Friday, May 20, 2011

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

"Whenever I see a "best practice" example it is usually a larger nonprofit organization. What are small nonprofits doing right? Do you have some examples?"

That's the question my friend Pamela Grow asked the other day on her Simple Development Systems Facebook page.

(Pamela is someone with development savvy I admire - and have used often. I also consider Pamela a friend since - many years ago - we both overlapped at the same nonprofit organization.)

As I was thinking about examples of small nonprofits doing "big best practice things right," I saw a status update from a former board member of mine. He was excited about a gala tomorrow night, and was asking his contacts if they were attending.

And with that, I had my answer to Pamela's question.

You see, when I was the development director for the nonprofit hosting that very gala, that event was our largest fundraiser of the year. (It still is.) As with many of these sorts of things, the Gala is the prime opportunity to see donors and potential supporters.

And one of the most important to-do's for such an event is the simplest: know your guests' names.

Here are two ways we helped make this happen with our staff:

1. Give Them Pizza and Photos. A day or so before our Gala, I ordered pizza for lunch and invited our stressed-out group of hard working staff members into the conference room. (This event was all-hands-on-deck for this organization ... which is another blog post altogether.) Then, I presented a PowerPoint slideshow of the Who's Who of the Gala, complete with photos and all.  One year we even added a Donor Trivia Contest with small prizes.  It was a great stress reliever during a hectic time.

2. Glue Yourself to the Registration Table. When your guests are walking in the door with Mr. and Mrs. Prospective Donor (and they absolutely should be), that's not the time for you as the development director to be elsewhere futzing with silent auction snafus or bitching with a coworker about what a volunteer did or did not do. Your job - and I'd venture to say it's the most important one you'll do all night - is to plant yourself right there at registration/check in/whatever you call it and greet every single one of your donors by name.

Yep. Every single one. (Or as many as you can.) Bonus points if you know their guests' names too.

You know why? Because this simple practice helps to burnish your organization's image in your donor's mind as an organization that cares about them. That knows them.

To me, this simple and best practice is an essential function. I absolutely believe that the person you put in this capacity for your event is vitally important. Registration is not the spot for the summer intern who joined your staff two weeks ago, unless he or she has a photographic memory from your PowerPoint pizza slide show. (Yes, include them in that lunch too. You never know who is going to strike up a conversation with your major gift prospect en route to the restroom. Trust me, it happens.)

This is so easy to do, but is a special event detail that is neglected. I can't think of the last time my husband and I walked into an event and were immediately greeted with, "Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Firman! So glad to see you tonight!"

Can you?

When you do this, the look on your donors' faces will be priceless. I've had donors come up and express surprise and gratitude that I remembered their guests' names.  Normally, I would joke that I'd looked at the Excel spreadsheet of attendees so often that I was reciting it in my sleep (which wasn't far from the truth).  But the message was conveyed that ours was an organization where everybody knows their name.

And I'm betting that this made them pretty glad they came to our event.

copyright 2011, Melissa M. Firman, The Firman Group. 


  1. It's actually pretty fun to watch the slightly surprised look on some guests' faces when you greet them by name.

    It all comes down to treating people like people, not names on a list or walking checkbooks!

  2. Exactly, Mary! That slightly surprised look at that event was one of the highlights of my year ... I loved it.


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