Truth be told, I’d rather go to the dentist than to a fundraising event, or any event that involves more than 8 people…6 in a public place like a restaurant. I am not exaggerating. At the dentist I can at least have a lovely conversation with my dental hygienist when she’s not furiously scraping the junk off my teeth.
This is not new. I never went to parties in high school or college. I have rarely gone to a bar to hang out. I have mostly shunned large concerts though I made the exception for Barbra Streisand’s first concerts in 17 years at the MGM Grand! I have only attended one professional development conference in my life – and I left after a few hours. I can go on and on.
Still, I’m a lifelong development professional and, for us, special events cannot be avoided. They are incredibly common… and often useful! Whether they’re my most-dreaded large-scale fundraising events or the more tolerable smaller-scale cultivation and thank you events, they’re part and parcel of my work and that of my fellow professionals and volunteers.
Given that, our goal is to figure out how to make events work for us… not to mention for our introverted donors.
Here are my top recommendations for my fellow introverted fundraisers, based on 38 years of fundraising events:
Make Specific Connections in Advance
Much of my discomfort with events comes before I even get there. Will people I know be there when I get there? Who will I talk to? What should I talk about with folks?
I find it helpful to set up a handful of connections in advance. I will reach out to a few key donors in advance (individually!) to let them know a) I’m looking forward to seeing them at the event and b) I’ll make sure we have a few minutes to chat.
I find that sets things up nicely and even gives the donors some impetus to seek me out. And since I know I’ll be spending some time with these specific donors, I can think through two or three key questions to ask them. This is much easier than coming up with something topical and helpful on the spot.
Don’t Worry about Quantity – Focus on Quality
There’s an adage in fundraising that “if you set out to cultivate everyone, you’ll end up cultivating no one.” So true, except at an event it’s hard, if you’re a staff person, not to try to at least say hello to all your donors. That can be a tall order, and I always find it challenging.
I’ve learned not to rush the conversations I’m having, even if it means not getting to chat with everyone. It gives the donors I chat with a better experience, and it plays to my strength of enjoying deeper, more meaningful conversations.
And I’ve learned that while a donor might be bummed not to have seen me at the event, a beautiful note the next day (my specialty) goes a long way. I can talk about how I missed seeing them (“wasn’t it just crazy there?!”) and ask them how they enjoyed the event, etc. We can often have a nicer post-event conversation than we could have had at the event.
Promise Yourself a Treat Afterward
We fundraisers stink at selfcare. Part of what makes us great fundraisers – putting our donors first – can also wear us down personally. So, if going to your organization’s next event seems really daunting, make sure you do something for yourself afterward. That might be as little as declining offers to attend some after-party. But it could mean taking yourself out for a nice meal by yourself, sitting down for an hour with a jigsaw puzzle or book, or taking the following morning off to go to a yoga class.
For Donors I Recommend… a Pass
And here’s my recommendation for introverted donors. Don’t Go! I know I’m going to get flak from my fellow fundraisers who are trying to make their events successful, but hear me out.
If going causes a donor strife, I don’t want you to go. Your organization does not want you to feel that way and it will only cause friction overall in your relationship with the organization. They might not realize it as they cajole you, and you might not fully realize it at the time. But as with any relationship, over time the negative feelings will build up until they bubble over, and it will be too late.
Now I’m not saying don’t contribute. You might want to make a gift in lieu of attending to be supportive. And how great as the total amount goes to the bottom line. True, you’re not a warm body in the room and body counts count. But everyone can’t contribute to the body count.
It’s no different from the amazing donor who always says yes because they want to help, but quietly feels they’re being asked way too often (meaning multiple times a year for different things). One day they will hit a wall and feel taken advantage of, and it will be hard to fix that scar.