If you want to find new donors for your non-profit, you need to get out of the office. Your job, as a frontline fundraiser, is to put yourself in a position to meet as many new donors as possible… preferably with a warm introduction or in a situation where you are meeting the donor alongside others who already know, trust, and support your organization.
A great way to put yourself in the same room with new prospects is by attending large networking events on behalf of your non-profit. This strategy involves going to large conferences and events in your organization’s mission field with the goal of meeting new donors at the event. For example, the staff of a non-profit that is working to end homelessness may attend conferences, roundtables, and other events that attract donors who care about poverty and homelessness. The fundraising team would seek to meet as many potential donors as possible at the conference, and then follow-up with each of those contacts after the event is over.
Another way to utilize this strategy is by attending events along with your board, donors, or other friends of the organization. For example, a board member may take your Development Director to the local chamber of commerce meeting, where she will introduce you to other business people in a friendly setting. Your Development Director would then follow-up with each of those contacts after the event is over.
This strategy is different from a non-ask event strategy. In that strategy, your organization is hosting events, and inviting people to attend to hear about your mission. In this networking event strategy, your staff is seeking out events hosted by other organizations, businesses, government agencies, and trade associations to attend.
Networking Events are Great Places to Meet Mid-Level Donors
I usually say that this strategy is a great way to meet mid-level donors, because mid-level donors are the most likely people to attend these events… you’ll meet lots of businesspeople and small business owners, lawyers, doctors, upper mid-level managers at large companies, etc. Sometimes you’ll meet CEOs and billionaire philanthropists, but usually these people are too busy to attend these events or even if they do attend they are swamped by other attendees and you won’t have the chance to make a personal connection. That’s ok…. Just meet as many of the attendees as possible and try to turn them into donors to your non-profit.
As you look at networking events, remember you are looking for events where you think there are people attending who might be interested in your work, and who have the potential to become donors to your organization. You don’t want to attend events that are made up entirely of staff of other similar organizations. Thus, if you work for a homeless shelter, you might want to attend a chamber of commerce event because there will likely be a large number of civic-minded business people there, but you wouldn’t want to attend an event restricted to staff at all the local homeless shelters… at least not for fundraising purposes. You could attend for training purposes or other reasons, but don’t expect to find new donors.
Also, remember that there are number of different ways to use these events. You can simply go as an attendee, or you can try to be a presenter or roundtable participant, or you can rent a booth in the vendor area, if it’s the right kind of conference. In my experience, the best way to participate, if its appropriate, is to try to get a speaking role or a spot on a panel, so you can position yourself as an expert, then spend the rest of the time trying to meet as many people as possible. If that’s not a possibility, then simply attend the event and do your best to meet everyone that you can.
3 Keys for Networking Event Success
To be successful utilizing this networking event strategy at your non-profit, there are three key things to keep in mind:
FIRST, your donors and board members probably don’t know that you want to be invited to attend events with them, so you will need to let them know. Say to them, “Jim or Sue, we’re really tying to grow our profile in the community. Are there any networking events coming up where it would be appropriate for me to tag along and meet your colleagues?”
SECOND, the fortune is in the follow-up. Thus, you’ll need to be prepared to collect business cards or contact information from everyone you meet and then follow-up with them to get them into your donor funnel. The best way to do this is to have something you can send them after the event… this gives you a reason to collect their information. For example, I once worked with a wildlife organization where the development director would say “we have a really neat stuffed version of our mascot Alan the Alligator, I’d love to send you one to give to your children, can you give me your business card?” Of course, you don’t need to send something that costs money like a stuffed animal. You could also simply say, “Our latest newsletter had a great article about keeping your kids safe online… can I send you a copy?”
And THIRD, before you go to a networking event, be sure you have a couple of stories and anecdotes about your work in your pocket to discuss with people you meet. Be ready with stories that are either funny, emotional, or really interesting. You don’t need a dozen… just a few stories you can fall back on when someone asks about your organization.