“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to donate to your cause. What you’re doing is so important. How else can I help?”
If you work for a small nonprofit organization, you dream of hearing these words.
The truth is, your donors are hungry for hope, connection, and conversation in support of your nonprofit’s mission. With the right planning, running a fundraising house party offers to bring these together in a straightforward yet truly memorable event.
What is a fundraising house party?
A three-hour, invitation-only, social gathering with up to thirty people, hosted at one of your supporters’ homes. The event involves a presentation of your work and impact, time for question and answers, small-group discussions, a fundraising ask, and time for participants to casually socialize.
Such a gathering is ideal for under-resourced organizations. Perhaps you don’t have a team of volunteers to coordinate a major fundraising event, or the budget for a flashy video, or professional graphics to explain your work. If $1,000 goes a long way for your organization, the house party might be right for you (we raise an average of $1,100 per event). You’ll want the ability to receive tax-deductible donations and, ideally, be set up with online donation capabilities (we really like Donorbox).
It’s also great for organizations still working to refine their message, especially if you have engaging speakers with basic facilitation experience.
We estimate that, using this guide, you’ll need a combined 20 team hours to run your first event — from the initial planning to the final donor thank-you cards (excluding general volunteer hours for someone who might help with parking/setup). With experience, that time can be reduced, and the total is largely influenced by the variables of food prep, follow-up calls, and the time taken to facilitate the event. The financial margins may not be large (it’s not advisable to drop your grant writing), but there are many benefits beyond money.
Benefits of running a fundraising house party:
- connect with new people whom your nonprofit may serve (if your organization works mostly online, it’s nourishing to have face-to-face interactions);
- refine your spoken message;
- showcase your organization’s work, including business offerings;
- learn what people want to know about your organization and how to better serve your stakeholders (through conversations at the event and post-event surveys);
- make fundraising fun and engaging, giving donors an experience of being part of a giving community);
- gain confidence in making a financial “ask,” good practice for major donor requests;
- raise money and grow your donor base — we average seven new donors per event;
- strengthen bonds with existing financial supporters, some of whom may become major donors;
- receive non-monetary offers of support, e.g., personal introductions, volunteering, board involvement, promotional assistance, donation of goods, or volunteers to host future house parties; and
- add new people to your mailing list.
Steps to organize a fundraising house party:
1. Set your intention.
Assess what you want from this event, and assign the roles and responsibilities of your team to achieve those goals.
2. Design the event.
Here’s our three-hour Event Plan:
- casual socializing with food and drinks (30 minutes);
- welcome from host, housekeeping information, and a brief word of support for the organization’s work (5 minutes);
- welcome from presenters, including brief biographies (8 minutes);
- event agenda (2 minutes);
- overview of your organization’s mission and achievements (15 minutes);
- guest self-introductions — maximum of 45 seconds per person — using a focus question, e.g., Why are you passionate about <your organization’s field of work>? (25 minutes);
- short break (15 minutes);
- presentation about your programs and organization (40 minutes);
- you revisit your organization’s vision and make your financial ask (5 minutes);
- you hand out envelopes that include a written donation form, event survey, and postage stamp (8 minutes);
- closing sentence (2 minutes); and
- casual mingling.
3. Assemble your team.
We recommend two people from your team co-facilitate the house party. Like a relay race, co-facilitating allows each participant to rest and give their best throughout an event. It’s also more interesting for participants, especially if you can find a way to blend different facilitatory styles.
Next, call a potential host who is familiar with your work, is aligned in their values, and has a suitable hosting space. We recommend a well-networked and beloved local. Ask them to invite friends who could contribute financially, and/or donate drinks and/or finger food.
If needed, find an additional volunteer to help with set-up, parking, and welcoming people. This can be a great role for a member of your board.
4. Create your invitation.
We suggest using Evite (it’s free), for a beautifully designed invitation and easy way to track who opens the invitation and responds. If your organization uses a newsletter service, this could also suffice, or at a minimum you can use email.
Here’s sample text:
Dear <FIRST NAME>,
You are invited to an inspiring conversation and fundraiser!
Please join us on <DATE>, for an intimate conversation with <NAME(S) OF THE PRESENTER(S)> about <YOUR ORGANIZATION’S FOCUS/MISSION> and the work of the <YOUR ORGANIZATION’S NAME>.
We hope you will be generous in supporting this unique and inspiring nonprofit organization.
Please enjoy the beautiful home of <HOST’S NAME> in <TOWN, STATE>. Delicious finger food, wine, and other beverages will be provided.
Please RSVP before <DATE>. Seating limited.
Note: Make sure you have the word “fundraising” in your event title, so that people are prepared for a financial ask.
5. Invite people.
Send your invite at least three weeks before your event to between three and five times the final number of people you would like to attend.
Assemble your guest list in an online spreadsheet (shared between co-facilitators), with columns for “first name,” “last name,” “email address,” “phone number,” “RSVP status,” “organizational contact” (listing your team member who will follow-up about an RSVP, if needed), and “notes” (to record miscellaneous information about the RSVP follow-up and interest in future events). Copy and paste into your invitation software ONLY the first names and email addresses (you may need to download as a .csv file first).
The host of your house party is a major ally in drawing a crowd; one-third of our attendees come via our host’s inviting people we don’t know. Share with the host a draft of the invitation text and event link. Ask the host to copy these details into a personalized email inviting their friends. Provide them with a deadline and follow up by phone, as needed.
If you have not reached your RSVP goal one week after sending invitations, you or your host can call and/or text people. Software like Evite provides you with insights, e.g., who viewed your invitation but has not RSVP’d, and who has not yet seen your invite.
6. Assemble your materials:
- paper, for guests to take notes about your work;
- food and drinks (appealing food and drinks really help create a nurturing atmosphere);
- flowers, to thank your host;
- folding chairs;
- chime or timing device, for facilitation;
- basket, for envelopes with donations and completed surveys; and
- printed donation forms;
- donation url slips, to steer people to your donation page;
- self-addressed envelopes;
- postage stamps;
- business cards;
- printed surveys; (print sample here, online sample here)
- printed “Event Run Sheets” (see below — one copy each for facilitator(s) and the host);
- laptop computer, for online donations;
- handouts, e.g., key materials explaining your work and how people can get involved;
- name tags; and
- guest list.
7. Prepare your materials.
When you make your financial ask and distribute your survey near the end of the event, you’ll want to hand out accompanying self-addressed envelopes, with a postage stamp inside each envelope. This gives people more time to consider their survey answers or make a financial contribution from the comfort of their home. Self-address enough envelopes such that everyone has this option.
If people want to make a donation and complete their survey at your event, they’ll typically use the envelope for the donation and hand you their survey. You can then reuse the envelope and enclosed stamp at your next event.
Assembling your envelopes is also your chance to place a written donation form, a donation url slip (a small piece of paper with the full url linking to your online donation page), your handouts, and your business card inside each envelope.
8. Host the fundraising house party.
Arrive 30–60 minutes before your guests in order to:
- set up food and drinks;
- set up the room so everyone can be seen and heard — a circle of chairs is ideal, increasing the chance that guests are able to hear;
- set up your donation basket, envelopes, surveys, handouts, and paper on which guests can write;
- write guest name tags;
- connect your laptop to the host’s wifi and open a browser to your organization’s donation page; and
- welcome your guests as they arrive.
Tips for hosting
When you are sharing the event agenda, make sure you mention at what time you’ll take a break and your planned finish time. Beginning and ending on time are crucial to maintaining trust. Instruct people on what to do if they need to leave early (e.g., pick up your envelope with the survey, etc.), and tell them that you’ll be sharing handouts at the end.
For the short self-introductions, have everyone first take a minute to silently reflect on the question to which you’d like them to respond. Another way to reduce the chance of people speaking longer than your ideal 45 seconds is to share the math for how long it would take if everyone speaks for two minutes. Use a chime or similar device to help keep people moving.
If you are co-facilitating, use your short break to check in privately and potentially modify your run sheet.
To save time, fold audience questions and answers into your presentation section.
As you make your ask, remember to mention your tax-deductible status and that an online donation option will be available at the event’s close.
In your closing, thank the host and attendees, highlighting the length of time the host is happy for people to stay longer. Mention that you will be available for <number> minutes to answer questions and help with any online donations.
9. Keep the momentum going.
Send an email to attendees within five days, thanking them and linking to a relevant, free resource you have created and/or public information that could be of interest and assistance.
Process any donations, update your fundraising and mailing databases, and mail handwritten thank-you cards to anyone giving over $50. As additional donations come in, follow up with a phone call and thank-you card for larger amounts.
Debrief with your team, with a focus on learning. Analyze the survey results and follow up on any actionable items (e.g., expressions of interest in joining your board or hosting your next house party). You may need to update your run sheet, survey, handouts, written donation form, and the invite list for future house parties — it’s true, people sometimes express that they’d like to attend another one!
For future events, remember to check your previous event guest list to ensure you invite people who said they’d like to attend a future event.
And that’s it!
Remember, people are hungry for hope, connection, and conversation. Through a house party, you can offer your supporters all this, and more.
Crystal Arnold, B.A., is the founder of Money-Morphosis and the Money-Wise Women podcast. She is Director of Development and Education at the Post Growth Institute.
Donnie Maclurcan, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Post Growth Institute. A writer, social entrepreneur, and facilitator, he has worked with not-for-profit initiatives in over 30 countries.