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Ep 6 - A.J. Steinberg Nonprofit Donor & Support Stewardship

In this blog, A.J. Steinberg, an expert in nonprofit event planning and donor engagement strategies, discusses the intricate details of executing a successful event for your nonprofit entity.

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Who is A.J. Steinberg?

This week, we welcome A.J. Steinberg, an expert in nonprofit event planning and donor engagement strategies, to discuss the intricate details of executing a successful event for your nonprofit entity. In this episode, A.J. discusses the three tiers of events with our host, May L. Harris, Esq., MA and the importance of cherishing your supporters. A.J.'s dedication to the nonprofit sector is clear in her shift from social event planning to nonprofit event planning in the late 90’s. Since then, she has assisted many nonprofits plan extraordinary events and raised millions of dollars for deserving causes. Tune in to this episode for event do’s and don’ts, information on what kind of events your organization should be holding, and even some great event ideas!

What Does Fundraising Look Like for a Nonprofit?

When AJ first started doing event planning, there were many significant differences between how things are done now. She admits that some have been great developments, such as virtual registration and planning platforms. However, the popularity growth of entirely virtual events and even mobile bidding at live events are things that she wholeheartedly thinks take away from the success of your event. If a potential donor or bidder must do so on their phone despite having paid to come to a live event, they will become disengaged as soon as they open their phones. As for virtual events, while a good addition to a nonprofit events toolbox they can never replace the breadth and success of live events.

With the pandemic putting an extreme strain on organizations ability to hold live events, some great virtual events were planned and executed. But AJ states that she would never want to return to needing to do all events virtually. According to her, the majority of the successful virtual events were executed by organizations that already had dedicated bases of donors. Without an existing base, these events tended to flop as attendance just was not where it needed to be.

Types of Events

Many young nonprofits think they need to launch into holding massive galas as soon as they are formed. But, as AJ and May discuss in this episode, galas are not the end-all-be-all for nonprofit event fundraising. Fact is, holding a gala is only going to cater to rather large donors, which you may not even have when you’ve just started out. Thus, AJ suggests that there are several types of events that all nonprofits should have in their repertoire.

The Three Tiers of Events

Galas -
Galas, as already mentioned, are geared towards deep-pocket donors that most young nonprofits simply do not have at first. Galas are a great event to hold, but only if it will pay off for your organization. If you are a midsize or larger nonprofits, there are several things to keep in mind if planning a gala. Firstly, if your gala isn’t fun and engaging, or simply comes across as a money grab, donors are not likely to return or even feel involved enough to bid in your silent auction. Meaning you only have one chance to truly get it right. Second, planning the gala itself is simply not enough. You must also dedicate significant time to planning the structure and delivery of your “ask.” If you’re just preaching to your audience telling them what you want from them (mainly to open their wallets) you simply will not succeed, no matter how great your event was.

Mid level events -
Mid-level events can be used by any size nonprofit organization. They cater to a younger audience and ideally make them want to come back for more and more events. This kind of event could be something as simple as a beer tasting or food truck, that still has some kind of presentation about why you’re all there. This gives a different demographic the chance to feel good about the amount they paid for their ticket, they have fun, and want to attend another in the future.
Free events -
Free events are an amazing opportunity to grow your donor base. While the event may be free to attend, you can still offer paid activities to fundraise to some capacity. But the primary goal of these events is to educate potential donors on your “why.” That is, answering the question of why attendees should stay involved, volunteer, or donate to your cause.
How to Garner Donor Attention and “Friendraise”

Something AJ stresses to her clients is the need to gather people who love you and love your cause. Especially as a small nonprofit, it is crucial to garner this kind of attention and support from your community or all your good intentions could go down the drain. May agrees wholeheartedly, saying she consistently advises her clients to “friendraise,” meaning to build a community of individuals who support you and your organization because they appreciate your efforts and goals.

To do this, it’s actually relatively simple. All your acquaintances from insurance agents to in-laws should get the same kind of pitch you would typically give to strangers you want to donate. Because they love you, or because they support your cause, they will want to donate and at the end of the day it will make them feel good about themselves and come back to support in the future.

The bottom line is that people like to feel good about themselves and the things that they do. If you phrase and frame their time and donations well, their financial giving and commitment of time will be a no-brainer for your donors.
How to Ask for Money Without Asking for Money

So many nonprofit boards that AJ and May have interacted with in their cumulative over 40 years of experience all say the same thing: “I don’t want to ask for money.” Frankly, that is a fair feeling. None of us want to come across as beggars to the people we respect and want to be involved in our organizations.

So, AJ puts forth a solution. Instead of your board members reaching out to their friends to try to grow your donor base, hire a “professional asker,” someone who knows nonprofits inside and out. With someone who is trained to handle these conversations in your corner, all your board members need to do is make an introduction and leave it to the pro. This takes a lot of pressure off your board so they have the time and energy to actually be working toward organization charity goals.
The Pitfalls of Not Being Prepared

Finally, AJ discusses the potential pitfalls of not having the training or professional help for your events, especially the large ones like galas. AJ admits that planning these events can be done without a professional, but it will take hours and hours away from your nonprofits' cause. Further, to do an event successfully and to accomplish the goals you have for it, whoever is at the helm of planning it must have at least some training on how to do so. Luckily, there are great resources out there, including AJ’s resource page for her business Queen Bee Fundraising.

If you do endeavor to take on this project without hiring assistance, AJ strongly recommends splurging on a day-of coordinator. Without one, you will be the one running around the entire time putting out fires instead of socializing with your audience and building relationships which is the entire point of putting on events for donors and volunteers.


Nonprofit events, from gala dinners to casual gatherings, play a pivotal role in establishing connections, fostering relationships, and securing financial support. In this insightful episode with A.J. Steinberg, we delved deep into the strategies that make these events a success. The key takeaways revolve around the significance of understanding your donor base, the potential of different event tiers, and the art of ‘friendraising.’ As the digital era brings in a whirlwind of changes, the essence of human connection remains irreplaceable. Organizations, regardless of their size, must prioritize the sentiments of their supporters, ensuring that they feel valued, acknowledged, and aligned with the cause.

In an industry where passion meets purpose, mastering the craft of event planning can pave the way for long-term engagement and support. With professionals like A.J. in the sector, nonprofits can better navigate their event planning journeys. While the virtual world has made strides, it's the personal touch, the real-life interactions, and the authenticity of face-to-face events that have the most profound impact.

Whether you're a seasoned nonprofit professional or a fledgling organization, this episode serves as a reminder that events aren't just about fundraising, but rather about community building, forging genuine bonds, and nurturing relationships for a greater cause.