by David Gee, Associate Vice President, NonProfit and Public Affairs Consulting
Its springtime, which means that “Event Season” is in full swing and – as nonprofit executives and development professionals – we’re all looking for ways to maximize the significant investment our organizations make in our annual events. While many elements can help increase our return on those investments, I would like to focus on one that, ultimately, will pay dividends long after the last silent auction item has been picked up.
Regardless of whether we are mission focused in social service, education, religion, the arts or any of the many other areas in the social impact sector, one undeniable truth is that our Board members are critical players in terms of the success of our events. And, while these essential volunteers are almost always actively engaged in advance of the event, all too often, we miss the opportunity to maximize their role on the night of. The challenge that many of us face is how to enlist the help of our Board members as active ambassadors and connectors while they are enjoying the fruits of the work they did in advance of the gala.
The first step in this is to present the ambassador role in a straight forward and “non-threatening” light. I have had great success working with Board members by helping them to see that they already do this kind of thing all of the time. At the Board meeting preceding your event, take 5-10 minutes to do the following:
- Ask everyone to raise their hand if they have ever dinned at a great new restaurant or experienced a wonderful new vacation spot and then proactively recommended their new find to a friend or colleague.
- Next, ask everyone that hasn’t raised their hand if they have ever shared with friends or family how much they enjoyed a new movie/book/television show? (At this point everyone’s hand will likely be raised.)
Sharing recommendations like this face-to-face, on Yelp, LinkedIn or in many instances, “liking” something on Facebook, is how this very common behavior is manifest by all of us on a regular basis.
Next, ask everyone to pair up and to take turns sharing–for one minute each, why they give their time, treasure and talent to your organization. Why do they care? More often than not, they will become engaged in conversation and you will have to compel them to stop.
Now ask people to share what happened in their pairings and inquire if it felt natural or not. At this point, it will be clear to everyone that simply talking about why they are personally invested in the success of your mission is not overly taxing or uncomfortable. It is, in fact, a lot like sharing news about that great new Italian restaurant you enjoyed last night.
Finally, have your Board chair seek a commitment from everyone to have just two conversations like this at the event. (You will obviously need to set this up in advance.) They can connect with someone seated at their table, that they encounter at the silent auction or someone they talk to while standing in line for a drink. The two keys to making this productive are that they each make note of who they talk to and that they report back to you the names and any notes about the conversations (i.e., Lori would be interested in a site visit, George attended the event for several years – but has never gotten involved beyond that, etc.)
If you follow this simple strategy (or adapt it to a variation that works better for your Board’s personality) I promise you that your Board members will feel more empowered in their role as ambassadors and they will leave the event with a real sense of accomplishment having helped to engage new prospects for the organization. And, equally as important, you will have a ready-made list of people that you have a compelling reason to follow-up with after your event.
David Gee has been working as a development professional for ten years with particular expertise in capital campaigns, major gifts and donor stewardship. David joined HUB International’s Non-Profit and Public Affairs Consulting (NPPAC) team after serving as The Chicago Bar Foundation’s Director of Development for over seven years. Prior to that, he spent 18 years working as a professional actor in Chicago. Among his volunteer activities, David currently serves on the Donors Forum’s Resource Development Committee the Development Committee for All Chicago and the Cara Program’s Major Gift Committee.