Fall is here, and for nonprofits, that means it’s back to fundraising season.
You see, many nonprofits capitalize on the period between Labor Day and Thanksgiving to rake in some extra cash before their end-of-year pitches. And so, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a few more save-the-dates than usual in your mailbox lately.
But if you work at a nonprofit yourself, you might feel a little torn at the influx of invites. On one hand, maybe you’ve been drooling over other organizations’ fundraising goals and want to see how they make them happen. But on the other hand, what good will it do you and your organization to attend someone else’s event?
Actually, other fundraising events present a unique opportunity that you should absolutely take advantage of. Because, it turns out, you can leverage other events for your own fundraising—as long as you follow these key dos and don’ts.
Do: Buy a Ticket
First and foremost, it’s always nice to buy a ticket to a fellow nonprofit’s event as a show of solidarity. Fundraising is tough all around, so your ticket purchase says, “We’re in this together” loud and clear.
But if you’re trying to figure out how to leverage your attendance at another organization’s event for your own fundraising purposes, shelling out for a single ticket is a non-negotiable. It will send a message to the organization that you understand and respect that it, too, needs to raise money to achieve its mission and that you’re willing to pitch in and pay your own way.
If you do happen to be offered a comp ticket, go ahead and accept—but consider making a donation anyway, to ensure good faith.
Don’t: Trash Talk
No matter your covert fundraising strategies, you shouldn’t attend an event held by an organization you don’t respect. You see, there are organizations that fundraise really well (largely due to the founders’ connections), but if you think their core missions and day-to-day programs are ineffective, inefficient, or even downright silly, there’s no need to attend the event.
So if the fundraiser in question fits that bill, observe it from a distance, but don’t waste your time or money on attending. You might make a few good connections, but there’s a good chance you’ll end up comparing the organization's programs to your own—and not in a positive way. Ever catch yourself saying something like, “I can’t believe they spend so much time on that program?” Yeah—not appropriate.
Do: Remember the Shine Theory
Ann Friedman recently wrote about the importance of having powerful friends, but avoiding the comparison trap—she called it the Shine Theory. Essentially, it says that your mentality should be: “I don’t shine if you don’t shine.” And while this may be relevant to most areas of your life, definitely don’t forget it at a partner’s fundraiser.
By that theory, when you attend another organization’s event and meet your dream donors (e.g., the executive team of a celebrity foundation that just started funding in your area), keep in mind that they’re at the event to support the hosting nonprofit; they’re not there to listen to your pitch. Instead, your conversation needs to focus on how great the host organization is and how well your two organizations work together. Refrain from touting only your own accomplishments and try, “We collaborate on an after-school program, but that’s only part of our bigger agenda of comprehensive services for children.”
Let the donor ask more questions, of course, but always put in a nice plug for the other organization when you can. You’ll earn the respect of the donor, and when the other organization gets wind of your complimentary words, its employees may even put in a good word for you in the future.
Not only is it terribly bad manners to ask for a donation to your nonprofit at another organization’s event—but it’s also ineffective. You see, when you make an ask, you want the only possible answer to be “yes.” But at someone else’s event, everything is about them—from the programs to the speeches to the swag bags. The minute your target donor’s eyes shift just a little, he or she will see reasons to give to the hosting nonprofit.
So, cool your jets—take this time to cultivate relationships and learn as much as you can about other donors. Then, when the timing is right, you’ll know exactly how to make a winning pitch.
Do: Ask for Business Cards
Throughout the night, you’ll meet a bunch of great prospects and have great discussions about the host organization, your field of work, or maybe just how cute their grandkids are. But no matter your topics of conversation or the type of event you’re at, it’s 100% normal (and expected) to exchange business cards.
And that gives you a perfect opportunity to follow up. You should contact each donor you meet the very next day to let them how much you enjoyed your conversation and that you’d love to meet up again soon.
Attending another organization’s fundraising event is a great way to show support, observe new ways to put together an event, and meet new people. And as a bonus, if you follow the guidelines above, you can use the opportunity to further your own goals. (But don’t forget to have some fun, too!)