How to Use Events to Springboard Your Cultivation Efforts

May 15, 2024

Events are an important part of engagement for donors and prospects, and you can strategically use them to springboard your cultivation efforts. Events can run the gamut – you’ve got huge fundraising galas to small, intimate house parties and everything in between. You might not love events, but why not make the best of them and utilize an event to kick off your cultivation efforts?

When it comes to getting in the door, events are a great way to introduce yourself and, in a fun, social setting. If there’s a prospect that you want to get to know and they are currently a donor to your organization, I assume that they will be invited to your organization’s events.  Before every event, you’ll want to review the invite list to make sure that all your prospects and donors are invited to participate. This includes prospects those who you already have a relationship with and those who you’re looking to begin a relationship with. You’ll also want to review the RSVP list so you can know who will be in the room.  Here’s a pro tip – if you are cultivating a prospect and you see they RSVP’d, it’s a lovely touchpoint to reach out and say “I just saw your RSVP come in. I’m excited to see you next Saturday. I’ll stop by your table to say hello.”  You can do this via email, text or phone call, but it’s nice to recognize that they are engaging with the organization.

If you have identified a prospect but not yet initiated the relationship, meeting at an event is a terrific opportunity. You’ll want to deliberately seek them out during the event and make the introduction.  If it’s a large gala with seated tables, you might head over to their table before the program begins and say hello. If it is a small gathering in someone’s home, you’ll want to strike up a friendly chat.

A solid conversation starter is critical to kick off the relationship.  The key here is to have a short, yet meaningful conversation. There are three things you want to accomplish in the initial conversation.

  • You want to introduce yourself – “Hi, my name is Mary and I work for the University.” Don’t go into your whole bio because it’s going to be loud, and you only have so much time to keep their attention. Just give them your name and establish that you are affiliated with the organization. Make sure to smile and be warm.
  • Quickly engage them in conversation by asking a question. You could ask if they are having fun at the event, if they’ve tried the appetizers that everyone is raving about or if they’ve ever been to this venue before. Keep it light and topical. “I hear the band is going to be amazing tonight, will I see you on the dance floor?” Whatever it is, just get the conversation started. Once you’ve spent a minute or two visiting, you’ll want to do the third and most important element.
  • Ask to meet or get in touch. Be creative about how you approach this, and it will take some forethought. You don’t want to say “can I follow up with you next week to have a meeting?” That’s boring and someone can easily say no or why. Try to be more interesting and intriguing in how you ask for the a meeting. You could even be transparent. “Barry and Jane, I was hoping to find you this evening and thank you for being such a friend to the organization. We’ve been meeting with our close friends to share with them an upcoming endeavor the organization is considering. It’s not public knowledge just yet. Could I reach out early next week and find some time for us to meet?” Who can say no to that? It’s suspenseful and keeps them wondering about what you want to chat with them about. And, it means they’ll be insiders.

Here’s another example: “Juan and Benita, the organization is seeking advice from community leaders on how to attract more people from the Latinx community to our programs.  As community leaders, I’d love to tell you more about it and hear your thoughts. Can I follow up with you next week?” Also powerful and hard to say no to. You’re looking to create intrigue into either an existing program that you think they are interested in or a new program or capital campaign that might be in the quiet phase. Once you get agreement to next steps, you thank them, tell them to enjoy the evening, that you’ll see them on the dance floor, and go find your next prospect!

These are short yet meaningful conversations to get you started on the cultivation journey with a prospect. Make sure to follow up the next week with a phone call to get the meeting scheduled! 


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