When you hear the term “fundraising event,” what images does it conjure up? If you’re anything like me, you think about sponsorship levels, solicitation calls, event fundraising goals, and revenue generators like silent auctions and raffles.
What if I told you there was a type of fundraising event that could significantly impact your organization’s bottom line for years to come, yet didn’t involve any money changing hands? It’s true… they’re called “non-ask events,” and if your organization isn’t using them to help cultivate donors, now is the time to start.
What is a Non-Ask Event?
A non-ask event is an event, held by your non-profit, that targets donors and prospects, but does not include any fundraising ask or cost of admission for attendees. The goal of a non-ask event is to move donors closer to your organization (and, eventually, toward even larger gifts and involvement), and to move prospects towards making their first gift.
Non-ask events are an opportunity to tell attendees about your mission, introduce them to your staff, and make them feel like part of your team. While these types of events can take many forms, generally they involve a tour of your office / facility, with time for socializing and a short program, or they can be held at a local restaurant where attendees hear about your mission over cocktails and light appetizers.
As part of these events, you will want to give your guests time to eat, drink, and mingle, then put on a short program that introduces your mission: what you do and how you do it. You’ll want to come at it from an emotional angle: why is your mission important? What are the outcomes of your work? Introduce your staff. Give attendees some time to ask questions, and send them home with some literature. Let them know that someone will be following up with them to see if they have any further questions.
Then, send them home. The most successful non-ask events are short, and the program and speeches don’t drag on. Aim to have attendees in and out in 60-90 minutes, with only 10-15 minutes of talking. If you are doing a tour, try to have 10-15 minutes of talking and a 10-15 minute tour.
Setting Event Expectations
One big reason that non-ask events are successful is that you set expectations for your guests that are not intimidating. Make sure they know, before they come, that you want to show off your work, but that there will be no fundraising at the event. This is key: prospects will feel much more comfortable coming if they know there will be no asks at the event, just a chance to hear more about the organization.
Making Your Non-Ask Event Successful
The biggest way to ensure the success of your non-ask event is to make sure you get people there. Depending on the size of your organization and how many of these events you have held in the past, you may be trying to get anywhere from 5-50 people to your event. No matter how large or small your goal is, the best way to make sure people want to come is by making sure they are asked by people they know.
Put together an event committee (the committee can be small… just a handful of committed people should be enough) to help invite people to the event. The committee should be asking friends, colleagues, and other contacts to come and hear about the organization. Your board can spread the word as well.
You can fill up the rest of the seats by making sure that you are always asking people who display interest in your organization to attend. At many organizations, the first step on the cultivation highway, after a staff member or board member meets a new prospect, is to invite the prospect to a non-ask event. To make this model a success, many organizations hold 2-4 such events per year, to make sure that there is always one just around the corner.
The Fortune is in the Follow-Up
So… you’ve held a non-ask event for the purposes of increasing your fundraising capabilities. 10 people came. They seemed motivated and interested. Now what?
For non-ask events, the fortune, as they say, is in the follow-up. The event was a starting point. You told people that you would be following up with them to see if they had any additional questions… now do so! Someone from your development staff (someone who was introduced at the event) should call every attendee to follow up. Ask questions like: What did you think about our organization? Do you have any other questions? Do you have any suggestions on how we could be doing things better?
Get the person engaged and involved. Close your call by asking: would you be interested in getting more involved with our organization? Even at this point, don’t ask for money. Ask the person to volunteer, to serve on a committee, to come in and share their ideas with you. Get them on the bus, before you make your ask.
Then stay in touch with them. Send them your newsletters, invite them to other events, thank them for their ideas and their volunteering. Then, after a few more contacts, make an ask (or, for current donors, make a larger ask). By that point, your prospect will be part of your team, and will not only expect an ask, but will be grateful for the chance to help “our” organization.