How Receptive is Your Donor Reception?

The President of Eastern Virginia Medical School thanks donors for their support in 2010 and sends the message home with the banner behind him.

Last month, we hosted a donor reception at work specifically for loyalty donors (those who had given consecutively for at least five years) and recent reunion alumni who had contributed toward a named resident room.  Earlier this month, my graduate alma mater — NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service — hosted its annual reception for donors.

After going through the donor reception experience so recently on both sides of the fence — as both a fundraiser and a donor — I wanted to share some tips for making these events a success:

1. Matching up donors with those benefiting from their generosity

A colleague of mine matched up a small group of I-House residents with the donors who were attending the reception.  These matches provided each donor the opportunity to get to know a resident directly and see the use of his/her Annual Fund dollars over the years.

2. Personalize invitations, so that donors know why they are being invited/recognized

When you are inviting donors, you must make it clear why they are being invited.  When you use vague language, your donors are likely to be confused.  One quick story that I must share on this point:
I made numerous follow-up calls to loyalty donors who had responded to the invitations that we had mailed out.  When I called one in particular, she asked why she had been invited (assuming that only major donors were invited for donor receptions) and I got to explain to her that she had been supporting our organization for many years and we appreciated her dedicated generosity.  Even after we were explicit in the invitation that she was being invited for her “many years of financial support,” she still assumed that there was some sort of mistake.  (At a later date I will explore in greater depth the fact that many donors are so ill-stewarded that they don’t know what to do when they are truly thanked and appreciated.)

3. Create a draw for your event, aside from being thanked in person for their support

It always helps to have some well-known people in your organization’s universe to take part in your donor receptions.  The chance to meet and greet with these people will encourage some donors to attend your reception, though it will also provide some good photo opportunities that can be used later  to further cultivate and steward the donors in attendance.  While we scheduled our reception to begin immediately following a meeting of the board of trustees, which allowed donors to network with a good group of them.  NYU Wagner had Former Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. make some brief remarks and take questions from the donors in attendance (he has recently joined the school’s faculty as a Distinguished Practitioner in Residence).

What successful donor reception strategies have worked for you?  Please feel free to share in the comments.

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