A Cornucopia of Ways to Support Independent Fundraising Events | npENGAGE

A Cornucopia of Ways to Support Independent Fundraising Events

By on Oct 26, 2012


This year, one of the strongest fundraising trends we’ve seen is for nonprofits to cultivate “third party” or independent fundraising events (IFEs), giving their volunteer organizers increasing status along with more technical and moral support.

Independent fundraising is nothing new. In this model, dedicated volunteers design and carry out fundraisers on behalf of a cause. We call them independent or third party events because while the cause may be the reason for the event, the nonprofit does not manage it. Events may range in nature from a bake sale or dinner to a hike across the country to a softball tournament.

More and more, nonprofits are encouraging these low-overhead independent events, providing online tools and more staff support to encourage volunteers and success of their events. Seeing as we’re getting close to Thanksgiving, you might say independent fundraising events have moved from the kids’ table to a seat at the grownups’ table.

Let’s look at some key ways this is happening online and review some techniques used by organizations supporting independent fundraisers.

Online Tools

Provide online tools for your independent fundraisers to help them spend less time on technology and more time coordinating their event and spreading the word. Hook them up with cost-effective payment processing, a web address for their event, and online communication tools.

You don’t have to break the bank to offer good technology to your IFEs. The three ideas listed below range from full-service to DIY:

1. Create a web portal for all those who want to create their own events. This microsite lets you brand the experience of fundraising for your cause and brings visibility to all of the separate efforts that make up your independent fundraising communities. Some great examples to look at for inspiration include the following:

The technology backbone in an IFE portal is usually an online peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising system like Blackbaud Friends Asking Friends or TeamRaiser. True P2P fundraising software gives fundraisers the ability to create a page for their event, spread the word about it, accept donations online, and generate tax receipts. (What’s peer-to-peer fundraising? Robyn Mendez gives a great overview of peer-to-peer fundraising.)

2. Give strong IFE events their own P2P sites. Use a tool like Friends Asking Friends (FAF) or TeamRaiser to create a branded P2P event template or blueprint you can easily duplicate to make fabulous, professional looking fundraising websites for your independent events.

  • Set a threshold for the funds – or potential funds – an event will need to raise to warrant this treatment. It may take 2 hours to stand up a P2P site from a template for an event that might bring in $20,000. Is it worth it?
  • Want some examples? Take a look at Swim Across America’s Pool Program. Each independent pool swim gets its own simple, templated website.
  • The Histiocytosis Association has an active independent fundraising program. Branded, templated event sites like the following bring consistency and national branding to these volunteer-driven events:
Histiocytosis Assocation independent event templates

The Histiocytosis Association supports independent fundraisers by creating templated peer-to-peer fundraising sites.

3. Standalone donation or registration forms. If you’re first starting out, you can do a lot to support independent events with web-based forms. Do you have the ability to set up a standalone registration or donation form on a section of your website that supports IFE events? This could be one way to grow your IFE program and bootstrap your way into a full P2P system.

  • Enable an independent fundraiser to sell tickets to a dinner party with a standalone registration form.
  • Set up a standalone donation form that lets a family send its supporters to a webpage to make donations to a scholarship or tribute fund honoring a loved one.
  • Be sure to have an understanding with your volunteers about “ownership” of contact records created by these ticket sales. Do they mind if you add their donors to your email lists, or should you segment these contacts as “do not solicit”?

Toolkits and Success Strategies

Make abundant information on hosting a successful event available online for your independent fundraisers. Fill the section of your website dedicated to independent events with best practices advice, examples of successful events, FAQs and coaching. Anything you discover is helpful to one fundraiser is potentially useful to others … use it to build your FAQ. Some nice examples are highlighted below:

Prominent among this information, provide details on what you do with the money raised on behalf of your organization. Donors want this information when deciding to donate to an IFE. Volunteer fundraisers need more than a thank you when the event is over: They want to know that their efforts make a difference. Let them know how the money they raise will be used.

Press Kits / Marketing Collateral / Legal Guidelines

In your independent fundraising toolkit for volunteers, in addition to how-to’s, be sure to provide guidance on how to:

  • Use your logo and marketing collateral effectively
  • Describe the volunteer’s affiliation with your cause
  • Provide accurate information on tax deductibility of gifts made to their third party event. Review Livestrong’s “Grassroots Fundraising FAQ” to get the idea!
  • Have your help publicizing their events, including promoting them on your website and social media simple mentions with links like on the Dempsey Challenge and Unity Walk IFE pages can increase event visibility and recognize the efforts of your event organizers.

Moral Support

  • Know your independent fundraisers and their events.  Begin the cultivation and support process by having them fill out an event request form, call you or email with details. Follow up.  All of the linked events in this post include ways to “request” or “get started” with an event. See the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center site for a nice “Tell Us About Your Event” Form
  • Communicate personally with your independent fundraisers. That sometimes means picking up the telephone or attending an event. Email campaigns can provide support, but have limited ability to make the personal connection with your organization the independent fundraiser needs.
  • If you don’t have an independent events coordinator, designate a point of contact for IFEs. This person (or people) is the lifeline to a cause your volunteer feels strongly enough about to volunteer time and social capital to produce a fundraising event. Make sure they know it makes a difference.
  • Consider a plan to cultivate star P2P fundraisers like major donors.


The peer-to-peer fundraising world is changing. Supporters want a personal involvement with your cause, and the simple “run/walk/ride” formula is getting eclipsed by a more personal form of fundraising. Staying up with the trend means creating an excellent infrastructure, both technical and emotional, to support independent (and highly motivated!) fundraisers.

For more on this topic, check these resources:

Jeff O’Toole on Creating a Development Army: The Next BIG Thing in Fundraising

Robyn Mendez on Online Third Party Fundraising Done Right and P2P Fundraising: Expanding Beyond the Fundraising Event

The Blackbaud / Event 360 white paper Raising More Money Online with Independent/Third-Party Fundraising Events provides detailed research on cost justification for investing in the technology to support IFEs online.

Nancy Palo’s report on P2P fundraising roundtable in Chicago June 2012



Kathryn Hall began developing web-based applications in 1996, and in this capacity has worked with leading nonprofits as well as Fortune 500 ecommerce and telecommunications companies. As a web producer, consultant and customer success manager at Blackbaud, she has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, from international charities to local organizations, helping them optimize their use of software, analyze performance, and deploy best practice strategies. When not working, Kathryn enjoys climbing tall buildings, bicycling the Midwest, and traveling the world, with a special emphasis on South Africa. You can reach her on Twitter @KathrynHall.

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