Leaving Baby in a Corner

Several years ago, I was invited to a major donor event held by a long-standing Jewish institution that I had supported (let’s call them “JI”). The event was relatively small (only about 50-75 people in attendance), and invited guests were those who gave the highest level annual gift to the organization. Although I had given a substantial gift to this NPO, I was not in that highest category.

So why was I invited? I was on the guest speaker’s guest list, because the speaker, in this case, Chelsea Clinton, was representing her organization, the Clinton Global Initiative. The CGI invited me because they were soliciting me as a donor and they knew that I’d be interested in meeting Ms. Clinton. They also knew that I was a major donor in the community (and to the JI) and that I would likely know the other folks in the room, so I’d feel comfortable. All nice, right?

You would think so until I arrived at the event. I checked into the event without any issue and proceeded to the ballroom to find my table. (The program included a sit-down dinner, so the tables were arranged accordingly.) There were no table assignments or “reserved” signs, and nobody greeted me to show me to a seat, so I just found a seat at an empty table and waited for the program to begin.

Imagine my surprise when another donor asked me to leave the table, claiming that the table was his. Strange, but okay…

As it was a small room — and there were a number of staff milling around — I thought that someone would see what was happening and find me another seat.

Nope. Nada.

The presentation was beginning, and I didn’t want to be chased from yet another table, so I stood at the back of the room — still assuming that someone from the staff would notice me and find me a seat.

Still nothing. Despite my substantial gifts in the past, this particular organization completely ignored me. (Silly me — I thought that we had a “relationship”!)

Eventually, I gave up and went home.

What do you think happened the next time JI solicited me for a gift? You know the answer.

For all the incredible hard work that fundraisers do to recruit and retain donors, my relationship with JI ended in that hour that I was at the venue. The lesson? Make sure that your guests are greeted! A couple of words and a smile will do it — it doesn’t have to be a long conversation.

And then…

On a number of Zoom calls recently, I realized that I felt that same unnoticed/back-of-the-room sensation — almost like I was a lurker. Why? I realized that I had been personally welcomed at some online/virtual events in the past weeks by just a quick “welcome!” in the private chatbox, but not in others. It was then that it became clear that donors, potential donors, and volunteers are often ignored by organizations they support — online. Not intentionally, I’m sure, but because we haven’t successfully fine-tuned these virtual events quite yet.

It was at that moment that I remembered the unfortunate event at that CGI/JI dinner. I realized that when we moved to Zoom for almost everything, we forgot some basic manners. If the event that I was participating in via Zoom was happening IRL (in real life), and I was sitting at a dinner table or walking into a venue, someone from the staff would absolutely have welcomed me, as well as all guests. That “working the room” thing that is a part of every event in some way (greeting guests by going around a table, shaking hands at a cocktail party, introducing people to each other) somehow didn’t fully transfer to the Zoom world as well as one might have hoped.

The good news is that this is easily remedied. Quick notes in a chatbox saying “Welcome, Lisa — so glad you’re joining us!” or “Hi, I hope you’re doing well” cost nothing but a few seconds of time, but they go a long way in making the recipient/guest feel that their presence is noticed. It will eliminate the “lurker” feeling, and will also likely reduce drop-offs.

Whether online or offline, greetings and acknowledgments just make people feel appreciated. We’re pretty good at doing them in an offline event, but as online events, in some form, are here to stay, we need to add this small addition to our repertoire.

Thanks for reading!

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- Lisa