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What You Need to Know

  • If you're involved with a major nonprofit, fancy fundraising galas may help you showcase your knowledge.
  • An inexpensive business card ad in an ad booklet will place you near the full-page ads from major sponsors.
  • Physical invitations and handwritten thank-you notes make a big impression on prospects, clients and event hosts.

Warmer weather is coming, and it means that the party circuit isn’t far behind. Spring and fall are the seasons nonprofits traditionally hold their charity galas. In major cities, it’s called the social season.

This is an opportunity for advisors to mingle with the sort of people they covet for clients. It’s also a time that clients entertain. There’s lots of opportunity. How do you do the party circuit?

Charity Events

You are likely deeply involved with at least one major nonprofit. They do a fancy gala to raise money. FYI: In meetings you can show your knowledge by referring to this activity as “event-based fundraising.” If you serve on the board, you are expected to buy tickets. If your involvement is at the member level, it’s an event you want to attend.

As a “numbers person,” you want to look behind the curtain. How do these events work? The charity nets very little on the ticket price. Most goes to rent the space, hire the caterers, buy the flowers, hire the banks, rent the linens and pay for the booze. The major money comes from sponsorships plus the live and silent auctions. I’ve heard a great expression relating to raising the organization’s visibility and attracting future donors: friend-raising. Hopefully they do some fundraising, too.

Consider the following:

  1. Buy your tickets early. This should get you noticed by the staff and committee.
  2. Buy a table? If your office is sponsoring, they might have paid for an entire table. This is an ideal venue to bring key clients.
  3. Get listed in the program. Many organizations sell a slightly more expensive ticket for patrons. This gets your name in the program. People sit at their table for cocktails and page through, looking for familiar names (and the names that are missing).
  4. Take out a business card ad. The event program is an ad booklet. There will be full-page ads from major sponsors. Business card ads are usually inexpensive. Your firm shouldn’t have a problem with this since your business card is already a form of ad. 
  5. Hope for a pre-party or afterparty. If your client is high up with the charity, they might host drinks at their home before or after the main event. You might get invited. You have an opportunity to meet their friends.
  6. Arrive at the start. These tickets cost a bundle. Mingle during cocktails. Meet strangers. Ask about their connection to the nonprofit. How did they get involved? Say hello to familiar faces.
  7. Meet the bigwigs. These are people like the honoree, event chair and organization president. Congratulate them on a great event.
  8. Stand up and be counted during the paddle raise. In the live auction, most organizations announce a project, then ask people to donate money by raising their paddle. This is done in decreasing amounts. Donors are sometimes asked to stand, making counting easier. At the end they tally how much was raised. Everyone applauds. You want to be counted and seen at least in the final and lowest category.

Parties at Clients’ Homes

Once clients become friends, they often absorb you into their social circle. You can see the obvious business advantages. Here’s a strategy.

  1. Accept all invitations. You like these people! You are invited into their home! It’s a huge compliment.
  2. Dress well. Interpret “casual” to mean “country club casual.”
  3. Get the car washed and waxed. If your clients are really wealthy, they might have opted for valet parking. Everyone will see your car as it’s brought up.
  4. Arrive bearing a gift. The term is house present. It’s often wine, flowers or chocolates. Not everyone does. This sets you apart.
  5. Don’t arrive early. The hour before the event belongs to your hosts. They are stressed out getting everything ready.
  6. Mingle with the guests. Put another way, don’t monopolize your hosts or sit on the side looking sad.
  7. Don’t behave as if no one ever feeds you. You are making a first impression on the other guests. Don’t drink too much, either. 
  8. Don’t be the last guests to leave. There will be a moment when everyone seems to have checked an invisible clock and started to say their goodbyes. That’s your cue.
  9. Send a handwritten thank-you note afterward. Use personal stationery. It makes a big impact. Get it in the mail the next day.

Hosting Your Own Party

One way of installing yourself on the party circuit is to host your own party. It’s not as difficult as you think. Let’s assume you don’t live in a grand home with a quarter-mile driveway. (At a charity event, I sat with people I knew slightly. I remarked that when we drive by their house, we always see a windsock from the highway. I asked why they had one. “It’s for the helipad” was their answer. We aren’t in that league.)

  1. Send a physical invitation. I like printed ones. You might do an electronic invitation, but a hard card serves as a reminder.
  2. Invite people who get along. They likely know each other already. They will talk about your upcoming party among themselves.
  3. Low-key is OK. Summer is approaching. Having a barbecue in your yard is fine. They may be wealthy, but they still love burgers and grilled chicken.
  4. Consider renting a tent. Here’s something unusual: Invite people to a barbecue or picnic and they dress a certain way. Rent a tent and call it a garden party, and people dress differently! You still serve the same food.
  5. Figure out parking. You might ask neighbors if people can use their driveway when yours is filled. Mention these details in the invitation.
  6. Have enough food and drink. And ice, too. You don’t want to run out.
  7. Consider renting glassware. It’s a big step up from the plastic cups you associate with tailgating.
  8. Hire staff. If you have someone tending bar or freshening up the trays of food, you can enjoy your own event.
  9. Circulate. Greet each guest on arrival. Move around and talk with everyone. Say goodbye to each guest as they leave, ideally walking them to the parking area.
  10. Have coffee and bottled water on hand. You don’t want people driving home while impaired. Have a plan if a guest seems to be under the influence.

Do this right and you might become “the advisor we all do business with.”


Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, “Captivating the Wealthy Investor,” is available on Amazon.