As the busy summer event season continues, eventually your boss or committee will ask, “How can we increase participation next year?” It’s a pretty common goal for most organizations who run fundraising events.

Add more registrants and you’ll likely improve your fundraising total – logic tells us.

But getting more people to register and attend your event is harder than it looks (I know all you seasoned event fundraising professionals are shaking your heads in agreement right now).

That said, let’s look at three effective strategies for growing participation. I think you’ll find some useful stuff here. And by all means, please share your secrets in the comments below.

1. Focus on team captains

A recent survey of six national nonprofits found multi-year team captains raise two to three times more than new team captains and retain about 86 percent of their prior year’s revenue.

Team captains are the lifeblood of fundraising events. If you want increase participation, grow your teams by providing resources, managing and cultivating your team captains.

Providing Resources

Chances are, being a team captain is one many “priorities” in someone’s life. Make it easy for them by providing samples of everything they’ll need. And I mean everything.

Sample tweets, emails, Facebook posts, employee memos, phone scripts, communication plans, and anything else they’ll need to inspire and manage their team.

Make your website a resource they can simply “copy and paste” from whenever the need to communicate with their team. Provide tips, ideas and lots of examples from successful teams.

Managing

Contact team captains regularly with recommended actions to take on a particular day. Include a sample script of what to say to team members.

For example, if early-bird registration is closing, email team captains a sample message they can forward that alerts team members of a fee increase and encourages them to find new team members.

Cultivating

Nowadays, teams can raise over $100,000 annually. So, how do you thank team captains who deliver so many new donations and participants to your front door?

Hopefully, you have a team captain cultivation plan. If not, create one next year. Borrow cultivation ideas from your major gift officers, if needed.

For example, waive registration fees, arrange lunches with senior staff, offer facility tours, and make thank you phone calls. Most importantly, make them feel appreciated.

2. Encourage everyone to start or join a team

Being part of a team is simply more fun than participating alone.

Teams provide a sense of camaraderie missing from individual participation. Event fundraising website tools like Friends Asking Friends let you see who is on your team and how much each person has raised.

Teams may also ignite friendly competition or just a feeling that I need to “do my part” to help the team.

In a time when it’s easier to connect with friends online than in-person, teams bring people together at a specific date and time. It’s a chance to see everyone and perhaps meet new people. For those job-searching, teams may provide new networking opportunities.

Role of Nonprofits

Nonprofits need to do their part, though, to make teams fun. Encourage teams to setup tents at your event. Create team-specific communications and contests. Award team prizes for the largest team, best t-shirt, most money raised, best costumes, and other offbeat ideas.

You may also want to give separate prizes for corporate teams, an important audience for increasing participation. Though a company may not be able to sponsor your event, they may be able to provide a team.

Promote teams as a great employee team-building activity that highlights a company’s social responsibility. After all, how many times have you seen trophies prominently displayed in corporate offices?

3. Promote your cause, then the activity

People can go for a walk, ride a bike or run 5K whenever they want.

What’s going to motivate them pay a registration, give up part of their weekend and ask friends for money? Your cause. Actually, it’s how compelling your cause is.

Do your event materials focus primarily on crowds of people walking or riding a bike? Does website content contain general, clichéd phrases like “make a difference” and “those in need?”

Make the event about your cause, first and foremost

Promote your cause before you highlight the run/walk/ride aspect of your event. Be very specific about how money will be used and who will be helped.  Check out Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure, as an example.

If needed, consult your marketing team, or an agency, and create compelling communications that move people to participate.

As much as you want to increase participation, you want to grow the right way.

Would you rather add 500 new participants who raise the minimum, collect their t-shirt, eat your food and go home?

Or, 250 new participants who are inspired to fundraise and may eventually turn into volunteers or donors? In the process, you might even inspire repeat participants to fundraise a little more.

OK, now that you’ve heard my 3 big tips it’s time to share yours with the readers here. Leave a comment.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Snusz brings over 11+ years of nonprofit experience to his role as a principal strategy consultant at Blackbaud. He focuses on helping nonprofits create online fundraising, email, P2P, social media, SEO, analytics and website optimization strategies to maximize giving opportunities. Mike previously managed the turnaround of the Ride For Roswell, including the event’s growth from $330,000 to $1.2 million over a three-year period. Connect with Mike on LinkedIn and Twitter at @mikesnusz. To learn how Mike can help your organization’s next fundraising campaign, contact him at mike.snusz@blackbaud.com.

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