Using Events to Identify and Build Relationships with Donors

Imagine you just had your annual gala supporting an incredible cause for your Nonprofit organization. You ensured every detail was perfect, from the live band to the gourmet meal you served. You created flyers, posted to social media, and even sold the most tickets you have ever sold for an annual gala.

But, for some reason, you were unable to reach your fundraising goals. You leave confused, wondering why your efforts did not result in the outcome you were hoping for.

The solution: Focus on filling the seats at your annual gala, or any event, with invested, high net worth donors that are truly dedicated to your cause, rather than focusing on merely filling as many seats as possible.

As it turns out, you can actually sell fewer tickets to your event and actually raise more money.

If you are focusing on targeting the right audience, filling your seats with valuable donors, and using your event as a networking opportunity for future events, you are setting your organization up for success in the long run. By using a variety of tactics, you can build relationships with the right people and raise more money for your cause.

Using Events as Lead Generators

While there are many types of events you can put on for your organization, galas, golf events, and intimate happy hours or social hours are the best types of events for attracting and networking with high net worth donors. In these environments, you can connect with donors that are truly invested in your cause and have the ability to make a substantial difference.

Create an event community

In order to attract these donors, you want to create an event community that entices the movers and shakers of your community. Business owners, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, and community leaders are a great place to start when it comes to identifying influential and impactful people in your community.

Enroll people in your cause

Finding influential people in your community is the first step to filling the seats of your event with the right people. The second step is enrolling people in your cause. When spreading the word about your event, it’s important to highlight the fun of your event but always keep your cause at the forefront. If people only attend your event for the fun party and not the cause itself, they are less likely to make a donation and benefit your organization.

What to communicate?

We suggests highlighting these key details to attract the right crowd:

  1. What is the mission/goal of the event?
  2. Where does the money go?
  3. Why is it important?
  4. What auction items will be available to purchase?
  5. Other high-level guests or VIPs to draw them in.


Promoting Your Event

In order to get the right people to your event, you have to make sure they know about your event. By using a combination of promotional strategies, you can make sure the movers and shakers of your community have their eyes on your event.

While social media posts, email blasts, and flyers are a great way to spread the word as far and wide as possible, commit to these tactics to make sure you are getting the most out of every seat at your event:

  • Relationships, relationships, relationships: Invest your time and energy in networking and building meaningful relationships. Your organization’s board is a great place to start. Tapping into their networks will open countless doors.
  • Recruit an honorary chair: Benefit Auctioneer, Danny Hooper, suggests selecting a high profile person from your community to be an honorary chair. Their only expectation is that they attend your event and allow you to cultivate their network of contacts in your promotional efforts, in order to elevate your event and in turn, your cause.
  • Sell corporate tables: Reach out to local businesses and ask if they are interested in buying a table at your event. It’s important to remember to express your desire for qualified, like-minded guests. Every seat at your event is valuable, but only if you are filling them with the right people.
  • Scout other events: Find like-minded causes in your area with major recurring donors and reach out to them. Organizations typically publicly thank their large donors after their events. This creates a great opportunity for you to find major donors that may be interested in your cause as well. *Important note: No poaching! Find events with similar causes and see if those donors are interested in your cause as well, rather than stealing donors from an organization with the same cause.*
  • Promote live auction items: Big ticket, unique travel experiences used in a live auction create excitement and buzz around your event while also attracting new donors. By promoting the major items you will use in your auction, you create anticipation for your event and the live auction. If attendees are aware of these items beforehand, they will walk in the door excited and ready to bid!


Using a Live Auction to Identify High Net Worth Donors

While big-ticket auction items like unique travel experiences can help create excitement and buzz for your event, they can also help you identify high net worth donors during your event. If you pay close attention during the live auction, you can make a note of who is bidding, how much they are willing to spend, and what items create the most excitement.

*Who would you rather take out to dinner: someone who bids on a $300 gift basket, or someone who bids on a $3,000 trip to Tuscany?*

On the night of the event, it’s easy to get caught up in the small details. If you are focusing too much on the food, decorations, or entertainment, you may be missing key opportunities to identify and interact with high net worth donors that can really make a difference for your cause. Delegate small jobs to others so you have the freedom to be observant during the live auction.

Situation: Let’s say a bidding war breaks out over that incredible trip to Fiji you are offering. You end with one winner and have successfully identified one major donor with pockets deep enough to bid a substantial amount to win a trip to Fiji. If you were paying close attention, you were also able to identify several other major donors that were willing to bid a large amount but were unable to win the bidding war.

Pro tip: Make sure you are offering enough items at your live auction. We recommend offering at least 7-12 items to properly fill the allotted time for the live auction. Consignment auction items are an awesome way to round out your auction offerings without the risk of not selling them. Offering a consignment trip to Fiji or Italy will help you identify those donors without the stress of paying for it if it doesn’t sell.


After the live auction is over, find these potential donors, introduce yourself, and spark up conversations with them to find out why they are in attendance, what about the cause is important to them, and how you can build a relationship with them to keep them investing in your cause and coming back to your events year after year.

Post Event Follow Up  ️

It’s important to remember that the relationships you started do not end when the event is over! Personally thank every donor who spent over a certain dollar amount at your event. You can send hand-written thank you notes and can even send high-level donors a special gift, such as a bottle of wine or a picture of a child they are helping through their donation.

Invest in the long game with your donors! Offer to take them to lunch and invite them to social gatherings. People want to give their money to great people who support causes they care about. By focusing on building meaningful relationships with the right people, you are setting yourself up for long-term success.