A version of this blog post first apppeared in Philanthropy Front & Center New York.
If you're looking to raise money for a good cause without the extravagance of a full-on gala, having a house party can be great as a simpler, more intimate alternative. Held in someone's home, usually with no more than 50 attendees, a fundraising house party can help you raise thousands of dollars within just a couple of short hours.
What are the key ingredients for a successful house party? Author, community organizer, and veteran fundraiser Andy Robinson visited the Foundation Center-New York to discuss what it takes to put together a house party that brings in plenty of donations while showing guests a great time. Here are a few of his tips from the seminar, "Bringing Down the House: How to Plan a Fundraising House Party".
Where to hold the party?
Andy was emphatic that a good house party does not require a large or luxurious house as its venue; what it does require is an enthusiastic host. Who are the most effective hosts? They will be:
- Eager to open up their home to your guests
- Willing to invite their own friends to the party
- Ready to make all of the attendees feel comfortable
- Prepared to take an active role in the planning process and in writing thank-you notes after the event is over
- Able to make donations of their own to your organization
These will be the most effective hosts you can have.
How many to invite?
It's safest to assume that a large percentage of invitees will be no-shows, so invite three or four times as many people as you would like to show up. One way to boost the show-up rate is to make follow-up phone calls to each of the invitees after the initial invitations have been sent. Also, generally half the invitation list should be comprised of contacts from the organization, and the other half should be friends of the host.
What should happen at the party?
Andy recommends that the party should last just a couple of hours, with the majority of the time spent with informal socializing, and the brief, formal fundraising presentation taking place maybe 45 minutes into the party. You'll want some sort of enticement to draw your attendees to the party, whether it's especially good/interesting food, or some type of local celebrity if possible, an interesting venue if available, good music, or some kind of entertainment or activity that's relevant to the organization.
Also, among the crowd there should be a small handful of people representing the organization; these people can wear nametags, greet people at the door and collect names on a sign-in sheet, help ease the conversation amongst guests, and thank people as they leave at the end of the night.
When and how should donations be solicited?
It is wise to ensure that guests aren't surprised by your request for donations, so make it clear on the invitation that this is a fundraising event. Language such as "donations gratefully accepted" or "please remember to bring your checkbooks" will work for this purpose.
You also have the option of requesting a set amount of money in advance versus an open-ended request. The benefit of asking for a set donation in advance is that you'll know basically how much you'll be raising ahead of time and can relax a bit more at the house party without worrying about guests departing before making a contribution. However, this approach has drawbacks, as the set amount can often be either too much for some attendees, or less than the attendee would have otherwise given had you left the solicitation open-ended.
For the most part, not specifying a donation amount can make your fundraising amounts less predictable, but people often tend to raise more money this way. When it comes to actually making your fundraising appeal during the party, it's a good idea to wait until the guests have been enjoying themselves for 30-45 minutes or so, and then call everyone's attention to the presentation.
The "ask" can be done by the host, or by someone who is introduced by the host (sometimes a board member can be a good choice), and the presentation should be succinct (probably no longer than half an hour or so), but compelling and engaging – make plenty of eye contact and tell some specific, inspiring stories about the difference your organization can make with their contributions. It's good to set a fundraising goal for the night and let the guests know how much of a contribution it would take from each of them to be able to meet that goal.
Have a question and answer session after concluding your ask, and pass around baskets with envelopes in which guests can enclose their contributions. Afterwards, as people get back to socializing, you can count up the donations and make an announcement near the end of the party about how much you've raised with their help. Remember to thank your guests as they leave, and also send them thank-you notes after the party is over!
Want to learn more?
Watch a video of Andy's full seminar at Foundation Center New York.
Search our library catalog for books specific to house parties, such as Morrie Warshawski's The Fundraising Houseparty. For book/articles on special events in general, try a Subject search for "Fundraising special events".
Check our event calendars for more programs on fundraising at our regional offices and Funding Information Network partners.
For more advice from Andy Robinson, visit his website for tips, workshop information, and helpful books and articles, or check a video clip from one of his workshops.
TRACY KAUFMAN is the Program Associate at Foundation Center New York, where she organizes guest speaker programs and helps visitors find information that they need.