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Eagles Don't Flock: How To Engage Your Wealthiest Donors

By Lynne Wester

Ever wonder why, when you look over your guests lists at your big events, there are always a few notable names missing? Yup, it’s your very very top donors. The billionaires. The hundred-millionaires. They aren’t coming to your events. And it’s sad really—we want them to come to our events, we even put out the nice chicken! All comedy aside, our events are rarely attended by our big, transformational donors.

But why? Well, it’s because as my friend Jan would say, eagles don’t flock. Those in the 1 percent are living completely different lifestyles than even those who make millions, and thus and therefore our events are not particularly attractive to them. Here are just a few of the reasons why:

  1. They don’t do lines… They don’t fly commercial. Meaning, while you think you’re special with your global entry and pre-check, skipping past the big line to the smaller line, they don’t do lines. They’re picked up at their home by a driver (not an uber) and whisked to their jet running on a private tarmac and don’t go through security and wait at the gate eating stale snack bars while the delays run through. They’re living an on-demand life when it comes to travel or attending events. No lines, no hassle, whenever and wherever they want it. The places they go know their favorites, don’t make them wait in lines, and help them avoid a hassle all the time, from separate entrances to ease of exit and entry, it’s about the little niceties that add up.

  2. They don’t want to be gawked at and made to feel like the only person in the room. It’s the celebrity effect. They love NYC because people don’t stare at them and point. They certainly don’t want that at your events either, especially if your organization is in a small community like a college town.

  3. Their time is worth money, literally. Usually these folks are rather successful. So, they’re busy running their businesses or empires. Spending three to four hours at your event may actually cost them money. Or their time may be much more precious than their money. Evaluate and adjust for this.

  4. They enjoy the finer things in life. Once you reach a certain point of wealth (I hear) your tastes become more refined. There’s another level of high end that exists out there and let’s just say it’s not at any of our shopping malls. So how will our affordable food and beverage make the cut? It probably won’t.

I know I’m using sweeping generalizations here and many billionaires live just like we do. Sure. That made me feel better—did it you? But in all reality, we need to be prepared for the fact that although there are exceptions, our events and interactions are not as attractive to them as we might think. So how do we get an eagle to swoop in to join us? Here are some tips:

  1. Unique locations that are difficult to access are always a draw

  2. Access to iconoclasts or other thought leaders

  3. Access to others on their level—my friend Maureen has an event for this group that is small and intimate and no fundraising staff are in the room, so truly a room of peers

  4. Experiential events or moments that surround memories of theirs or emotions, a big rivalry game, a beloved professor, a milestone

  5. Don’t be the organization that is disorganized. Lay out the year for them for your organization and pick one or two ways you would like them engaged so as to prioritize your asks for their time, and have the right person ask them

  6. Don’t waste their time, if they’re going to give it—honor it

  7. Make sure that as much as possible you provide them the type of customized experience they're used to—it doesn’t have to be super high end or too flashy but can be understated elegance and special touches just for them

  8. Around each and every one of these eagles usually is a flock of helpers that can also serve as gatekeepers—treat them very, very well—they hold the keys to access and can often carry great influence

Tell me about your eagles. What have you experienced? How do you attract them to your nest? What’s worked for you? Or do you have the opposite? Do your eagles come to everything and engage at every turn? I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments.


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