Major gifts with a side of polenta
One way to cultivate new and existing major donors is the ‘hosted dinner’. 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, and should not be treated as such. 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 that is fully invested in your organization. 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 of means who is interested and capable of putting together a stylish dinner party.
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.
When you get to the ask portion of the evening, have your host share their testimony of support for the ministry. Nothing beats having a peer who is a supporter ask on behalf of the organization. The host’s giving level should be significant, because it will set the bar for the level of gifts you expect from the other gifts. If the host gives at a $5,000-$10,000 level, no one should be in the room that is incapable of that kind of giving.
You don’t need to expect commitments right then and there, although 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 to hear what they thought of the evening. Don’t forget to send out your ‘thank you’ cards.
Follow up is essential. The hosted dinner may or may not be the final step in your relationship with a major donor. 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 provide an individualized major gift proposal to each guest before the gifts are realized.
Fundraising got your head spinning? Don’t know quite where to start? Check out Key Concepts and learn the basic ideas that will help you build and maintain a strong and growing donor base.