Far too many non-profits agonize over how to find new donors. They beg board members for names, they send cold prospecting letters to the biggest philanthropists in town, and they repeatedly ask for donations on over social media… usually with very little to show for it.
While board member referrals, direct mail, and social media can all have a place in your prospecting plan, it’s important to make sure that you are spending the majority of your time focused on those strategies that will give you the greatest return for your efforts. For non-profit fundraisers, the 80/20 rule definitely applies: 20% of your prospecting efforts will result in 80% of the new prospects you generate for your fundraising program.
One of the best ways to find new prospects for your non-profit (and to support your other prospecting efforts) is to create a non-ask event strategy at your organization.
What is a Non-Ask Event?
A non-ask event is an event that you hold to introduce new prospects to your non-profit. Some consultants call these “point of entry” or “introductory events.” As the name implies, while these events are ultimately geared at finding new donors, you won’t be asking anyone for money at the event. Instead, you will be talking to the attendees about your work, and casting a vision for them about the future of your non-profit.
These events can be held at your office or one of your facilities, or at the home or office of one of your board members or supporters. Good non-ask events last for 60-90 minutes, and can include a tour of your facility (if appropriate), lots of social time, a short presentation by your Executive Director or a member of your board, and some light refreshments or cocktails.
That’s it – nothing fancy, and nothing too long or onerous. Just a quick and emotionally compelling introduction to the work of your non-profit.
Focus on the Follow-Up
The key to success with non-ask events is having a system for following up with the attendees to cultivate them and ultimately ask them for a gift. This means that your team will need to make sure to get contact information for every single person who attends the event. During the event, you should mention (as part of the presentation) that someone from your staff will be following up with everyone who is there to get their thoughts about your organization.
Then, within 7-10 days after the event, someone from your development team who was at the event should pick up the phone to call every person who attended. During the call, you should thank them for coming, and ask them if they have any questions about your work or your mission. Then ask them, “would you ever see yourself getting more involved with our organization?”
Their answer to this question can guide you in your next steps. Ideally, they will express an interest in getting involved – either as a volunteer, or as part of a committee, or simply as part of your e-mail newsletter list. You can then place them into your prospect cultivation system with an eye to asking them for a first gift in 2-4 months.
Why Are Non-Ask Events Effective?
Non-ask events are effective because they are non-threatening. You are not asking people to make a donation, and you are not charging a ticket price. Instead, you are giving them the opportunity to come hear about your mission and meet your team.
Non-ask events are also effective because they are non-threatening ways for your board, donors, and other supporters to make referrals. One of the best ways to get prospects to attend your non-ask events is to get your board members and other friends of your organization to attend the event and bring along a couple of people from their network. This is an easy way for people (including board members) to make introductions for you.
Many non-profits hold three or four non-ask events each year, and ask certain board members, donors, and volunteers to captain these events by agreeing to attend and bring along two or three friends. If four of your supporters co-captain an event and each bring along three friends, that’s twelve new prospects for your non-profit, all together in one room. Some of your donors and supporters may also be willing to hold their own non-ask event on your behalf (at their home or office) and take responsibility for inviting their entire network to attend.
If you develop a non-ask event schedule early in the year, your staff can also use non-ask events as a primary step in the cultivation process by inviting new prospects to the next regularly scheduled non-ask event at your facility. Your team can then use these non-ask events as easy reasons for a second donor “touch” after an initial prospect meeting or phone call.
Setting Up a Non-Ask Event System for Your Non-Profit
The key to success with non-ask events lies in setting up a system for using them at your organization. This means laying out a schedule of non-ask events well in advance, and then asking board members and other supporters to help you by getting their contacts to attend. You should explain to your supporters that their friends will not be asked for money as part of the event, but will be contacted at a later date to ascertain their interest in your organization.
Then, be sure to follow up with each attendee after the event. Those attendees who express an interest in getting more involved should be placed into your cultivation system so that you can continue building a relationship with them. With a little planning every non-profit, no matter how small or large, can use non-ask events as an essential part of their donor funnel.
Photo Credit: Cydcor