Virtual Parties With A Purpose: A Compliment to Large Galas

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

Do you want to throw small virtual fundraising events? If so, this blog post is for you.

Big galas have their place, but smaller online events can be impressively lucrative when done well.

Sometimes called “Parlor Gatherings,” we call them “Parties with a Purpose” (PWAP). These events can complement your large gala—or even be held in lieu of it. At 30 to 45 minutes each, such events can be offered many times throughout the year, particularly because each PWAP has its own unique audience of 25–35 attendees, all of whom are related to the network of the PWAP’s cohosts.

The virtual PWAP is a “must” to include in your annual fundraising program or within a campaign.

In fact, one of our recent webinars focused on this very subject. The webinar covers more details about why we think cohosts are best, six points about how to talk to donors virtually, and the mistakes from which we have learned.

Parties with a Purpose (PWAP) provide a social setting where new persons and select businesses are introduced to your nonprofit in a casual yet systematic way. They allow one or two of your passionate staff, board, or volunteer members to share the urgency of your mission with friends, family, work associates, and peers.

We recommend PWAP because they are cost effective, increase donor engagement, and help you retain your current donors. They also help you acquire new donors because the cohosts invite new prospective donors to get to know you.

A significant amount of revenue can be raised on the spot and also through phone follow-up after the event. Our average PWAP raises $25,000, but we’ve also had a few that raised $250,000. It all depends on the giving capacity of the individuals invited by the hosts.

How Does a PWAP Work?

A PWAP usually takes the form of a virtual event or an informal get-together at someone’s home or office. Guests might include peers, friends, family members, coworkers, and business colleagues. Typically, 20 to 35 people attend.

The cohosts set the guest list with the nonprofit’s input. The cohosts of a PWAP should think selectively when assembling their invitation list. It’s important to get the right people in the room—those who have the capacity to give and who are genuinely interested in the organization’s mission. The nonprofit can contribute to the guest list by suggesting a few additional guests, but the guests should mainly be connected to the cohosts.

Ideally, the guest list should be wealth screened beforehand so that the right range of suggested giving amounts can be conveyed to the guests. Additionally, having a major donor conversation with the cohosts to ascertain their giving level before the event is important. Sometimes the cohosts also present their gift as a challenge gift.

Modest refreshments and snacks are served or, in the case of a virtual event, delivered. Guests enter and are made to feel welcome. They meet one another by going around and saying their names and why they chose to attend. In person, guests converse just as they would at any social gathering.

Unlike a normal social gathering, however, the PWAP is tightly scripted. This is primarily a fundraising event. At a predetermined moment, the cohosts ask for the guests’ attention, and the program is presented. The program is designed to be emotionally charged, informative, inspiring, and above all, brief. We recommend recruiting persons directly served by your nonprofit to give personal testimonials, which will add emotional intensity and perspective to the event. These testimonials must be practiced and role-played beforehand.

Done virtually, we generally use the online platforms of Zoom or Microsoft Teams. When a PWAP is conducted in person, the cohosts usually make available one of their homes or office spaces. Because of this, there is no need to pay for an event space. Further, the costs of email invitations and refreshments are kept to a minimum. We generally spend only $1,500 to $2,500 for a PWAP when done in person, and when done virtually, the cost could be even less.

For a virtual event, we do recommend that you send a small gift basket to each attendee’s home before the event with refreshments and snacks. See this post about sending donor gifts.

Each attendee should be given a welcome packet in person or via email. The packet contents should be carefully presented at the event by one of the cohosts. We keep the packets simple by only including a pledge card, a reply envelope, and/or a link to a text-to-give option, a Facts 101 sheet about your agency, and bios on the co-hosts and those giving a testimony. At virtual events, we like to use text-to-give platforms like givingbee.com and Hopin.com. Network for Good also has this function. When used, text-to-give information should be included in attendees’ confirmation emails as well.

At particular moments during the presentation, we typically have a slide pop-up with the text-to-give information. Then, at the end of the program—and before anyone leaves—pledge cards are collected, or the text-to-give option is provided once more.

In addition, when the cohosts ask the attendees to fill out their pledge cards or use the text-to-give function, they should explain what impact various giving levels will have. The nonprofit’s Development Officer or CEO can also provide support in this role. The guests must be encouraged to act immediately and not postpone their giving transaction.

(Admittedly, I have heard good reasons for postponing. One donor told me she could give a more significant gift if she first checked her donor-advised fund. Another told me that he wanted to check his company’s matching gift policy first.)

When departing, people should be in good spirits, having made new acquaintances and learned more about the outstanding opportunities to support your nonprofit’s crucial mission.

Remember, donors need your mission. They want to be a part of the solution and the impact your organization has. It’s our job as fundraisers to warmly welcome them under the great canopy of your urgent work.

A Sample PWAP Flow

  • Allow 30 to 45 minutes for a virtual event and 60 to 90 minutes for an in-person gathering. Hors d’oeuvre and drinks are served or delivered beforehand. Serving alcohol is at the discretion of the hosts unless the nonprofit has a policy against it.
  • Guests should be greeted at the start of the event and/or emailed welcome instructions the morning of the virtual event. Organization staff members perform sign-in functions, share attendee nametags or online identifiers, and share a welcome packet that includes a factsheet about your nonprofit, pledge forms and/or the text-to-give link, and profiles of the hosts and the client who will be offering a testimonial. Sometimes a recent news clipping is also included. (2-5 minutes)
  • A welcome speech is given by the host(s) stating why the group is gathered and why the cohosts are passionate about your nonprofit. One of the cohosts should present the contents of the welcome packet. If the event is virtual, a link to the welcome packet content should be shared in the chat area. The cohost then introduces one or two members who have been served by your agency. (2-5 minutes)
  • Five minutes each is allocated for one or two client testimonials. These should be rehearsed beforehand. (5-10 minutes)
  • Sometimes the audience members have questions. They should be welcomed and responded to with very short answers. (5 minutes)
  • After the testimonial, pledge cards are distributed throughout the crowd and collected immediately, or the text-to-give links are shared. (5-10 minutes)
  • The call to donate is made by the cohosts. This must also be practiced in advance. The range of the fundraising goal must be shared. That goal is usually determined by the wealth screen. Clarity must be given about what a day in the life of your nonprofit costs and what various programs cost. Your overall budget should be stated, and other sources of revenue should also be shared.
  • Entertainment, drinks, and desserts are available or delivered beforehand.
  • As guests leave, the hosts collect outstanding pledge cards or call for final text donations.
  • A thank you follow-up email should be sent the day after the event with the links to donate included.

A full description of PWAP can be found in Chapter Six of Laurence’s seminal work, The Nonprofit Fundraising SolutionOrder your copy today for just $10.

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.

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