Direct Mail Strategy at Events?!?


When Jim and I started Better Fundraising and the organizations we served started raising more money, they began to ask us to help with their gala fundraising events.

We had them apply four principles from direct response fundraising.  The results were a resounding success, and here they are in case they’re helpful to you:

  • Figure out the Ask first.  The first thing that most successful events do is to figure out exactly what the Ask is going to be.  Then they structure the event/run of show so that the entire event delivers the Ask with as much power as possible.  It’s the same in direct response: figure out the ask or the offer, then write and design the letter/email to deliver it as powerfully as possible. 
  • Don’t just Ask for support, use an Offer.  An event will raise more money if it asks donors to fund something specific, as opposed to just “supporting” the organization. 
  • Be comfortable sharing a need.  Most of the events we worked on used to share nothing but good news.  It sounded like everyone had been helped, and that things were going great.  We encouraged them to mention (but not dwell in) that people or the cause need help today, and to be specific about the help that’s needed.  Their donors – now that they had a fuller understanding of the situation – gave more.
  • Echo & Reinforce.  If the event features a reply card where the donor either fills in their info or grabs the QR code/giving URL, make sure the headline and ask on the reply card echoes and reinforces the wording of the Ask from stage.  A direct mail reply card that doesn’t match the letter will lower response, and an event reply card that doesn’t reinforce what’s said from stage will also lower response.

There are of course some ways that event fundraising is different than direct response.  For instance, you have people’s attention for so much longer that you can go deeper into the issues and make a more thorough case.  You don’t have to get to the point so quickly.  You can tell longer stories.  You can even use a little jargon.

But in our experience, borrowing these four principles from direct mail fundraising will help your event raise more money.

The role of major donors in promoting and funding your special events

Your special fundraising event is not too far way. You’re scrambling to put all the pieces together. You are stressed out and have no idea how you are going to accomplish all you need to do before the big day.

Have you ever felt this way? Or do you feel this way right now?!

Over the years I have personally planned special events both large and small. Most recently, I’ve consulted and advised our clients how to make the most of their fundraising events. I know how stressful it can be to plan these events. I have also learned something powerful…

Your Major Donors are So Important to Event Success

Just like most fundraising endeavors, your fundraising event will rest on the shoulders of a few people – your major donors.

If you want your event to be as successful as possible, here are a few suggestions to help your major donors help you and your cause:

  1. Ask your major donors to underwrite or sponsor your event. After all, the goal of your event is to raise money. So why not ask your major donors BEFORE your event to help underwrite the cost? Or if they own a business, you can ask them to make a donation in exchange for business promotion (that’s what event sponsorship is).
  2. Ask your major donors to invite 10 of their closest friends to come to the event. Most likely your major donors have friends that could be major donors to your cause. Special events are a great way to introduce their friends to your mission. And if your fundraising event does a great job motivating people in the room to make a donation, you have a high likelihood that these “new friends” will become donors.
    • NOTE: if a friend or invitee of a current major donor makes a gift, treat that person like a major donor even if their gift doesn’t merit that status. Think of the gift they’ve given you as a ‘test gift’ to see if they really like your organization and like the way you treat donors. Treat them like a Major and you’ve massively increased the chance that they’ll become a Major!
  3. Ask your major donors to make a gift at the event. Do not leave their giving up to chance at the event! Before the event, ask them to make a gift at the event. This gives you the opportunity to ask for what you need, and to answer any questions your donors might have regarding the fundraising offer or how the funds will be used.
  4. Ask your major donors to give a matching gift PRIOR to the event. There is nothing better than walking into the room the day of your event with matching funds available. Donors love knowing their gift will be matched – and their impact increased. Matching funds will increase the net fundraising results of your event.

Not every tip is right for every donor. Your job is to know each of your major donors, then to apply the right strategy for each!

Give Each Major Donor a Special Role at Your Next Event

Your current major donors want to help. After all, they are already invested in your work, and they want to see you succeed.

So give each major donor a specific role at your next event. Use at least one of the strategies above to give each major donor a special role to play. Then if you do, several fantastic things will happen:

  • You’ll raise more money.
  • You’ll know that the donors who make-or-break your event are going in primed and ready to give.
  • Your majors will appreciate the extra communication and the clarity around their role
  • You will be able to Thank them for more than just their gift.
  • You’ll have involved them in ways other than just giving – which increases their likelihood of giving again.

And here’s perhaps the most motivating outcome of all: you’ll be more at peace on the day of the event – and at the event – knowing that it’s going to go great!