When addressing a group of supporters who have gathered at a donor-recognition event, it is important to effectively manage both the message and how you deliver that message.
A colleague contacted me recently for some advice about his upcoming appreciation event:
I will be emceeing and addressing the members of our legacy society. The President and the Chair of our current capital campaign are both speaking as well, but it falls to me to open the gathering and set the tone, then close the gathering and send them on their way. Given an opportunity like this, what would you make sure you said? Do you have any words of wisdom?”
The answers to the above questions will vary somewhat based on the unique culture of the group. Determining the correct message and how to appropriately deliver it will require sensitivity to the organization’s traditions, regional culture, and national mores. With that in mind, here are nine ideas what he might consider doing followed by two things he should definitely never do:
1. Be lively. I have found that many legacy society events can be dull, even funereal. If that’s what your folks are expecting and want, then give it to them. However, if the situation allows, I encourage you to try to be a bit light and jovial. Sometimes, we can take ourselves a bit too seriously, particularly when it comes to planned giving. Giving should be a joyful, positive, uplifting experience, even for a very serious cause. Keep that in mind when addressing your supporters.
2. Show appreciation. Just because it’s a donor-recognition event, do not assume that your supporters will feel appreciated simply by being there. Make sure you tell donors that you appreciate not just their gifts but also their involvement and caring.
3. Tell stories. People also like a good story, especially if it’s amusing, has a twist, or is heart-warming. Think of what you want to say. Then, think if there’s a story you can tell that will make the same point. Stories engage people by allowing them to put themselves into the situation. Hearing a good story activates many of the same parts of the brain that would be activated if the listener were actually living the situation. For maximum impact, make sure to use real stories.
4. Tell donors how gifts have been used. It is important for donors to understand that the organization wisely uses donations to achieve its mission efficiently. Very often, we focus on how gifts will be used. That’s certainly important. In fact, that’s my next point. However, we must also show folks the impact of past support. That gives us an opportunity to provide evidence of our organization’s effectiveness.
So, if a realized bequest contribution allows a social service agency to provide 50 meals to the homeless each week, then share that story. Remember that bequest commitments are revocable. And, if treated well, your planned gift donors will be among your best prospects for another gift. Therefore, you’ll want to keep reassuring the people that made those commitments that they made the correct decision.
Sharing a story about a previous donor whose gift has been realized will do a number of important things:
- Tells people that donors continue to be remembered and appreciated even long after they’re gone.
- Reminds folks that others have made a planned gift. People like to know that they’re part of group.
- Underscores that planned gifts have a real impact.
- Implies that all donors will likely be similarly appreciated and have their gifts wisely used to achieve the organization’s mission.
5. Tell donors how gifts will be used. For planned gift commitments that might not be realized for years to come, it can be difficult to demonstrate how the realized donation will be used. However, while difficult, it is still something you have to do. It is important for you to let donors know that their gifts will work to wisely benefit those the organization serves. And, if appropriate, tell them how the broader community or society will benefit as well.