If there’s one fact about philanthropy that has withstood the test of time it’s that individuals are the greatest source of donations. As shown in the chart below, individual giving comprised 71 percent of all philanthropic gifts in 2016.
What’s even more interesting about this fact is that most of the individual donors are not wealthy. Rather, they are people of more modest means without a lot of disposable income. These folks typically make up the base of the traditional fundraising pyramid, shown below.
Our job as nonprofit leaders (a job that includes fundraising) is to move them up, so that they become more regular givers and their gifts become larger. The best way to do this is among the first of five reasons why anyone seeking to grow a nonprofit should host a houseparty. The major reason a houseparty is a great fundraising idea is that it brings you face-to-face with prospects for a collective ask.
Why a Houseparty is a Great Fundraising Idea Reason #1: It’s an Easy Way to Make a Face-to-Face Ask for a Gift
Given all the ways you might ask someone for money, asking face-to-face is the most effective and a fundraising houseparty presents an opportunity to make a face-to-face ask of multiple people simultaneously. How does such and event work?
STEP 1: Find a good host
First, you ask a board member or a supporter of your organization to host a two-hour party at his or her home,. The purpose of the party is to promote and help to fund your organization. You make it clear that you hope the host will reach into his or her rolodex for friends and colleagues whom he or she thinks would be interested in your cause. You also discuss food and drink. In some cases the host may agree to provide all of the food and drink, typically finger-food, beer, wine and soft drinks. In other cases board members and the organization itself may need to chip in. Finally, you discuss a date and time. I have found that weekday evenings from 6 to 8 are best.
step 2: develop and send an invitation
Next, you print and mail an invitation. Yes, I am suggesting you send an actual printed invitation and that you make the event’s fundraising purpose clear. What I have found effective is to say that admission is free but donations will be sought to support certain costs. What I have also found to be effective is to print the invitation as a postcard and place it an envelope along with a folded donor envelope. Include information on the postcard inviting the recipient to send the postcard back if he or she can attend and to send the donor envelope back with a contribution if he or she cannot attend. You can get the postcards from Office Depot and print them out on just about any color inkjet printer. After you have sent the printed invitation, you and board members should follow up by email and by phone, if possible. A rule of thumb is to invite three to four times the number of people you hope will attend.
step 3: On the day of the event:
- A couple of board members and I arrive early to set up. This includes placing a couple of lawn signs strategically to help your guests find your location. You can get these almost anywhere and they aren’t that expensive. We used Vistaprint to produce this one:
- Guests arrive and receive a nice name tag and some refreshments. We go the extra mile and make printed name badges for each guest that have the same graphic theme as the invitation. These are also available from Office Depot.
- A photographer takes pictures. In some cases, a board member or other volunteer may be able to do this. If this is not possible, consider hiring a professional. The $250-$300 this may cost is often well worth the outlay, given the quality of the resulting images.
- A brief presentation ensues about an hour into the event. Here is the outline for a 20-minute presentation that I use:
- As Executive Director, I serve as emcee, welcoming those present, thanking and presenting a gift to the host, and recognizing any elected officials who may be present.
- (Behind the scenes, board members distribute donation envelopes and pens to guests).
- Our board chair offers brief remarks putting the work of the organization in context for those present.
- The chair of our fundraising committee makes the pitch for contributions. She mentions that pledges, checks and credit cards will be accepted. (PayPal makes an application for cell phones called “PayPal here,” which is quite reliable. I’d also recommend small organizations trying to grow consider “Shopify,” although the setup involved is substantially greater than that for PayPal, along with the expense. Among the advantages of Shopify is that it allows you to conduct e-commerce right on your website, rather than taking you to another site, as is the case with PayPal).
step 4: Within a few days after the event:
- Put your photographs in a location accessible from the Internet. I initially resisted Instagram because of its quirkiness in Windows. I think I’m going to have to get over that. Right now our photos are all on Google Photos, which we link back to our website.
- Record your donations in your database and follow up with those who made pledges.
- Send donors a proper thank you for their donations and include a link to the photographs. A database program like Akubo, discussed here, can make this process a piece of cake. If I find a particularly good photograph of a donor, I will often print it as an 8×10 and send it to the donor with a short note.
- Put a blurb and a photograph about the event on the homepage of your website.
- Send out an email blast highlighting the event and including one or two good photographs. (I use Akubo to do this, as well)
Why a Houseparty is a Great Fundraising Idea Reason #2: It Will Raise Money!
I have to say that the first time I hosted a fundraising houseparty, I was surprised at the number of people who showed up with checkbook or credit card in hand prepared to make a gift. That party netted $2500. I say netted because we had some expenses. While the host and board members contributed most of the food and drink, we had other expenses, namely postage for and printing of the invitations we mailed, the cost of posters about our work that we displayed around the host’s home, and other miscellaneous costs. Morrie Warshawski, author of The Fundraising Houseparty (available here), says that most fundraising houseparties raise between $3,000 and $7,000.
Why a Houseparty is a Great Fundraising Idea Reason #3: It will grow your list!
Another reason the houseparty is a great fundraising idea its ability to expand your communications list, i.e. the people that make up the base of the pyramid shown in the diagram above. The main way that this happens is that you ask the host to invite those friends, neighbors and colleagues whom he or she believes would be interested in your nonprofit’s work. You should also ask new board members to provide you with a similar list when they join the board.
Why a Houseparty is a Great Fundraising Idea Reason #4: It Just May Help You Grow Your Board.
The fourth reason why a houseparty is a great fundraising idea is that the new people added to your communications list can also be a source of board prospects. The low-key nature of a houseparty presents an opportunity to make new friends and learn something about why your work is of interest to them. In doing so, you may just find out that they are well-suited for and interested in serving on the board or a committee.
Why a Houseparty is a Great Fundraising Idea Reason #5: It Will Likely Make a Team of Your Board and Staff if You don’t Have One Already.
Many board members hear the word fundraising and begin to look for the door. That’s because the word is largely associated with asking for money and less so with doing all of the things leading up to the ask. When board members who aren’t comfortable with asking realize that there are many other tasks necessary to make a houseparty go, their satisfaction and comfort with being part of a houseparty effort go up. Examples of roles for the non-askers include manning the sign-in table, being on hand at the location of our posters to explain our work to guests, helping with set-up and clean-up, greeting special guests, etc. If you’re working solo or with a staff of 1 or 2 people, you need every board member to do his or her part in making an event successful. We do two or three such parties a year, and I am pleased to say that the process now works like a well-oiled machine. I think individual board members also take pride in the roles that they play in being apart of something larger themselves.
Morrie Warshawski does a fabulous job of elaborating on the foregoing in The Fundraising Houseparty: How to Party with a Purpose and Raise Money for Your Cause. You can (and should) read the entire book, available for purchase on my resource page, in about 90 minutes.
If you're managing a small nonprofit, you've got a lot of weight on your shoulders. Here's my system for integrating email and calendar programs with cutting-edge note-taking and task-management apps so that you can spend more time doing what's most important - growing your nonprofit! Sign up for my newsletter and I'll send it to you right away.