Tip Sheet: Turn Your 1st Time Event Attendees Into Loyal Supporters

One of the goals of any event is to introduce new people to your heritage place and your organization in the hope they will become loyal supporters, donors, and volunteers. But you need to do more than hope for that. Bringing new donors on board is a process that takes planning, execution, and careful timing.

Tip #1: Get email addresses

Email addresses are key to communicating with your new participants and potential supporters. Facebook and websites are fine for mass communications. But for onboarding you’ll need the personal touch of customized email.

If your event was ticketed, you’ll have the email addresses as part of your registration process. But if it wasn’t, you’ll need to present your request for email addresses as a value proposition. These people aren’t yet motivated to support you simply on the basis of having attended your event. So, what can you offer them in return for giving you their contact information?

Try a door prize or prize draws at your event. Require an email address as the point of contact on the form. If an auction is part of your event, make it a requirement to include their email on the bid form in the event you need to contact them if the winning bid falls through.

Have volunteers circulating at the event asking people for their email. Position this as a sign-up to receive your newsletter or information about future events. Again, you are offering them something.

Tip #2: Have your onboarding process ready to go

You already have a special advantage with new people who attended your event. They’ve had some introduction to your heritage place and exposure to what you do, and hopefully even met some of the people involved in your organization. Think of it as having had a blind date. Now you want to take it further.

Don’t let that opportunity slip away by not having your onboarding process planned and ready to go.

It should start at the event. If your event was ticketed, you’ll know who the first-time participants are. If it was arranged seating you’ll even know where they are. Regardless, make it a point to have your Board members circulate throughout the event, introducing themselves to your first-time attendees.

Think out the schedule of email communications you will have with these new participants and potential supporters in the coming weeks, the information you want to give them about what you do, how you want to present that information, and ways you can engage them in your organization.

An onboarding process should span over 6 weeks to two months. Don’t inundate your new contacts with emails. Spread them out at least 10 days apart.

Tip #3: Strike while the iron is hot!

The most important thing about that first communication to your new participants and potential supporters after your event is the timing. Send your first email within 48 hours, while the experience of attending your event is still fresh in their minds.

Thank them for attending and helping to make the event a success. Remind them why you held the event and the impact it has had on your heritage place. Include a photo from the event, preferably one of them at the event. Invite them to tell you how they enjoyed the evening. Did they have any memorable exchanges, do they have any feedback for you? That feedback may tell you what aspect of what you do interests them and you can use that to plan your future emails.

If you are lucky to have so many first-time attendees at your event that the workload of sending personal emails to each of them is too onerous, you could do this as a group email including several memorable pictures of the event. But the personal touch is always the best.

This first email might be a good time to capitalize on a positive experience by encouraging them to come back soon. If you charge admission to your heritage place you could offer a discounted pass for their next visit. Be sure to make that a pass for two. It will increase the likelihood of uptake and bring you another potential supporter. You might position it as:

“We were so glad to meet you and hope you come visit us again soon. Please accept this special admission offer for you and your guest with our compliments”.

4: Messaging – Impact│Inspiration│Engagement

In your messages use language that shares the impact you have in your community, inspires people about your heritage place, and encourages them to get involved.

Tell your story in pictures and videos. The less text the better. Use links to your website and social media where they can find more detail, or stories about what you do.

Keep them updated on your heritage place. Try to find out what appeals to them about your organization – what is it you do that appeals to them? Then customize your communications with them around that.

Share personal stories of the impact you have in your community:

  • Are you a community hub that provides programming spaces for seniors, youth, or families?

  • Do you offer a performance venue for emerging artists?

  • Is your heritage place an economic driver creating jobs and attracting tourists?

  • Is your heritage place an important piece of your community’s history?

Share inspiring stories about volunteers or donors who have made a real difference in your heritage place.

You want to engage new people in your organization and show them how they can make a difference too, so make sure they know about any upcoming events, especially if they’re free. You might arrange a special tour or information session for your new participants and potential supporters – individually or as a group.

Tip #5: Calls to action

Remember to include calls to action in your messaging. It shouldn’t be all about “pushing” information at them. Remember to “pull” them to you.

Include links to your social media and website. Invite them to sign up for your newsletters, or sign a petition – those are calls to action.

Asking for a donation is a clear call to action, but during your onboarding process don’t do it. This period is about getting to know each other better, not asking for support when you’re unclear why they would support you.

Use this time to listen and find out what would motivate them to become involved.

Once you’ve completed your onboarding process it’s time for the ultimate call to action – include them in a fundraising appeal. But gear it to what you’ve heard from them. If what you do in your heritage place is more important to them than your history, ask them to support one of your programs rather than a bricks and mortar restoration project.

Tip #6: Manage expectations.

As exciting as it is to welcome new people to your organization remember that you won’t get 100% of those first-time event attendees on board as your supporters. Some of them may have attended your event with a friend and have no inclination to support you. Don’t be discouraged by that. A good retention rate for new participants is 27% to 33%.

For those you do enlist as supporters, the onboarding process will be worth all the effort you put into it as you watch them become more involved in your organization as volunteers and donors. Who knows, you may have onboarded a future Board Chair or major donor or even a legacy funder.