Salons - A Centuries Old Tradition
A few weeks before the “lockdown”, in late February 2020, I wrote this article about salons. Salons, if you’re not aware of them, are relatively small and typically home-based events that bring interesting people together. They’ve been done for centuries (literally) and have been places for people to learn from speakers and from each other about subjects they’re interested in. These events are not “open to the public”; rather, they are invitation-only events where the guest list is curated by the event’s host.
Most of these events have drinks, appetizers, and often dessert (depending on the time of day of the salon). People are usually seated for the presentation itself, and Q&A is an important part of the program.
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After about a decade of hosting these salons — generally for nonprofits of some type — I’ve realized that I’ve hosted about 200 of them at our home in Los Angeles. It’s been and continues to be, a great experience.
My reasoning for creating this salon “program” was simple. First, I enjoy learning new things in general, and I love learning about nonprofits and the good work they do. I’m most comfortable when I’m learning (and then socializing) with other eager learners in the same room. Also, I believe that giving to a nonprofit as an individual donor is great, but bringing together dozens of other potential donors expands the reach of that nonprofit’s fundraising efforts exponentially.
These salons were mostly “friend-raising” events, where the nonprofit was given the opportunity to introduce its organization and explain its history, mission, and strategies. If the organization was back for a second time, or they had significant visibility in my area, then the event was sometimes able to become a “fundraising” event. Some of these events had paying sponsors secured in advance, too, so that the NPO was able to come to our home knowing that a certain amount of money had been already raised.
With COVID, these salons came to a hard stop. However, like galas and other events, a form of them found its way to Zoom, and the learning continued. The socializing part (and the “noshing”) weren’t so transferable, so I was thrilled when the time came for us to once again host these events IRL.
If you’re curious to learn more about this centuries-old method of fundraising and donor development, check out the article I wrote — in those (carefree?) days just before the pandemic hit — here.
If you’re ready to jump in and host a salon, here are some tips to ensure the event’s success, courtesy of this passionate and longtime salon host:
Be well organized and prepared, down to the smallest detail. Here are a few suggestions — but know that this is not a fully comprehensive list:
If you’re using tech, check it at least an hour before the event begins (this includes microphones, speakers, laptops, projection, etc..)
Decide if you want name tags and if so, have them printed and ready to go. Also, a sign-in sheet is a good idea — and a way to confirm and capture email addresses.
Determine if you have any COVID restrictions, and if you do, communicate that to the guests well in advance.
If you want to be able to listen to the presentation (and I highly recommend that you do), have someone there to serve and clean up. Make sure the speaker has water available.
If there’s going to be an “ask” (for money, volunteers, connections, or whatever), decide in advance who will make that ask and at what point during the event that will happen. Don’t try to get the group together again after they’ve finished listening to the presentation — it won’t work.
Manage expectations with the guests and the nonprofit before you send out a single invitation. Is this “friend-raising” only, or will there be an ask for money?
Serve some type of food and drink. Finger food is great. Cocktails are not necessary, but wine, soft drinks, and tea and coffee are appreciated.
Remember that the focus here is for the guests to learn together — this isn’t a party and it doesn’t need to be “fancy” at all. When in doubt, tone it down.
Determine an end-time and stick to it. Be clear at the outset how the “run of show” will happen, including the approximate length of the presentation, confirmation that there will be plenty of time for questions, and the time you will adjourn. Your guests will appreciate it.
Thank you to Jon DeLange of DeLange Marketing Group who asked me for my #1 tip for those starting to do salons — which resulted in this post.
Finally, check out my book, Philanthropy Revolution, where you’ll find more information — and stories! — about my personal salons.