Don’t Do Another Special Event! (except this one)


Stay classy fundraisers!

Galas and runs and breakfasts and ice buckets and fashion shows…

I am 47 for Pete’s sake! I’m looking for events that can convert participants into donors instead of just sucking the life out of me and my team.

Events are a great way to raise funds for most charities, but some make the mistake of piling on too many in a given year and stealing staff time from developing major gifts. And if you still don’t believe that major gifts are the Holy Grail, then start following bloggers like Gail Perry (@GailPerrync).

So here’s the exception: A classy cultivation event for your top donors and prospects that takes no time to organize and actually allows you to interact with the donors in a meaningful way. I model mine on the classic cinq a sept – a social gathering between 5pm and 7pm with a glass of wine and non-dinner-ruining snacks.

This is the Quebec version by the way. The original French cinq a sept involves sex with your mistress. And honestly, you can sometimes take “donor-centric” too far.

Organizing it in 4 steps: 

Do this right and you can get away with a 6-week timeline and ZERO dollar budget.

  1. Identify a host with a nice house, preferably a donor or board member. 99% of the time they’ll volunteer to pay for the wine and cheese without being asked. You don’t need much for a two-hour event.
  2. Invite key donors and prospects and the connectors who know them. Aim for 20-50 people and get enough rsvps to cover the 10-15% who will cancel last-minute or no-show. Tell them it’s an awareness event only, with no ask, otherwise they’ll wonder what’s coming.
  3. Have a brief presentation on something super-interesting from one of your frontline staff (20 mins max). Start with a 2-minute intro by a senior staffer and a thank you to the host. No other speeches –  people get tired standing around with their empty wine glass.* Let the guests know you’ll follow up for their feedback over the next week or two.
  4. Post-event: gather notes from staff and connectors on who they talked to and what level of interest the guests showed. Follow up with a call or email to each guest and an appropriate next step.**

Don’t stress out if the first event doesn’t go exactly as desired. Every charity has its own vibe and you might need that first event to see what works best for you. Have fun!


* Here’s your schedule: 5:00-5:40, gather and mingle; 5:40-6-ish, speech; rest of the eve is left for mingling.

** “Next step?” If the guest is super-important, you may already have a cultivation strategy in place with different touch points. For the others, follow up and ask them what they thought and whether they’d like more information. Invite them to meet to get their opinion on other ways to build awareness for your charity (maybe they’ll host the next event). Let them know when you’ll be in touch next.


About Siobhan Aspinall

About Siobhan Aspinall: I am a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), passionate about the environment, social causes and surfing. I have been fundraising in Vancouver, Canada for over 20 years and love working with people who have a fear of fundraising. Call me for help developing a first-time fundraising plan, starting up a major gifts program, writing a case for support, or anything else that's keeping you awake at night! Please find me on linkedin and tell me what you'd like to see in future posts! : ) Photo Credit (sanddollar header): Minette Layne via Compfight cc
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