How Hosting Cozy Chats Can Help Your Nonprofit Build Relationships and Raise Money

A diverse group of people chatting casually.

If you were invited to one of Building Changes’ Talk It Up events in the Seattle area, here’s what would happen: You would get off work and head to a private home. When you arrived, you would be offered a beverage and given a name tag to attach to your blazer. You would see familiar faces from the youth and family services community – and at least 10 people, from various walks of life, whom you hadn’t met before. After a few minutes of mingling, the program would begin and a thoughtful conversation on homelessness – and what to do about it – would ensue.

Building Changes holds several such events a year to promote its mission of making youth and family homelessness rare and brief in Washington state. The series has replaced the large-scale donor luncheon the organization used to hold each year. Staff members say they are now better able to explain their vision and develop relationships with community partners who may contribute to their work and their bottom line.

“One of the things we find we’re accomplishing from the series is having people learn about and understand us more thoroughly,” says Tripp Hunter, a member of Building Changes’ board of directors and its former president. In addition to getting people behind the organization’s mission, he says, "The events help to cultivate new donors, and inspire current donors to give more."

Talk It Up events are sometimes centered on a specific topic related to youth homelessness, such as the annual January point-in-time count of people experiencing homelessness. Oftentimes, though, the events are simply opportunities for conversation, networking and awareness-raising. Staff members aim to make each session inspiring and informational, says Christena Coutsoubos, who oversees Building Changes’ fundraising and communications.

Whether your organization works to end youth homelessness, teen pregnancy, family violence or another social issue, you too can host casual events that build relationships and awareness and raise money for your cause. Here’s how, in five steps:

1. Huddle with your supporters. Make sure your donors and board members are as excited about a conversation-focused event as you are because you’ll need their help to create great conversations.  Building Changes held a series of focus groups to test their ideas first.

“Members of the focus groups found the more personalized, conversation-style event was much more engaging and informative for donors and participant’s” than an annual luncheon, says Coutsoubos,  “and they also allowed us to identify likely champions and hosts.”

2. Choose forward-thinking topics. Talk It Up events have worked best when they shone a light on what’s working and new ideas, Coutsoubos says – things that inspired guests and made them feel hope and optimism.

3. Pick up on the passion and ideas of your hosts. Coutsoubos says a host’s passion for a topic or unusual venue ideas can make sessions more memorable for guests.

“One of our donors ran a carpet business and offered their showroom as a venue,” she says. “We ran with it, and it ended up feeling very unexpected, funky and fun.”

4. Prep your team. Board members and staff included in the events need feel at ease talking to people they’ve never met about the work your organization does. Make sure they have talking points, data and stories to talk about – and that they’re comfortable sharing them.

5. Set a fundraising goal. Coutsoubos and her staff set a fundraising goal for each Talk It Up session and announce the goal at the start of the evening. “We let guests know on the invitation that they’ll be asked to give,” she says. “It shouldn’t be a surprise.”

Often at Talk It Up sessions, the host or a board member talks about why they support Building Changes, and how gifts from individuals make a difference. Coutsoubos has donation envelopes on hand so participants can make a donation on the spot or mail one in later. 

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