Nonprofit Fundraising: how to find interested donors at events

Click here to play video on how to find long-term donors at events.

It’s trivia season in St. Louis and I have something to teach you about how to be a better fundraiser when you have big events like this.

This is how to understand the relationship of commitment and compliance, along with how to identify it, so you find prospective donors at your events.

Commitment just means that I have a heart relationship with an organization. I have an affinity for what they do. We have the same heart and want the same outcomes.

Compliance means that I am compliant to the behavior or norms of society. It’s simply, “Hey, I'm going to buckle my seatbelt because that's just what you do.” I don't have to love it to be committed to it; I'm just compliant.

 How to Tell the Difference

Say I get invited to a trivia night by a friend or a family member, and I go because I am committed to my friend or family member. I am not committed to that cause. When I go, the nonprofit can often say, “Well, she’s here, so she must be interested.” I'm only there because somebody invited me. Even though somebody I know, like, love, or respect has invited me, it doesn't mean that I am going to be more committed to your cause.

 That doesn’t mean that there's anything wrong with who you are or what you do. It just means that we cannot change what's in peoples’ hearts. We find the like-minded people and attract them to us. If we're not ever going to be able to change those who are compliant to be committed, then that's okay. We understand because compliance at an event is amazing. You get people to come and do what you want them to do.

For Foster & Adoptive Care Coalition, we have ‘Hope in a Handbag.’ Hundreds of women come to buy handbags. They're not necessarily repeat donors of the organization outside of that event, but they show up strong for that event and they spend a lot of money. And that's okay. We just know that we're probably not going to get a lot more out of them than coming to that event. They're compliant to that event; they're not committed to the cause. They would probably go to the event even if it supported a different charity. That's okay, too. We just understand that we may not get more than a 3- or 4-percent conversion rate up to regular donors from that group. Yet, there is a 3- or 4-percent of people in that room who are committed, and we don't want to overlook that. This is what makes it exciting for you.

I just went to trivia night for ArchCity Defenders. I love them, I wrote about them in my book, I’ve talked about them on podcast, and I follow their work. I made a point to introduce myself to the executive director. I told him how happy I was to be there, that I was excited to participate in this event because I love this group so much. I demonstrated commitment. I demonstrated that I have an affinity for this group beyond the affinity I have for the person who brought me. 

Plan of Action

This is what you can do at events— deploy your people, deploy your committee, deploy your board, and deploy your staff (those who aren’t already running around and getting stuff done for the event) to listen for cues of commitment among the compliant. “I couldn't wait to come here,” or, “I've loved you guys forever.” They may be there buying a big auction item and you never heard of them before. Listen for that commitment. Listen for what people are telling you. A lot of times at these events, we have casual conversations and we're just kind of filling the air. This is your chance to really dial in and listen for commitment among the compliant.

This is not to dissuade or dismiss anything about being compliant. Because when my brother says, “Come to this event for my granddaughter's preschool,” I'm going to come to that event because I love my brother, I love my nephew, and my niece, and my great niece, and I will come, and I will show up. I love them, but I'm not going to love the institution as much as they do.

 Because what happens is all those people come to the event, we say, “Well, we had 800 people here.” You're going to add those to your mailing list and then you never hear from them, or you email them and they never respond. Well, that's because they were compliant to that event, not necessarily to the cause.

Here's what you can do after the event to help you understand who's committed. If you've got a bunch of people that you don't know, like they're not on your database currently, and they show up, shoot them a special email. That email is going to invite them to something. What you're doing is inviting the people who are committed to stand up, giving them the opportunity to get to know you better:

  • “Hey, we're going to have a ‘Lunch and Learn’ at our office.”

  • “Hey, thank you so much for coming. We were so glad that this was your first time with us. We were so happy to have you. If you want to learn more, we're doing this at our office. We would love for you to come.” 

  • “Thank you for coming. So glad to meet you. We'd love to have a conversation with you around how you could be more involved.”

And just leave with that. No solicitation, very open, very friendly. Just allowing those who are committed to be like, “Yes, you recognize that I may be more committed and are inviting me to demonstrate that.” And everyone else, you kind of just got to live and let live. You can keep them on your mailing list. Just remember that you cannot convert people. You cannot convince people of the worth of your organization. Your job is to connect with like-minded people.

 Having these fantasies of ‘if I just email them one more time, then they're going be committed and they'll start donating’— that's probably not true. That's what clogs up our email and our mailing list, and that's what makes fundraising hard. Think quality, not quantity. The quality of people and allowing them to stand up and be committed, and leaving the rest be and letting them participate at the level they do participate in, but not really expecting or asking for anything more.

I am so glad to teach you this concept today and good luck with your events and good luck with your trivia. If you want to learn how to attract those committed donors to your organization like fans flock to superstars, enroll in my Superstar Fundraising online course! And as always, you can hit me up for an attraction audit to learn how your current brand is working to attract those donors and funds.

Until next time, shine bright superstar!