Keeping It Small

Fundraising, we all know, is all about relationships. And relationships really get cemented when you have quality, one-on-one time to get to know each other and understand the other’s hopes and dreams. This is especially important when we are talking about philanthropy. It follows that the best cultivation and solicitations happen between two people—the donor (or the donor couple) and someone the donor(s) trust.

But sometimes, these one to one situations just aren’t possible.

I work with a lot of organizations where there is, at best, a development director and a fair number where that one professional is only a dream in the Board’s eye. Having 3 to 5 one on one meetings every week isn’t realistic. There isn’t enough time.

Large scale fundraising events and mass methods of solicitation (direct mail, social media, phone programs) work for small gifts; the larger gifts and sponsorships that are gotten and which usually make the difference between raising real money and bringing in just slightly more than you’ve spent, also tend to happen one on one.

So what is a (human) resource challenged organization to do?

Small gatherings. Bring together 4-12 like people—like in capacity and inclination, that is—for the purposes of talking together about their support for your organization. Whether your purpose is to cultivate or solicit at the meeting, you must always allow those who want to give an easy way to do so. And you must plan the follow up for those who have yet to give.

This is probably not the ideal way to ask for a 6-figure gift, but it is entirely workable for $10,000 or below. And it can be a great way to cultivate a larger donor.

The thing I love most about small gatherings is their flexibility. They can be used to introduce people to organizations, or ideas and new initiatives to those who already know the organizations. They can be tools for prospecting, cultivation, stewardship and even—in the right circumstances—solicitation. They can be very fancy, or casual to the extreme.

As with most things, the first thing to do when considering a small gathering is to decide why you are doing this particular event. What do you want to accomplish? Once you know that, match host and style of the gathering to that purpose. For example, if you want to invite a group of loyal major donors to consider making an endowment gift—and explain the value of endowment to your organization—you might want to consider an elegant cocktail hour or even full on dinner. On the other hand, asking people to join with the host in making a $100 donation to your cause works best with a casual coffee and cake, beer and pretzels kind of do.

The most important part of a small group gathering is, of course, the small group itself. Getting the right people in the room is critical. More time should be spent on this than on any other part (though I think that is true even with massive galas or golf tournaments and the like).

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Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and build stronger, more effective boards. Learn how she can help you and your organization at or email her at