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How can a small dinner party can bring in big gifts?

Fine Dining

Major gifts with a side of polenta

One way to cultivate new and existing major donors is the ‘hosted dinner party’. The basic idea behind a hosted dinner is that one of your committed donors invites a small group of donors and/or potential donors to their home or similar setting to meet with the leadership of your organization over dinner. The atmosphere should be casual and intimate, because you’re trying to build new relationships with people who are able to make a significant gift to your ministry.

The anatomy of a hosted dinner

The hosted dinner is not ‘Event Fundraising’ in the traditional sense. You’re not booking an expensive venue, hiring a band, or selling tickets. Instead, think of this as a super high level volunteer opportunity.

Start with one of your major donors who loves what you do. A board member, advisory board member or member of the pastoral council, for instance. They will be the host. It will be their responsibility to provide the venue, invite the guests, and provide the meal. The host needs to be a person who can put together a stylish dinner party and friends who can make major gifts.

You don’t need a theme for this kind of dinner, although if it’s seasonally appropriate AND desired by your host, something tasteful is acceptable. If anything, the theme for the dinner needs to be a ‘night to talk about Your mission’. Your guests should be aware that you will be talking to them about your organization and encouraging their financial participation before hand. There’s nothing worse than getting invited to a dinner under false pretenses and having an ‘ask’ sprung on you out of nowhere.

The guest list should be small and exclusive. You don’t broadcast these kinds of events to the general public. If possible, the people who you invite should be those who are already supporters at some level, but are not giving to the full level of their ability. To find the people you should invite, you will look through a list of your top donors with your host looking for people they know who could make a major gift but don’t yet.

Sharing, discussing, and asking

One of the major benefits about this format is that it allows your leadership to hear from some of your top donors. Make sure that the opening of part of the dinner has plenty of time for people to chat in an informal and comfortable way. Plan with your host on a good time to transition into your presentation mode. Waiting until dinner is common, because then the guests are well fed and (hopefully) happy. You don’t want to be too ‘salesy’ in your presentation, although your guests should be told in advance that you’ll be sharing with them. If you can have a video testimony of what your ministry does, this is the kind materials that can be particularly effective.

Bring your listening hat and don’t forget to put it on during the evening. Ask questions about what people think about your organization, how they perceive the work that you do, how they came to support your organization. Make space for them to ask questions and be ready to answer them in sufficient detail.

Start the ask portion of the evening with a testimony from your host about the ministry. Nothing beats having a peer who is a supporter ask on behalf of the organization. The host’s should be making a large gift, because it will set the bar for the gifts from the other guests. If the host gives at a $5,000-$10,000 level, everyone else should be able to make that kind of gift.

You don’t need to expect commitments right then and there. A pledge card should be provided along with a hard copy of your presentation. Just let the guests know that you’ll be following up with each one of them personally later. Don’t forget to send out your ‘thank you’ cards.

Don’t forget to follow up.

Follow up is essential. The hosted dinner may or may not be the final step on the path to a major gift.

More than likely, it will be a significant milestone on their journey to giving rather than the destination itself. You will still probably need to send a personalized major gift proposal to each guest.

Looking for more articles on major gift fundraising? Try these:

Check out The Fundraiser’s Playbook for a full list of fundraising articles.

Would you like to learn more about raising money for Church and Ministry? Check out Letters From The Almoner, now available on Amazon.com.

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