Special events are the most widely used method for cultivating new major donors. Nonprofits host big events as an entry point for potential high net-value donors to come learn about the cause and meet the people behind the scenes (that’s you), planting the seed for a relationship that moves them toward major giving.

The toughest piece of this donor cultivation process – especially at a big fundraising event – is building that relationship. If you’re busy running around and you only have time to introduce yourself to a few people, who do you spend your time socializing with?


How can you tell which new faces in the room may be interested in – or have the resources for – becoming a major donor? Even once you’ve identified these people, how do you go about setting up a post-event meeting to further discuss their involvement?

One of the best ways to zero in on these folks is through offering big-ticket live auction items like Experiential travel packages. Here are 8 steps for cultivating major donors using no-risk auction travel packages:

1. Check in with existing donors before the event

The first step is to reach out to your existing VIP donors and make sure they are attending your event. This may seem trivial, but it’s a crucial step. Even if they have already RSVP’d, a phone call is a great way to touch base and tell them how much you’re looking forward to seeing them. 

2. Encourage VIP donors to bring guests

When you check in with your donors, encourage them to bring some new guests. Let them know you look forward to meeting them. Inviting new contacts to come and learn more about the organization’s mission, culture and philosophy is how you plant the seed for a long-lasting relationship that may lead to major giving.

New, high-net-value donors want to be wooed by a Nonprofit, and the event and experience you give them provide the perfect opportunity to do so. Keep in mind, guests are attending your event to support the cause, but they also want to experience the excitement of the gathering itself. If they see an item on the auction block that piques their interest – especially if it’s something unique and different – that excitement will grow. 

Offer-them-the-trip-of-a-lifetime3. Offer them the trip of a lifetime

Of all the auction items you can offer in your auction, Experiential travel has the broadest appeal. Everyone loves to travel – especially charity event patrons. Of the winning bidders we polled, more than half say they take 4 or more leisure trips per year, with almost 20% saying they take at least 6 trips!

Whether it’s a first-time bidder at a charity auction or an active supporter and major donor, winning an auction item that whisks them away on an unforgettable Experience is going to leave a positive lasting impression. 

As part of a broader donor development strategy, unique Experiences provide an excellent opportunity for development teams seeking new ways to procure, cultivate and steward major donors.

4. Pinpoint fresh new donors

Think a first-time donor isn’t likely to spend high amounts of money on an extravagant trip? Think again. Of Winspire winning bidders, 1 in 3 had limited or no involvement with the nonprofit they purchased the experience through, and 1 in 5 were guests who had minimal prior exposure to the nonprofit.

5. Identify major donors

Why does experiential travel get bidders so engaged? One-of-a-kind travel packages tend to grab the attention of guests during the auction because they wouldn’t have access to these opportunities otherwise.

A compelling travel Experience can instantly change their mindset about how much they want to spend. In fact, 62% of Winspire winners did not plan on purchasing a travel package at the event and 25% hadn’t planned on spending more than $500 total. That once-in-a-lifetime travel package, however, is the reason that potential $500 donation can change into a $5,000 bid – sometimes even more.


Read: Why Donor Travel Budgets Are The Key to Fundraising SuccessTravel budgets offer Nonprofits a huge revenue opportunity when you have donors who consistently set aside money each year to spend on leisure travel.Read More →

6. Leverage donor travel budgets

Beyond the excitement of the moment, the reality is that most people put money aside each year for vacation travel. If they see a trip they like, chances are they already have the funds to make the purchase.

If a guest wins the trip, they get an amazing travel experience and enjoy the bonus of feeling good about helping a great cause. For the charity, auctioning big-ticket items is a wonderful way to raise even more money. It’s a win for everyone involved.

7. Cultivating donors after the event

For Nonprofits, the value of sending donors on an incredible trip goes beyond just making them happy. When a guests buy big-ticket auction items, it helps you identify those who have the resources to potentially become major givers down the road. These are people you want to focus your follow-up communication and relationship-building practices on to help move them along the donor-development continuum.

Doing this doesn’t have to be complicated. Contact the winning donors to congratulate them and ask if they have any questions about booking their trip. While Winspire will handle entire the booking process, sharing in their excitement about the vacation they purchased is a good way to connect.

After they return from their Experience, connect with them over lunch to hear about their trip and learn more about why they chose to support your cause. These conversations don’t necessarily have to do anything with fundraising; simply convey your gratitude and show genuine interest in the donor’s experience.

Finally, open up the conversation about their future travel plans. Then you can look into experiential travel that matches those desires and feature these in your next big event.

8. Word-of-mouth donor development

There’s also a lot that will happen behind the scenes to benefit the charity. Consider this: The winning donor will likely talk with friends and family about the event. After the trip is complete it is an instant conversation starter – not to mention any pictures they post to Facebook or Instagram, which are great opportunities for hashtags for your organization!

When people share their Experience, more people will become aware of your charity’s name, your reputation for putting on great events will grow, and interest in attending and bidding will increase. 

It all starts with giving new potential donors an unforgettable experience at a fun event and with extraordinary auction items.