Home NonprofitNonprofit Management Building A Dream Part 5: How To Transform Attendees Into Donors

Building A Dream Part 5: How To Transform Attendees Into Donors

by Megan DeCosta
Turning Attendees Into Donors

Miss the beginning of the series? Go to Building A Dream Part 1: Finding Courage To Cross The River.

Occasionally, when I’m at Costco, I come across a free sample that’s too good to put down, so I go back to get another one. Sometimes I get servers who gleefully serve me another dumpling, but not always. Often I get scolded by the server for asking for seconds, or they just look at me like I asked them to hand-feed me. “Look, lady, your pea-sized sample wasn’t enough! Yes, I want more, and now I require at least three more samples for you looking at me like that.”

Asking for more money from donors at an event can often feel like you’re asking for seconds. You want to include the “ask” in your presentation, but you just can’t figure out when, or how, to ask your donors for another donation. Some folks in the room will think nothing of it. They’d be happy to give more and are probably expecting it. But at the same time, you’re terrified of offending donors by making them feel like a bank.

In truth, if you’re feeling awkward about asking for donations, it can be easy to neglect certain parts of the process, rely on a more passive approach, or decide not to ask for more at all, which would be a major loss of opportunity to raise funds for your organization. You have the attention of a roomful of emotionally connected and engaged donors. Don’t wait for another opportunity; this is it! It’s time to move past the awkward and embrace the opportunity.

More Than Asking For Money

To get the proper response, you must execute a proper ask. Passively placing donation cards on the table is too nonchalant. It’s kind of like when you’re trying to get your spouse to clean something without seeming like a nag. So you’ll leave the dishwasher door open, hoping they’ll run into it and think to unload it. Or maybe you’re like me and you strategically place all the clean clothes on their side of the bed so they have to fold them before going to sleep. Just me?

Well, try as I might, this passive approach doesn’t usually work for me. The clothes will be thoughtlessly (or intentionally) pushed to the floor, and dishes will still be in the dishwasher when I get home. And those donation cards on the table? The majority will still be on the tables when you clean up at the end of the night—unless you ask.

Passive requests get passive responses. If you are hoping to raise money at your event, then you have to be honest and upfront with why your guests are there.

Doug Kulungu asked his emcee, Brad Bell, to make the ask at the end of the program. Doug’s guests already paid for a ticket to attend the dinner for Kulungu for Congo, so there was a chance he might offend a handful of people in the room who felt that they already paid enough money just for the ticket to get in. But let’s be honest, they came to a fundraiser. They probably knew this was coming. By making the ask during your event, you are inviting those who are interested in your organization to deepen their involvement and play an even greater role in its mission. You are communicating that you need them and that their donation, no matter how big or small, is essential to your organization.

And I must reference fundraising expert Marc A. Pitman on this one: for maximum impact, your ask needs to be REAL.

Asking for Donations

Get Off Your Ask

Surprise! Your donors are human. They spend money on things, same as you, and even the wealthiest of people may not feel like they have much to give. When you make the ask, share examples of discretionary spending that illustrate how they can make simple adjustments in their lifestyle to make it possible to give without drastically affecting their wallet.

Brad used the analogy of cutting down on their monthly Starbucks expenses. But surely there are even more areas that could be cut back on. For example:

  • Take a lunch to work instead of eating out
  • Remember to return your Redbox on time
  • Switch to off-brand products
  • Buy your movie tickets at Costco instead of at the door
  • Have a date night at home

When you break it down to those levels, it’s easy for people to say, “Oh yeah, I guess I could manage that.”

Making Giving Simple

When you ask for donations on the spot, you need to give your donors a couple of different ways to make their payments so they can decide what works best for them. Commonly, nonprofits will place a small donation card with an envelope at every place setting.

Example Donation Card

Modest and discreet, this approach allows donors to securely give their donations, and it also helps you track who gave what if donations were made in the form of cash.

Not every donor carries cash or checks, so make it easy on them by having an electronic payment method ready to swipe their card on the way out. Doug borrowed four Square readers before his event and asked four responsible volunteers to assist. When Brad made the ask, he also mentioned the availability to donate by card.

Square Card Reader

To use this type of option, you simply plug the square device into the earphone jack of your smartphone or tablet, download the app, register, and then swipe away! It’s pretty quick and easy to manage (they didn’t pay me to say that), and if you use Aplos Accounting for your nonprofit accounting, you can import your donations to easily track them.

If you’d rather not order a card reader, you can accept online donations by opening your online donation webpage on a tablet, smartphone, or laptop. Added bonus (and shameless plug): if you use Aplos to accept donations, your transactions are tracked automatically for contribution statements. By providing multiple ways for your donors to give, you are increasing their convenience, which will help you increase your donations.

Incentivizing Giving

A common trend among nonprofits is to hold silent auctions at their events because it is an effective way to drive additional funds. By allowing your donors to bid on donated objects at the event, you bring in extra dollars and they take home things they enjoy. Win-win.

While the coordinators for Kulungu for Congo’s event considered a silent auction, they decided against it for their first year. They were very short on time, and planning an auction can take up as much time as planning the event itself, if not more. All of the products are donated items, so that means contacting people for donations, following up, picking up the items, creating descriptions, setting the items up on display, and volunteers taking payments, among other things. It’s 100% doable, but it’s not something that can be thrown together at the last minute.

Items sold in auctions may include a variety of things like art pieces, wine, gift baskets, gift certificates, and timeshares for vacation rentals. But this is still a passive way to drive donations. Your donors are giving money but not necessarily connecting the transaction to supporting your organization.

You could adapt your auction to mirror your theme. For example, Doug’s silent auction could be made up entirely of items from the Congo, such as handmade vases, paintings, drums, décor, or products made from families in the Congo who will be affected by the donation. You could even add pictures of the student who made the product to illustrate the mission of your cause. This might encourage donors to increase their bids because they make a stronger connection to the cause.

Don’t organize just another silent auction; add in a level of impact. It could make a world of difference to your donor.

Make The Connection

As Brandon, our digital bard would say, “get your ‘ask’ in gear.” I’ve used the analogy of your event presentation as the cake and the atmosphere you create as the icing. Think of the ask as the cherry on top.

You just presented the audience with the most compelling argument for why they should support your cause. Why wouldn’t you offer them an opportunity to help make it happen? Otherwise, you’re just throwing an expensive party for name awareness. Support is great, but you need funds in order to execute your mission.

Up Next: Part 6

In Part 6, the final chapter of this series, we’ll put all the pieces together and take a look at what happens when your event is over. Just because your event ended doesn’t mean you’re done.

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