My Secrets to a Fabulous Party!
Lots of fundraising is built around socializing, isn't it? Whether it's a formal fundraising event or not, we are often organizing large or small groups of people in social situations. So it's really important to know your social skills and be able to throw a fabulous party.
For years, I've entertained audiences with my secrets to a great party. Now, I'm sharing them with everybody!
But first: What's the difference between an "event" and a "party"? An event is when you throw a bunch of people in the room, give them something to eat or drink, and hope they survive. A party is when you actually care about the experience they are having.
Maybe we, as fundraisers, just might want to pay more attention to the quality of the party experience for our guests. Just like we'd do at home. To be a great fundraiser, you need to be really good at "small talk," listening, conversation and socializing. Right? You need to be able to interest and engage people. So here are my tips for a fabulous party:
STAGE ONE: BEFORE THE PARTY
Here is where your plan can make or break you. Be sure you follow these tips:
1. Put together a terrific committee. Your committee is your "social branding" for the party. People will attend because they are close to your organization or they know someone on the committee. Plaster your invitation with committee members' names.
Be sure you have committee members from a wide-ranging demographic. Get different professions and types on your committee: real estate folks, attorneys, bankers, corporate types, soccer moms, different communities around your town, different religions and social networks. Get different ages on your committee.
And be sure committee meetings are fun!
2. Get your sponsorships. Focus on identifying and soliciting sponsors. That's where the profit will be for your event. And it takes plenty of lead time to properly approach the right sponsors and close the deal.
3. Give VIPs special encouragement to come. If you want some certain VIPs to attend your event, then make sure they come. They may be reluctant to attend for various reasons. Perhaps they don't have a date or escort. Or maybe they don't like driving at night. Or they are shy.
Call them up and say:
- "I have someone special I want you to meet at our party."
- "I have a terrific table for you."
- "Our 'party van' will come pick you up."
I love the idea of a party van picking up important guests. The Museum of Art in North Carolina once used a corporate jet to travel around the state and pick up key guests. You might not have access to a corporate jet, but I bet you could get hold of a van, or even your own car.
Just extend a very personal invitation follow-up to your VIPs, and make sure they come!
STAGE TWO: AT THE EVENT
1. Right-sized venue. Be sure your room or venue is not too big! Nothing is worse than a huge room that swallows your crowd. The energy will dissipate, and it will feel like nothing's going on. I'd rather have a room that's too small than have one that's too big. When the room is crowded with people, it feels like something is really happening!
2. Turn down the lights. Nothing is worse that bright lights glaring above. Nothing ruins the atmosphere of a party more than overly bright lighting. Turn the darn lights down, and create a sense of mood and atmosphere. At our age we all look better in lower light anyway. 🙂
3. Abundant food and drink. Never, never, never be the event that ran out of food or booze. Have the food tables look abundant. Your fare doesn't have to be fancy at all, but it needs to be ample and look attractive.
I always have terrific food at my parties, and lots of it! At my annual Christmas party in Raleigh, N.C., we are frying oysters out on the back deck and bringing them into the house. People love it!
I have a local congressman who never misses my parties. He says, "She always has fabulous food!" (He parks himself over the oysters.) Whatever it takes!
4. Beautiful young people. I find that the older folks love to be able to meet and chat with young folks. I love all ages at my parties. The cute younger guests are like eye candy to the old folks. But the young people enjoy meeting older dignitaries a lot too. Every guest has a lot to offer — bring it out of them!
5. Welcoming attitude. This might be the most important thing of all: how people are welcomed and treated when they are at the party. I love to find people who are looking lonely and introduce them to other folks. Give your board members this job: Tell them they need to be hosts and talk to people. (I call this "social ointment.")
When people come in the door, greet them like you haven't seen them in years and you are so glad they are here. Your energy is contagious! Isn't it? I read recently that the most important thing that impacts the success of a party is the attitude of the host. Consider that!
6. Music. Turn the music up at the beginning of the party so it will feel like something's going on. Then turn it down later on so people can talk.
7. Next year's chair. Enlist next year's chair at this year's event. People will be feeling happy and will be in the middle of success and glitz. It's the best possible time to get a "yes!" Give it a try!
STAGE THREE: AFTER THE EVENT
There's only one thing after the event: Call your sponsors, top purchasers of auction items, lead volunteers and major donors, and thank them.
Read what happened when a board member from the Orange County Rape Crisis Center called my boyfriend the day after he bought lots at its auction. He was so pleased with the call that now the organization has him for life. Be sure to line up your thank-you phone callers before the event, of course.
OK, what are your secrets to a great party? Leave a comment below!
Gail Perry is a fundraising consultant, owner of Gail Perry Associates and author of "Fired-Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action." Reach her at GP@GailPerry.com. This article first appeared on Gail's Fired-Up Fundraising website.