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Nice to Meet You! The Value of Cultivation Events

Resource Center - Foundation

(Feb. 22, 2011) Imagine an event where you don't sell tickets and you don't ask for donations--you simply give your top-tier prospects an experience to remember. It's exclusive, it's intriguing, and done right it's a great way to breathe life into your donor list.

So what is a cultivation event? Fundraiser Amy Scerba Karazsia, CFRE, explains that it is a way to creatively involve "cold prospects" who may have never heard of your organization in a way that sparks their interest, and often, their desire to get involved. She will co-present a session on this topic at the AFP International Conference on Fundraising in Chicago next month.

"Working at one of the Smithsonian museums, I do not have a natural pool of obvious prospects to draw from: No alumni, not even a list of visitors, since entry is free to the public," Karazsia explains. "The value of a cultivation event is that it helps me draw together a select group of people who are most likely to want to support the museum."

The cultivation event, then, is about coming up with a way to highlight the organization's mission and needs in a creative way. It is less pressure than a one-on-one meeting and it can form a sense of community among people who champion a particular cause. Making it exclusive to a few top prospects adds interest and allows them to form closer bonds with the organization.

A Compelling Invitation

In a recent project, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History set out to preserve the Jefferson Bible, a hand-made account of Jesus' life and teachings created by Thomas Jefferson. Fundraising needed to be done to cover the cost of conserving, digitizing, and exhibiting such a valuable artifact of American history. Karazsia decided to hold a cultivation event.

Through research and help from the board, she developed a selective list of top-tier prospects who she felt would be most likely to have interest in the Jefferson Bible. Calls were made by board members and invitations sent, and when the 13 people (only 18 were invited) arrived at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Va., they were treated to a personal showing of the artifact.

"The idea was to dazzle them with this artifact up close and personal," Karazsia said. And dazzled they were, one of the guests offered financial support even before receiving a call to give. Another offered pro-bono help with future museum projects.

The funds needed for the project were successfully raised, and some top-tier donors have shown up at the museum's doorstep--drawn to a curious letter and phone call to be part of something big one afternoon, and not to be asked for a cent.

Amy Scerba Karazsia, CFRE, and Catherine Nichols, associate director of Alumni Affairs at UNC-Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School, will present a session at the 48th AFP International Conference on Fundraising titled "Using Cultivation Events to Build Your Donor Base." There they will present concrete examples and steps to follow to create your own memorable and fruitful cultivation event.

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