Asking for Money at an Event

One of the things that never fails to surprise me at least a little bit is when someone comes up to me at a fundraising event where I have stood on the stage in front of them and asked for money and thanks me for how I handled the appeal.

I mean who would ever think that people would thank you for asking them for money? But when you stop to think it through it actually makes sense.

So many people have spent long evenings at fundraising events, often poorly run. They have experience. (Be sure and look at our videos and materials on how to do a great fundraising event.) Even at well-produced events, it’s common for the person who does the appeal, or “makes the ask”, to just be confusing and vague.

Will Donors Thank You for Asking them for Money? A Nonprofit Resource by DonorFarm

Most often it’s because the person doing the presentation is uncomfortable and not sure how to go about it, then they stumble along and everyone in the room gets uncomfortable. It really does not lead to great results!

So here are a few things to remember when it’s time to do the appeal at a fundraising event.

First of all just come to terms with the fact that a fundraising event has one actual purpose, to raise money. Everyone there knows that the purpose of the event is to raise money (unless you didn’t really do your planning and promotion right). So make it easy for them to just give money and maybe they will actually appreciate it! Here is what I like to do:

If everyone in the room knows the answers to those three questions they are pretty much ready to write a check.

Remember Your Giving Checklist - DonorFarm

Item One

Remember you have to make sure they know why they are going to give. We talk about this all of the time on DonorFarm because it’s foundational to pretty much everything else related to nurturing donor relationships. Here are the three main things everyone has to understand:

  1. What is the problem you are working to address?
  2. What are you doing to address it effectively?
  3. How is my giving tonight going to help you do it better, faster, or more of it?
  4. If everyone in the room knows the answers to those three questions they are pretty much ready to write a check.

Item Two

Have some mechanism for them to make a donation. I like to use a simple giving card. It has a place for their contact info, a two sentence summary of what’s going to be done with their donation, and some suggested giving amounts so they know the ballpark for the size of their donation. It should have a way to give by credit card, maybe a way to say they can get their employer to match their donation or a way to let you know they want to give a gift of appreciated stock or something else that requires further interaction.

Keep it simple and walk them through it verbally. It’s not that they can’t figure it out, but just simply and smoothly walking them through the card gives them time to process the idea of making a good donation and it will increase the amount given. Resist the temptation to just say “Here is a giving card, fill it out and turn it in whenever you like.” That’s easier, but you won’t raise much money.

Item Three

Make sure they know what to do with the card at the end of the evening. We almost never suggest they take it home and think about it. It’s far better the ask them to turn it in before they leave. And not just drop it in a basket or something, but have them hand it to one of the people who work for the organization, or to you, the person who did the appeal. That way they have confidence that you acknowledge their donation and are taking personal care of it.

Effective Events Donors Will Love!

One day we were talking to the founder of a great organization who was telling us how they needed help making their donor events great. He went on to tell us how every year the organization would ask him to bring groups of his friends to their annual fund raising event, but he was always hesitant to do it. His reason was that he was actually embarrassed by the events because they were so poorly done.

Be sure and grasp what was going on here. You couldn’t find a person who was more “bought in” to what the organization was doing. He was the founder and the whole thing was birthed out of his own vision and passion!

Help Your Best Donors Bring Their Friends to Events — A Nonprofit Resource by DonorFarm

He had invested unknown quantities of his own money to make it happen and had watched over the work for years. But he was embarrassed, not by the work or how it’s done, but by how poorly the donor events were produced.

So he hired us, we created a fabulous event, and the organization started taking giant steps forward with the backing of a whole new crop of generous funders. 

It’s not easy, but…

It’s not easy, but it’s kind of simple. Here are some keys to doing a great, effective donor event that the people who attend will actually love:

First Key

Think about the donors who you want to have there. Wow, so many organizations totally mess up on this one. I hear them say things like, “OUR DONORS don’t like nice dinners, they want us to spend our money on programs, not events.” And so they have events that are failures and that nobody likes going to and they can’t figure out why.

Maybe because they need to come to terms with the truth of this fact: NOBODY likes going to poorly done events at tacky places. If you want to get your wealthiest donors to bring their wealthiest friends then maybe you should think about having it at a place they might actually enjoy being at.

Second Key

Make sure you have a great presentation. And by great, I mean one that doesn’t drag on longer than people want to listen. Here is a rule of thumb, nobody should be talking for more than about ten minutes about the work of the organization.

Oh, I understand that you have a lot more than that to say, but this isn’t your chance to tell all that you know. Just make sure you get across these three things in as few words as possible:

  • What is the problem your organization is there to solve?
  • What is the solution that you provide?
  • How is the donor’s next donation going to make a difference?

Remember that some things can be communicated verbally. Some can be communicated through great, short pieces of video. Some things can be reinforced by brief messages on a screen through a powerpoint presentation that just rolls during dinner. Some things can be stated on a very brief print piece at each place setting. Use all of these things, and others, to get your message across without making your guests wish you would bring it to a close.

Third Key

Remember that you have competition. I know, I know, non-profit organizations aren’t here to compete with one another, they are here to solve problems and help people. Great. The point is that there are a lot of great organizations out there doing a lot of great work and donors have to make some choices. They are only going to attend a certain number of events. They are only going to write a certain number of checks. Be sure and do things right and maybe your organization will be one that they choose.

Team DonorFarm!
Jessica Ching & Marshall Pennell, Founders of DonorFarm

There is so much to producing a great event for your donors, and here at DonorFarm we will keep presenting material that will help you. The main thing is to be ready to make some changes. Reject the idea that is so common among non-profit leaders, the idea that “I do events right and present my message in the best way, there is something wrong with all of those people who just won’t attend or give!”

Do something that donors will love, present your work in a way that makes sense, ask for funding in a way that is compelling and simple, and you’re going to see some good results. And keep coming back to DonorFarm to learn more about growing and nurturing great donor relationships!