It’s one thing to get your major donor prospects and other VIPs to an event; it’s another thing in how you treat them once they are there.
I was at an event recently in which very important people were left feeling not so important.
This event was not a fundraising event but a weekend celebration. The guests were from out of town, made a special effort to be there, and were left with little instructions on where to be and when. The elderly couple had to fend for themselves. I watched the husband as he stooped over his wife to wrap his coat securely around her shoulders. They were in a windy location away from the main activities. His face was twisted and gruff as he sat back in his seat. They left the event early and with disappointment.
I had my own experience as a nonprofit executive director in which our team thought we had planned and communicated well with donors. We didn’t! We had provided detailed agendas for a weekend full of events. Immediately before one ceremony, we were searching the room frantically for a donor to be recognized on stage. A volunteer went flying out of the room into the large convention center, only to find the donor in the nick of time. He was discovered at the hotel bar with friends.
Often our VIPs are elderly, and they need assistance in getting around.
We want our donors and other VIPs to feel special and be well taken care of. Whether it’s a lunch event or a weekend of activities, call on volunteers, board members, and other staff to ensure donor experiences are over the top. It’s all about how you make your donors feel. We want them to understand they are a hero, know their funds are making a difference, and feel so good about how we make them feel they keep coming back!
Here are tips to prevent mishaps at events with our VIPs at little to no cost:
1. Identify your very important people. Identify your current and prospective donors well before the event. Know who will be attending. Make sure your team (and volunteers) know who is a VIP.
2. Assign a person to each VIP. This person could be a staff or board member or even a volunteer. Make sure each assignee talks with their VIP before the event to go over the agenda. Help them get registered at the event, so they need not wait in long lines. Check-in with them at various intervals to make sure they have everything they need. Don’t interrupt them constantly. Watch their body language. That communicates more than words!
3. Provide them with clear instructions. Prepare an agenda with all the little details about the event. Include the name of the assigned person and contact information.
4. Provide special name tags. Providing special nametags make the person feel valued, helps other people when making introductions, and helps the staff to identify their special guests.
5. Provide reserved seating. Let your VIPs know they have a reserved seat! I have seen so often people sit in a general seating area when there is an empty reserved seat for them up front.
6. Arrange for photographs. You don't have to hire professional photographers for your events. Ask a volunteer to take photos with their camera — or even their phone. Capture unique moments and send the photograph to them immediately after the event.
7. Arrange for VIP parking or rides. Sometimes providing special parking is the easiest and most appreciated gesture from a special guest. If needed, provide a ride or shuttle. Make sure they know where, what time, and at what intervals the rides take place. Don’t assume they know where to go and when! Depending on the needs, arrange for a person to escort them directly to the event and to their seats.
8. Find out dietary needs. Determine in advance if the VIP has any allergies to foods or prefers a special diet. Event spaces can usually accommodate if you provide that information in advance.
Often the most meaningful gestures are not the most expensive ones but the most thoughtful and creative. It’s how you make the person feel. The attention to the details like a ride, special seating, or special name tags. They take time but they will mean a lot to your VIPs.
This is the second blog in a three-part series about engaging major donors before, during, and after events. Read: Before an Event, 4 Steps to Engage Major Donor Prospects.
Nancy Rieves, Ed.D. is a fundraising coach. She provides overwhelmed nonprofit leaders of small organizations with a roadmap to maximize and sustain major gift fundraising. She prepares leaders to be confident and successful in raising money. Reach her at [email protected].
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