Contact Us

Small Events Yield Big Payoffs

Small Events, Big Payoffs

By Mary Walker, Petrus Blog Contributor


When we think of fundraising events, we may picture galas with sponsorships, lots of guests, food, drink, auctions, and entertainment. 


Smaller events are a way to raise funds that let you connect with benefactors at a personal level. These events are easier to organize, less expensive to produce, and offer the possibility of one-to-one conversations. The variety of venues is limited only by your imagination. House parties, tailgates, restaurants, picnics, lectures, and parish fellowship are just a few ways to connect.


The steps to create these smaller events include:

  • Choose a venue/type of event and set a budget. Is this a “thank you” celebration for your monthly donors, a campaign kickoff, an announcement of new programs or services, a general occasion for fundraising, or an opportunity to grow your contacts? See below for some ideas that I’ve seen work VERY WELL.

  • Invite guests. Who to invite and how many depend on the event and venue. On a practical note, offer some form of RSVP and recognize that you will never get a perfect headcount. Some will just show up, and some who said they would come will be “no shows.” 

  • Create a short program. Usually, 10 minutes or less with minimal visual aids works best in these informal settings.

  • Provide a short testimonial (2 or 3 minutes) from somebody who has benefitted from your ministry.

  • Make a short, low-key “ask” with handouts for attendees to take home. Be prepared to receive gifts and answer questions.  

  • Formally thank the hosts, and give them a simple gift.

House Parties

Some people LOVE to entertain. They may have an impressive house and want to share it with others. Or perhaps one of your supporters enjoys some fame or holds a position of prominence. Guests would find it exciting to visit their home. The house parties I’ve helped plan ranged from dress up to casual. One was even in the lodge of a sports VIP, with the highlight of seeing sports memorabilia and a guest appearance by the host.


When your ministry asks somebody to host a house party, you and the hosts need to agree on expectations. The owners may offer to provide a meal, h’orderves, refreshments and decorate, OR they may expect your ministry to take care of these details. The owners may want the invitations to go out under their names, or they may want to just provide the location and have your ministry assume the actual hosting responsibilities. Either way, make sure all involved understand who is going to do what! 


If your hosts are experienced entertainers, they will have good ideas about how to host an event on their property. One host that I worked with had VERY strong opinions. While she was a bit challenging to work with, she was right about so many things, and the event was fabulous!


Restaurant Meal

Banquet rooms at restaurants can be great places for an event.  These rooms provide quiet space for conversation, and often have access to AV equipment for a more sophisticated short program. If your ministry has a connection with a particular restaurant, you can negotiate a nice discount or in-kind donation. The main advantage in using a restaurant is that the food and service will be taken care of, freeing you to otherwise attend to the guests.


One campus ministry was particularly creative in using a restaurant to help solicit gifts from graduating seniors. They asked graduating students to commit to a small monthly gift, which would total $1,000 over a five-year period. For example, if 50 students made such a commitment, $50,000 would be raised. Students who made the commitment by a certain date were treated to a dinner at an upscale restaurant, where they presented a ceremonial check to the director of campus ministry. The restaurant owner was a supporter of the campus ministry and offered a significant discount. 


Parish Halls

A campus ministry for a state university set up a series of casual events in parishes throughout the state. They invited alumni and parents of students to a Saturday evening Mass and a BBQ dinner afterwards. The ministry thereby connected with current benefactors, parents of the students who became benefactors, and even future students who planned to attend the university.


Tie-ins With Other Events

Some events that are scheduled outside of your organization offer a great opportunity to connect with your benefactors.  For example, football tailgates and Super Bowl parties bring people together for FUN and fellowship. If you have benefactors who have a strong tie to the team, so much the better! Perhaps they will host a small event or ask a “famous” person of their acquaintance to attend. 


Receptions before or after concerts, lectures, book signings, or holiday events also offer a chance for connection and good conversation. In addition, the publicity for the outside event magnifies your own publicity and entices the invitees to attend.  


Don’t Forget the Ask!

Because these events are casual, you might be tempted not to do an “ask.” The “ask” may be “softer” than what you’d do at a gala, but people attending are expecting it! During one restaurant event I attended for a Catholic school, the pastor circulated among the attendees, engaging them in conversation about the school. One benefactor had his checkbook in his shirt pocket ready to write a check, but he was never ASKED for support! Later, he did mail in a gift.


Unexpected Results 

When you host a smaller event that has opportunities for casual conversation, your ministry might not only benefit financially, but also in other important ways. At one event, as the ministry director circulated, he learned that one of the guests was closely connected to a person who could offer the ministry significant help with a local matter. The guest offered to make an introduction and do what he could to promote the cause!


How can smaller events better connect you with your benefactors and further your ministry? 


Do you struggle to remain organized and on-task in your event planning?  If so, click HERE to download Petrus Development's sample event task list.  It covers so many things you'll need to consider for your fundraising events.  



Sign up below toĀ receive tools, ideas, and inspiration to take your development efforts to the next level.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.