increases if you make seven touchpoints with them in the first year.

Impact, impact, impact. The donor likely made a contribution at the event as a result of an extraordinary and emotional appeal to support your mission. In the days and weeks following their gift, make sure that you show the donor the impact of their giving. Consider your first touchpoint be a thank you note sent 24 to 48 hours after they donated their gift.

Next, a month after receiving their gift, text or email them a quick 60-second impact video highlighting the work that their gift made possible. Check out this recent study from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy about the power of video in donor engagement. That subsequent follow-up is a chance to remind them why they gave at your event and show them that you are already putting their gift to work.

Engage them differently. Don’t assume that you will see the donor at next year’s event. Organizations often see a relatively high turnover rate from year to year for attendance at events. But this doesn’t mean special event donors aren’t interested. When we think of the rule of seven touchpoints to retain a donor, build a strategy using your segmentation to keep your event donors engaged throughout the year.
Add them to your quarterly newsletter mailing list. Consider a personal phone call recognizing the six-month or one-year anniversary of their special event gift. Send an email several weeks before the next event with a “Hope to see you there!” theme. Even though the message isn’t overtly asking for a gift, make sure to include a link for donation for people who aren’t able to attend the event.

At the heart of building your culture of philanthropy is a commitment to establishing meaningful relationships with donors and prospects. Of course, special events play a unique role in building relationships with both constituencies, but it is the wise and artful institution that embraces the fact that special events are only the first chapter of a long and meaningful donor relationship.

Founded by principals John Mainella and Michael Pettry, Cape Fletcher Associates employs sound philanthropy practices and effective communication strategies to grow your base of support.