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Follow the Events Path to Major Gifts

Events are a common fundraising tactic among nonprofits. Dinners, galas, runs, walks, and auctions are all variations of the ever-promising, always-delivering event fundraiser.

Events encourage constituents to act in favor of the organization and provide a means for nonprofits to cultivate the relationship. But events have much more to offer. They can be a mechanism to discover major gift donors.

Events often create a donor's first impression of an organization. They can be the beginning of a long-term relationship, or they can be the end.

Events provide benefits beyond fundraising:

  1. Messaging: With events nonprofits can introduce a higher level of messaging. Events create an opportunity to communicate the organization's image and mission, and to educate the public on programs and projects.

  2. Prospect discovery: People introduce friends through events. A major gift donor may purchase a $10,000 table for the gala, but then he or she has to fill up that table. So the donor brings friends. Maybe some of these friends are major gift prospects. Additionally, the person casually walking into the event can be the millionaire next door.

  3. Affinity building: The donation of time and money increases involvement and leads to a deeper affinity towards an organization. When you combine this affinity with personal interaction at an event, it can turn a one-time donor into a long-term, major supporter.

In order to capitalize on the major gift potential offered by events, organizations need to ensure that all processes, both technically and organizationally, support the discovery of major gifts.

Technically, organizations need to be able to utilize the information from events and push it through a proven, streamlined filtering process to determine which participants or donors can be classified as major gift prospects. Many donor management systems today have made this process simpler for nonprofits by incorporating wealth screening scores into the donor management solution. Ideally, the score should provide an initial segmentation based on capacity and have the ability to search easily for more detailed data on people in the top segments. Once identified, this information needs to be automatically integrated into the donor management system.

Organizationally, event teams and major gift teams need to work together to take full advantage of event fundraising. Many times, supporters will come to a few events and then stop because they were not engaged at a higher level. For major gift prospects, this engagement can happen when major gift officers play an active role in an organization's events.

Data collected from events should be shared with the major gift officers to ensure the proper handling of new prospects or existing donors. Data silos can create a hurdle for major gift officers. Information stored in an events fundraising application that isn't stored in a central database, for example, can lead to lost prospects. To solve this problem, many organizations have begun to combine data from events with all organizational data, to ensure that every leaf gets turned and the next major gift prospect does not go undiscovered.

Major gifts are, simply stated, a major portion of an organization's overall donations and should be actively pursued from each organizational activity. That means that organizations need to be able to differentiate a walker able to give $20 from one able to give $1,000,000. Gift officers can help ensure that major gift prospects are treated appropriately whether they are in sweats or suits. This level of attention helps maintain the relationship essential to ensure continued gifts and increases the likelihood that one major gift donor will introduce the organization to another major gift donor.

With the proper technical and organizational processes in place, nonprofits can effectively use events to increase major gifts.

David Lawson, March 2008
© 2008, Kintera®, Inc.

David Lawson is vice president of market strategy for Kintera®, Inc. Kintera provides software as a service to help organizations quickly and easily reach more people, raise more money, and run more efficiently. The technology platform features a social constituent relationship management (CRM) system, enabling donor management, e-mail and communications, Web sites, events, advocacy programs, wealth screening, and accounting. In addition, the company also has an open applications integration platform that enables clients and partners to integrate with the Kintera technology platform.
Topics: Fundraising