During my first month as an Arts Fundraising Fellow at the Hallé, cultivation events have been a predominant theme of the projects that I’ve been involved with. There are many ongoing discussions in the organisation surrounding the cultivation of new high-level individuals and translating introductions into relationships.
Throughout these discussions it has been interesting to learn about the issues that companies face sometimes just getting prospects in the room, let alone engaging them in a relationship. Most surprising for me has been the understanding that large ‘glitzy’ events (such as gala dinners or balls) have had a relatively low success rate when it comes to cultivating longer relationships. Whilst such events can still be fruitful when their purpose is for immediate fundraising (buying tables and auctions, for example), it can be all too easy for individuals to attend with their own groups and not interact with figures from the hosting organisation.
Ideally then, new relationships with high-level individuals are best cultivated at smaller events where senior figures from the host arts organisation’s management team are able to circulate the entire room and personally meet all of their guests. Unfortunately, such events are not as attractive to potential targets – especially if the majority of your guest list have not had any previous association with your company.
During the discussions and meetings that I have been privy to, it has become clear that the dream scenario for an arts organisation creating such an event is to be able to offer an opportunity that money just can’t buy. Perhaps, as an example, building a private reception around a performance that includes a well-known artist and invite the artist to join the reception and speak to guests. Or alternatively, have a noteworthy figure (political or societal) ‘host’ an event and have the invitations sent in their name.
My top five tips for cultivation are as follows:
- Know Your Audience – Do your research and tailor your guest list for events accordingly.
Does this specific event match the image of the person/company that you are trying to engage with?
- Guest List – Who are you asking?
When the invitations are completely cold, be sure to invite the highest level figures from companies (directors, CEOs etc.) If this level of guest is unable to join you they are more likely to offer it around to their Senior Management to attend as a representative.
- Breaking the Ice – Use your connections.
Be sure to utilise your most established contacts and partners for their connections – they can often be your best salespeople. Run prospective guest lists past them and see if there are any links to your target prospects. No matter how faint, some form of familiarity can often prove beneficial when sending invitations.
- Don’t be Shy – Following up on contact.
Pursue invitation RSVPs by calling/e-mailing assistants so that they know that the invitation is personal and requires attention and a response. Furthermore, after the event make contact promptly, whilst it is still fresh in the mind, to thank guests for coming and ask if they enjoyed themselves. This also opens the door to organising a follow-up meeting to discuss projects or a partnership.
- And Remember…
If the purpose of an event is purely for engagement and relationship-building, don’t feel confined to basing it around a performance that your organisation is already undertaking. Cultivations do not always have to be directly related to such events – tickets can always follow later. A private dinner in a top-rated restaurant with your Senior Management and Artistic Directors, along with sponsors/patrons who already support you at the level you want your prospects to consider, can be just as effective. This also provides the additional bonus of feeling like a super-club and showcasing the kind of perks on offer to that level of supporter.
No matter your techniques, continuous cultivation of new high-level prospects is essential to the fundraising and development of arts companies. The question is, how do you make the opportunity special enough that it is just impossible for them to say no…?
What do you think? Please get in touch, we’d love to hear about what has worked for you and your organisation.