How NOT to Recruit Table Hosts


Last week I received an email from a nonprofit organization I support. It was a recruiting email for the organization’s annual fundraising breakfast—specifically asking me if I would serve as a table host.

What is a Table Host?

Before I go further, let me define “table host.” As you may know, nonprofits often engage table hosts (sometimes called table captains) to help fill tables at an organizational event such as a breakfast or lunch. For these types of events, there is usually free admission to attend but it’s understood that an Ask for donations will be made during the event.

Table host responsibilities might include:

  • Invite guests to join you at your table of 8 or 10
  • Arrive early to greet guests at the luncheon
  • Distribute pledge cards and thank your guests

Table hosts can greatly expand the reach of the organization, build its network in the community, and help ensure increased donations at the event. A table host is a volunteer position and it will require time, energy, and connections in order to successfully fill a table at the event.

Recruiting Table Hosts

Back to the email I received last week…

While sometimes email can be part of successful table host recruitment efforts, this email fell short in several key ways:

The email began with “Dear Friend.” With the sophistication of databases and email marketing platforms, there is no excuse to send an email to “Friend.” Emails to your donors and prospects should always begin “Dear Kathie” (i.e. first name of the recipient, correctly spelled). Dear Friend is a clear indication that this is a non-personalized mass email. And you want a recruitment email to be as personalized as possible!

The email was sent to “undisclosed-recipients” with my name in the Bcc box. Again, email marketing makes it easy to send emails addressed only to me without having to resort to Bcc. And if you absolutely must use Bcc, then at least have the person in the “To” box be yourself or another real person at your organization, and not the extremely impersonal “undisclosed-recipients.”

The subject line was “You Were Recommended.” Frankly, I did not believe this. And if I really had been recommended, shouldn’t they have shared who had recommended me? Or better yet, have the person who recommended me call me or send me a personal letter? When you are asking someone to volunteer time and energy for your organization, don’t stretch the truth or otherwise make things up.

The email came from and was signed by the development director. I love development directors, I know many amazing development directors, and I’ve been a development director myself. But this letter requires the signature of the executive director (or CEO) or the board chair, or both. A development staff person, even a director, does not have the level of influence necessary to motivate prospective table hosts to say yes.

The email was long on what the organization wanted and short on what I call, “What’s in it for me?” Like it or not, your organization is not the most important thing in the world to your prospects. Yes, they may care about your mission and your good work but you are not the center of their universe – THEY are the center of their universe. So be sure to outline what benefits and recognition the table host will receive in exchange for volunteering in this capacity.

Bottom line: Email is not the best way to recruit table hosts. And especially not good if the email is not personalized. Instead, send a short email about your upcoming event and let the recipient know that you will be calling them to discuss ways they might like to be involved. Then be sure to call, and keep the conversation about them.

Does your organization host events that engage table hosts? What ways have you found to be effective for recruiting? Please share your thoughts, tips, and advice in the Comments box below!

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