Ever feel like planning your fundraiser is like walking 50 miles up hill in the snow (both ways) EVERY year?
Ever feel like all the guests you managed to get last year just don’t seem to be interested this time, and you can’t figure out what happened?
Well, I can tell you that you’re not alone.
So many change-makers feel like putting on their signature annual event is a major undertaking every year.
That no matter how hard they work, they don’t feel like they’re getting any real traction and keep basically starting from scratch.
Here are some proven ways to keep your event guests engaged from the time that they RSVP so that you can build strong relationships with them after the event is done.
Spoiler alert: it’s so much more than just seeing them the night of your event. But it’s also probably not as hard as you might think.
Let’s dive in!
BEFORE THE EVENT
Reach out right after they’ve RSVPed
This is a great opportunity to thank your new guest for joining you.
After all, there are tons of ways that they can choose to spend their evening, and they’re willing to give you a few hours of their life. Make it worth it!
In this note you want to reiterate what a great choice they made by affirming what’s so great about your cause. Remember to write this in a way that they would care about.
Affirm the values that they’re showing by attending, and mention how you plan to put them in a room full of great people with those same values.
You can even mention the things that are cool or unique about the event that they’ll love. Let them know that they’re your tribe and that this event was thoughtfully made with them in mind.
Finally, give them a call to action. At this stage in the game it should be something small like sharing the invitation with a friend or posting about it on social media.
Giving people a small action step at the end of your email is a great way to keep them engaged without them feeling like you’re asking for too much too soon.
Pro tip: If you ask people to share the event on their social media accounts, include shareable links and photos. It keeps your message on brand and makes sharing it even easier.
The best part is that all of this can be written well in advance. It’ll give you another way to think about how you want to engage with your guests before you’re doing a million other things for your event that end up eating all your time.
Don’t be the person that’s scrambling to reply to guests one by one, and then gets so overwhelmed that soon they don’t have time to reply at all.
I’m pretty sure a baby unicorn weeps every time this happens.
Do yourself a favor and set up an automated response email that goes out every time someone buys a ticket. People feel like you care, and you feel sane. It’s a win win.
Send a reminder 1-2 weeks before your event
People get busy. We’ve all had that experience where we said we would go to something well in advance, and then completely forgot about it.
I know personally, if something isn’t in my calendar, then it doesn’t exist in real life.
Sending out an email to your RSVPs a week or two before your event is:
A chance to remind them that this is a thing that’s happening and
Gives you the opportunity to give them something to look forward to about it
Make sure that this message talks about how great your cause is, but more than anything, get them excited about the event that you have planned for them. Give them a few more teasers or sneak peeks of what’ll be there.
This is a great time to show off special guests or if you’re hosting an auction, you can brag about a few of the really cool packages you’ll have for them.
Pro tip: If you find that a couple weeks out, you haven’t sold as many tickets as you want, then the call to action at the end of this email could be for your guests to share it with a friend that they think would also like the opportunity to join in.
Since they RSVPed, chances are they know other people who’d be interested as well. At the very least they’ll want to find a buddy to go with them.
I suggested this to one of my clients who was worried about low sign ups, and with one email they doubled their number of attendees in one week and had a packed house at their fundraiser!
Be sure to also share sneak peeks around your own social media platforms to create more buzz.
Send a note a couple days before your event
Now all of your plans for creating an amazing guest experience are in play and your guest list is set, all you have to do is keep the excitement going.
The couple days leading up to the event is a good time to send out a logistics email to all of your RSVPs.
In this email you’ll again remind them of the what, when, and where of the event (because a lot can happen in a week or two), along with any other important information they might need, like parking instructions.
It also gives you the opportunity to give them more teasers to keep up the excitement for your fundraiser.
If you still have a few more tickets available invite them to bring a friend before you sell out!
Now that your event is around the corner, you can breathe easy knowing that you’ve planned your event with success in mind and your guests are ready to have a great time.
AFTER THE EVENT
Congrats! You got through it and you’re still alive! You deserve cake. ALL the cake!
So now you can pack everything up, count your money, and avoid all conversations with the word “fundraiser” in them until next year, right?
Sorry to break it to you, but absolutely not.
This is 100% the wrong way to go about events.
But it’s also what most organizations tend to do.
I get it. Your event was a TON of work (and it probably wasn’t even the only thing on your plate, right?).
You’re exhausted, your left eye still hasn’t stopped twitching, and you need some time to recharge.
You should definitely take some much deserved time for yourself.
But don’t let all that hard work go down the drain!
The purpose of an event is to create a live branding experience so that your tribe can get to know you, what you’re about, and how they can stay involved with what you’re doing.
Even in the planning stages of your event, long before you think about what type of food you’ll have or who might speak, you should get clear on what you want to do next.
What opportunities are you going to give them to keep interacting with your organization?
How can you provide value by creating more chances for them to connect with the other people you got in the room?
You got a bunch of people to buy tickets and show up. That’s awesome!
But the end-all-be-all should never be “have an event and raise money”. That’s just the first major milestone.
The point of spending all the time, energy, and money that it takes to put on a great fundraiser is to create something that’s going to continue to compound your impact and sustain itself for years to come. #LongGame.
Think about how you can deepen your relationship with your guests after the event is over.
Plan your next steps
I recommend thinking of 4-6 different ways that you can keep in touch with attendees throughout the year.
Does this sound overwhelming already?
Breathe with me. This doesn’t mean you need to have 6 more large events- in fact, you definitely shouldn’t.
Your next step can be as simple as sending a thank you email to all of your guests after the event letting them know what their support meant to you and the community.
You can let them know how much you raised (which wouldn’t have happened without them), and share an awesome gallery of photos from the night so that they can relive the fun.
Pro tip: you can make this gallery a Facebook album. It’s super easy for you and easy for them to access. It also gives them a way to keep interacting with the experience you created for them by sharing it on their profile or tagging their friends.
Your other ways to stay in touch with your community can be small as well.
It can be emails about projects you have going on, opportunities for them to volunteer, you can have an open house where they can see “where the magic happens”, or you can host a couple of small VIP mixers throughout the year.
Talk to your top people
Set up meetings with your top supporters (people who donated the most money and also people who brought the most people with them) to find out more about them, what they liked about the event, and to see if there is anyone in their network that they think you should meet.
People love being genuinely asked for their advice and since this is your tribe, they more than likely would love to introduce you to more awesome people (hint: you can build a kick-ass planning committee with this strategy alone!).
On the surface this might seem like a lot, but really, it’s going to make your life easier in the long run.
Let’s sum all this up
Here’s what you do by finding 4-6 ways to stay in touch with your people throughout the year:
You thank them right after the event to show your appreciation, reinforce their decision to support you, and reminded them of the fun they had.
You set up meetings with your top supporters to ask them for their feedback. Since you’re building your event the right way, you’re going to be able to create the exact event that these people love. Why spend time banging your head against a wall trying to figure out what someone might like when you can just ask them?
You ask your top supporters for recommendations for other people you should talk to. This builds your relationships with people much faster because as humans we usually like someone more if we meet them through a trusted friend or colleague.
You create a few more opportunities for your community to get to know each other and build their own networks with people who share their values.
You took the time to get to know your tribe, solidified their connection to your mission, introduced them to each other, and got them to introduce you to their networks.
This makes planning and marketing your next fundraiser a million times easier because you now have people willing to help you build it. The hardest part is already done!
Your events will seamlessly feed into each other and keep building momentum from there.
You’re not starting from scratch every year like most nonprofits because you’ve stayed top of mind for your people and kept giving them reasons why you’re awesome.
Boom! Mic drop!
I hope this is useful to you as you’re planning your next fundraiser.
Are you just getting started and want to get clear on your fundraising event goals? I’ve got the perfect workbook for you!
If there was anything surprising on this list, or anything that you’ve found in your own experience to work well, I’d love for you to share it in the comments below. The goal of Tribe Table is for us all to learn together.