Forget the yawn fest wine party. When it comes to engaging donors, a heartfelt, mission-centered event is where it’s at.
If you’ve ever felt like you missed the boat on a stewardship event, you’re not alone. But the good news is you’ll never have to feel that way again.
And neither do your donors.
That’s because Shanon Doolittle recently joined us for a webinar in which she showed us how to design better stewardship events. In case you missed it, you can watch the full replay here:
Shannon: Yeah, let’s get started.
Steven: Well, let’s get started. What do you think? All right, let’s do it. Cool. Well, good afternoon, everyone. If you’re on the East Coast, good morning. If you’re on the West Coast or someone in between, thanks for being here for today’s webinar, “Designing Better Stewardship Events.” My name is Steven Shattuck and I’m the VP of Marketing over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion.
And just some housekeeping items before we get started. I just want to look through and know that we are recording this presentation, and I’ll be sending out the recording and the slides a little later on this afternoon, so look for those to your email box a little later. And as you’re listing today, please feel free to send any questions or comments through the chat box right there on your screen. I know some people are already chatting in. I appreciate that.
Feel free to ask questions of our presenter, feel free to talk to each other. It’s always fun when I glance over and I see folks interacting with each other, so please just use that. And we’re going to save some time at the end for some Q&A with Shannon, so don’t be shy about asking questions. We’ll try to get to as many as we can a little later on. And just in case this is your first webinar with us, welcome, thanks for being here. In addition to doing webinars every Thursday, Bloomerang also offers some great donor management software, so if you’re in the market for that or you’re perhaps looking to change, we’d love for you to check that out. You can read all about it on our website. You can even download a video demo and see some of the software yourself. So with that being said, I want to go ahead and introduce today’s guest. She is Shannon Doolittle. She is joining us all the way from beautiful Seattle. Hey, Shannon. How’s it going?
Shannon: Great, thanks for having me here.
Steven: Oh yeah, I’m very excited. Thanks for being here. Thanks for taking an hour out of your day, not even including all the prep time, to share all your knowledge with us. In case you guys don’t know Shannon, although I would be shocked if you don’t, Shannon, she’s an energetic and inspirational fundraiser. She’s got over 10 years of experience. She’s been featured on CharityHowTo, you can see some of her short videos on Movie Mondays, and it seems like every cool thing — we were talking about this earlier — that is happening in the fundraising world, Shannon’s a part of it. She’s got her Stewardship School. She was one of the organizers of the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference. She’s got some cool new things coming out this year, which I’m sure she’ll tell you about. She’s speaking at AFP in Baltimore. So this is a real treat.
We’ve got a lot of people signed up, and that’s sort of a testament to how awesome Shannon is, so I’m not to take any more time away from her. Shannon, why don’t you go ahead and get us started?
Shannon: Great, thank you so much. Welcome everyone, and happy Thursday. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day. As fundraisers it’s almost impossible sometimes to take an hour away, and I know some of you might be multitasking during the webinar, but today it’s all about you. It’s all about helping you create better stewardship events. I’m very excited to be talking about this topic because I am an events person, I love events, and that probably makes me a bad person to some people, but I love events because really in this day and age, it’s the only time we get to be one-on-one, face-to-face with our donors. And I think that opportunity is gold, and whenever you have the chance you want to make it work for you, and you want to make it work for your donor as best as possible, so today we’re just going to really dive into that.
The other thing I want you to know, real quick for those of you who weren’t kind of listening to the pre-call, Steven is a diehard Pats fan, I am a diehard Seahawks fan, so if you’re feeling a little bit of tension that’s probably what it is because he’s probably making mean eyes towards me during the webinar, so go Hawks.
So I would love to know, before we start off, please use that chat box, and I would love to know what’s your number one question that you have about today’s topic. Obviously, we’re talking about designing better stewardship events; I would love to know kind of what’s your number one question, and if you can go ahead and put that in the box, that would be great. People are saying, “How do I actually get them to actually want to attend?” but getting them there is key. I will definitely talk a little bit about that. “How to increase stewardship?”
That seems to be how to be fresh, for sure, and, “How do you keep them from going stale, driving attendance?” Yeah, awesome, so it seems like a lot of you are wondering, how do you actually get them there? And my entire approach to stewardship events is a little bit different, and I have a feeling that that is what’s going to help you drive attendance, is when your donors know that you’re actually creating something unique, something very different, and something that they won’t want to miss.
Okay, great, and then we’ll do some Q&A after. Let me just go ahead and get started and talk to you about what we’re going to learn today. I’m going to just start off by telling you the differences between fundraising and stewardship events, and I think it’s important that I talk about that real quick because it does matter. It changes the way you think about developing events.
I’m also going to talk about how you would develop and use an event donor persona, and this is really important. Just like a donor profile if you have them at your organization, I think it’s really important to create them before you start to create an event, and you’ll see why I like to use them. Then I’m going to talk about how to use mission moments to create a memorable donor experience. Some of you are asking, “How do we do programs? Are they short? Are they long?” I will cover that in this section, as well as tips to keep the good vibes flowing post-event. And that is all about a lot of times at these events we think the minute that everyone leaves, it’s over. Like, that was a feel-good, that was great, but I want to go ahead and tell you guys that that’s actually where the work is just beginning, so I’ll talk to you a little bit about that, and then we’ll answer questions too.
So let me just go ahead and start off and talk to you about differences between fundraising and stewardship events. So with a fundraising event, typically our approach is, the more the merrier, so we want to get butts in seats, we want our board members and everyone else to really turn on their email, get on the phone, and invite anyone and everyone to come to the event. That’s why you’ll have an event where you have hundreds and hundreds of people, because obviously we want to get as many people in the room to hear our cause, to understand the mission, and then to hopefully make a gift if they’re so moved. With an event stewardship or with stewardship events, it’s very different. With stewardship, actually it’s a very strategic and small invitation list.
Again, I’m good to probably turn a lot of your thinking on its head in this webinar, and that’s okay, but a lot of time with stewardship what we say is, “Okay, I’m going to do this event and then I’m just going to invite all the donors that gave to us within the last three months over $100.” Well actually, no. With stewardship events, the most meaningful ones are very strategic and who you invite. The reason I like to say small invitation list, because here’s what I teach my organizations that I work in and/or that I work with; it’s really important that if your executive director, board members, and/or you as a fundraiser can’t get around to at least five to seven people in the room and have five-minute conversations with them, there’s too many people in the room. The whole point of a stewardship event is so that you can talk and learn more about your donors.
If your staff and your board and other volunteers can’t get to everyone in the room, that’s a sign that your list is too big, so that’s the difference. With a fundraising event, also we know they’re expensive productions. I have worked on events where my budgets are close to a quarter of $1 million, and I’ve also worked on events where maybe my budget is $20,000 or $12,000. Regardless, in scale to what we actually have as an organization, it’s a huge chunk of money that’s going to fundraising of the events. We know they’re expensive. With the events that are stewardship related, my thought always is they’re low-key. They’re low-maintenance. You should not be spending tons and tons of money on a stewardship event.
They should be fun, they should be delightful, and the other reason why it’s a little bit of a red flag if it looks too produced is because if it’s a thank you event, you don’t want your donors walking in and thinking, “How much did they spend on this event?” Because that just defeats the whole purpose of your money going back to mission. So if it looks overly produced, donors might have a hard time, so it’s that whole perception versus reality thing. So I like to think that it’s more low-key, low maintenance and I’m going to talk about that. As Kathleen, you said, “Hey, how do you do that?” I’m to give you a bunch of examples of how to do that.
The other thing that’s different between a fundraising event and a stewardship event, is that at a fundraising event, there’s a formal program, and that program usually takes a long time. I’m one of those people that will always counsel and advise people to trim the speaker fat.
The majority of things that go wrong around a fundraising event and really not having people compelled to give is because you’ve spent too much time in their intellectual brain, that you haven’t spoken enough to their emotional heart. So at fundraising events we have a lot of formal programs, and there’s little social time. There is actually not a lot of time for people in the room to talk with people at their own table or travel around and meet new friends. It’s just feel heavy on “we, we, we” as the organization.
With stewardship, it’s so different. With stewardship, it really is an informal program. I’ll talk about this little bit later, but it’s a short program. I mean, it’s not even 10 minutes at the most. It doesn’t feel produced; you don’t necessarily have your executive director or board president talking. That’s just not needed at these kinds of events because it’s all about the donor. It’s all about “thank you.”
And again, with the stewardship, pretty much you’re getting people together so that they can be with peers and other givers, other generous souls, so that they can talk to each other and realize, “You know what? I’m part of something bigger. It’s not just me that gives to this organization. There are a lot of other cool, wonderful people that give too, and that’s why I want to stay part of this charitable family.” Again, we’ll talk about this a little bit more.
The other thing that’s a big difference is that events that are your fundraisers, they’re a time suck, let’s be honest. They’re high stress. When you take a look at any event, it’s a lightning rod because there is so much going on at that event that’s community facing and people get freaked out. There’s a lot of anxiety around it with leadership and board or other things, and it takes a lot of time.
Now with event stewardship, here’s my thing. If it feels like it’s sucking a lot of time or it’s high stress, you’re doing it wrong. Event stewardship should really be easy peasy lemon squeezy. It should be low stress. You shouldn’t have to be coordinating major logistics. We’re really talking about, and again, I’ll give you ideas about how you create something fun and different that feels more birthday party than it feels like a gala or luncheon.
And the last difference, and I think this is really important because this happens a lot of times with nonprofits, is a fundraising event, you’re going to ask for money. That’s part of the event, that’s why you’re there. At a stewardship event, there is no ask, and by no ask, I mean no ask. There is zero ask, there is no bait and switch of, “You here, we want to say thank you, but guess what? We’re going to ask you to give money, or we’re going to follow up with an ask.”
That’s not what you do, and I see nonprofits getting this wrong all the time because a board member or somebody will say, “But we have to give them a chance to give.” No, you don’t. You don’t want to do that. Do not send a thank you letter and then include an envelope or a BRE in it. Do not send a thank you letter then do a PS with an ask. It works, but that doesn’t mean we should. This is really about gratitude and having a grateful heart.
So the only thing that I want to say about this, which is really important, and have I said it already — no ask. This is all about gratitude and saying thank you. Somebody said, “How do you separate that?” We’ll talk about that at the end; please bring it up as a question. So those are the differences, and it matters because as you can see, events there are fundraising-related or high production, very formal, big program, your stewardship events . . .
And actually I would say this; the majority of nonprofits doing events out there are also focus on the organization. They are not donor centered at all, which is why I work with a lot of organizations to teach them how to be donor centered so you’ll actually raise more money at your event. But with stewardship events, they are totally donor centered. The first question that you ask yourself is, “As a donor, would I want to come to this? As a donor, is this going to add more delight to my donor journey?” and you create something around that.
So before I talk to you about examples so you can kind of get a sense of, okay, but what does this look like, Shannon? Let me talk to you about why I developed and use an event donor persona anytime I’m planning in the event. Whether it’s a fundraising event, a cultivation event, or a stewardship event, I always create an event donor persona because it helps me and my team think strategically about how I tailor the experience to speak to that specific donor profile that’s going to be at the event.
Actually, I want to go back here for a second. I want to say this, because when I use the word “event,” event is the trigger word for a lot of people in fundraising, because event can automatically give you a panic attack. It can automatically give you an anxiety attack, or you’ll go to a place where you’ll say, “Oh, I do events.” And I’ll say, “Yeah, I hate those.” Yeah, okay, great, that’s fine, but we have to do them, right? When I say events, I am talking about a gathering. I’m talking about a moment in time, again, that feels like it’s just a bunch of really cool people coming together where we can have a love fest. Where we can be grateful and we can say thank you.
It can be teeny tiny, it can be five people, it could be a little bit bigger, it could be 40 people, but an event, when I say that I just want to sort of . . . that an event could be teeny or it could be a little bit bigger, but don’t feel like it’s a high production when I say “event” when I’m using it during this webinar.
So stewardship events, and I talked about this earlier, when you’re talking about a strategic and small invitation list, your stewardship event should be designed for a specific donor segment. So what we typically do is we have donor clubs or we have donor giving levels and we say, “Well, everyone at this level is going to get invited to a family luncheon, or gets invited to something.” That’s fine if that’s what you want to do. However, you want to create meaningful experiences as a fundraiser; that’s what’s going to get people to stay loyal to you and to keep giving.
So I always design stewardship events around a specific donor segment, and I’ll talk to you about what that could look like. And when I create that or when I know what that donor segment looks like . . . and actually no, I’ll go ahead and stop now. Perhaps that donor segment is a group of donors that gave to a program. For instance, I know Josh is on the line. Josh had a big donor that gave at his school to open up a new technology lab. Perhaps he does a stewardship event tailored to the donors that specifically gave to launch the technology lab at the school. Or for instance, I have a program that I have in Nepal, and I have a number of donors that only give to my Nepal program, but they’re actually not giving to my program in Africa that I also have, so I’m going to have strategic donor stewardship events to the ones that are giving to me in Nepal.
Or I have a number of mid-level donors that I haven’t loved on in quite a while. I mean, they don’t get a lot of love from me, so you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to create a stewardship event that tailored to that mid-level donor. Not the major donor, not the annual donor that comes . . . a lower amount, but that mid-level donor that has been giving to me for three to five years that I think is ready to make another gift. That’s what I mean by segmenting.
So when you do choose what your segment is, then you want to create a donor persona to represent that segment so that can help you in your event planning. I’m not going to go deep into a donor persona is. I mean you can Google that or even email Steven. Steven is a marketing pro; he could tell you what that looks like. But basically a persona is a semi-fictional representation of your donor kind of based on what you know, and so let me walk you through what this looks like and how I use it.
Typically, these are the things that I want to know about my donor segment, and then I want to create a donor profile. So kind of what’s the average age I’m looking at? What’s typically the gender? What is their family status? And kind of what are some attributes or some personality traits, some lifestyle traits about them and that can help me in the planning? And you’ll see why these are important.
For instance, this is a donor persona, okay? So let’s say that I am looking at donors that just gave to my life sciences program at my university, and so I’m taking a look at . . . This is the life sciences building that just opened, our greenhouse just opened, and I want to make sure that I do really nice stewardship event, to come back to these donors and say, “You mattered, and now we want you to see what your dollars actually went to. How you’re actually having an impact. We want you to see that with your own eyes.”
So I put together a profile based on the donors that I know. This is Julianne. Julianne is 53, she’s a female. What do I need to know about her? Probably her family status, since she’s married with college aged children, and that she works part-time, she really enjoys attending social and charitable events, and she also lives in the Laurelhurst area. Why that’s important in Seattle is because that’s a very affluent, high wealth community. So I will take a look and just develop a donor persona, which is going to help me then develop a stewardship event based on this profile, and I’m going to show you what that event looks like for her.
Let’s take for instance, Steven. Hi, Steven.
Okay, like I said, Steven is a diehard Patriots fan, we all know the Super Bow’s this Sunday, and I just had to be able to do this to him. Everyone’s laughing. I love it. Okay, so this is Steven, and if you actually don’t know what Steven looks . . . This actually is Steven, who is the Bloomerang guy. Steven is 30, he’s a male, and his family status, he’s married, he’s got a toddler-aged child who’s just adorable — that’s all true — and I know that he works full-time, he enjoys the outdoors, and he’s a diehard Seahawks fan. So the thing about this, let’s say that what I already know about Steven is that Steven gives to my program which refurbishes bikes for inner-city youth. Because he loves being outdoors, he loves riding bikes, so that’s how I already know Steven because he’s the donor to that particular program.
Then what I go ahead do is, I put together, again, a persona, and this is something you can work on with a team or just put together by yourself. Again, it really informs how you’re going to create the event, so let me talk to you how then this works out. So I know Julianne and I know that persona, so as I’m developing a stewardship event for her, I know as a life sciences donor who is of high wealth, really loves charitable events, she has kids that are in college, so I know that she can go to evening events. What I’m going to do is something on the left, where I’m going to go ahead and say, “You know what? Let’s go ahead and do a stewardship event where it’s a really nice dinner inside the greenhouse.” That’s essentially what that picture on the left is showing you. It was kind of a high-end event where we opened up the greenhouse, we brought in . . . obviously it looks cater to, it looks, you know, whatever else, but it’s a little bit more high-end.
This is one of those things where I would say this is a little bit more produced, but again, in a university aspect, when you’re dealing with that highly affluent was donor, this is actually something that they expect, that’s why that persona’s going to help you.
Now let’s say Steven, on the other hand, as I said, he’s a donor to my organization that refurbishes bikes for inner-city youth. He really enjoys that; that’s how he comes to us. I know that Steven is younger, I know that he will not do anything on a Sunday because that’s football day. I also know that he has a young toddler as well, so getting a way to come to an event is actually really hard unless he gets to bring his family. So my stewardship for him is actually bringing him out and inviting to a Kids’ Bike Swap, where he gets to see his money in action; he gets to see the impact he’s making.
And let’s say it’s a picnic that we do. So we have a really nice picnic there for him as a donor, he gets to participate in the bike swap, he gets to see it, and then there’s also trails at that park where we really encourage him to bring his family and their bikes so that they can have a day out on the trails as well. That is a stewardship event I would design for Steven.
As you can see, you need to know your audience, because if you don’t tailor the event . . . This is the thing. When you ask me, “Shannon, how do I get people to come?” You have to tailor it. It has to be bespoke, it has to be different, it has to be unique to them, it has to speak to their values and who they are. Because again, as I wrote in the description for this webinar, if you’re going to throw another wine and cheese party, they’re not going to come, because there is nothing unique about that.
So let’s talk about these events and why I think it’s very powerful for you to use these events to create mission moments at the event that will create a very memorable event experience. Why this is important is because here’s what we know. You’ll hear it again and again and again. I mean, Steven is probably, he can write this in his sleep. We know that we’re losing donors, yet we don’t do a lot about it, which is, blah. It’s crazy to me, right? We’re losing donors, we’re having a hard time keeping them, and I’m going to tell you why. The reason why is because, one, you’re not thanking them enough. Two, you’re not telling them what you did with their money, which is really, really important. And third, you’re not providing a meaningful experience for them. You’re not bringing joy to the process of being a donor.
So when I talk about mission moments this is where I’m going to get into programming. Most stewardship events, like I just said, they’re following the same exact formula. I could sit at a conference and I can ask this question, “How many of you do a stewardship event where you invite people to come for a brunch, or you invite people to come for a cocktail event or something, and your executive director speaks, somebody else does something, there’s more tray passed hors d’oeuvres, then you have a grateful beneficiary, then you just let people mingle, and then people leave?” Raise your hand if that’s what you do? And by raise your hand, I mean put “yes” in the chat box.
Typically that’s what’s happening, and it’s not