If there’s one topic that’s near and dear to my heart in the nonprofit world, it’s participant fundraising.
First a little background information. In memory of my brother-in-law, Bill Drew, I joined Team in Training in 2002 and committed to raise $2,500 and run a marathon. For someone whose fundraising experience at that time was limited to selling chocolate covered almonds door-to-door in seventh grade, and whose running experience could best be described as non-existent, the odds were not in my favor. But I knew a lot about marketing and I thought that my determination might come in handy, so off I went.
Back then, fundraising was different. Technology to allow participants to accept donations online? In my dreams! I had to use both email and regular mail, contacting every person in my address book. As I type this, I’m having bad flashbacks to numerous paper jams, countless trips to the bank to deposit checks, and many dollars spent on stamps that could have gone to the cause instead. Despite these challenges, I became one of the organization’s top fundraisers in Northern California that year. (I also finished the marathon!)
Thanks to the Internet and innovative companies like Convio, the world of fundraising has been transformed since then. Now, participants have access to the tools they need to raise money online. But in reality, having the tools is only half the battle for many individuals. Just as I needed some prodding to train regularly, participants need the occasional poke to keep them motivated and focused on achieving their fundraising goal. And who better to push them along than the organization behind the event!
From the combination of my personal experience, information gathered from a survey and subsequent interviews with successful individual fundraisers, and a discussion with Noel Beebe at Convio at the time of gathering information for the 2010 Nonprofit Resolutions Guide, I gained insight into the many steps an organization can take to maximize the success of their participant fundraising. From these, I pulled together this set of lessons learned.
Top 5 Lessons Learned in 2009: Participant Fundraising
- The 5/50 rule. Basically, your top five percent of fundraisers bring in more than 50 percent of the fundraising dollars for participant-led events. (This one came as a bit of a shock to me. I think of it as a variation of the 80/20 rule.) These are the folks who deserve a pat on the back or a more personalized thank you for their efforts thus far. They’ll likely return the favor and stay connected to your organization long after they reach the finish line.
- Do the heavy lifting work. No, you don’t fundraise on behalf of your participants, but you can make it easier for them to raise money for your organization by eliminating (or at least lowering) hurdles. One of the biggest ones? Writing the email to solicit donations. So, do your fundraisers a favor and create an email template for them. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should have some basic elements (e.g., explain the organization’s mission, provide a call to action, and make it obvious how to donate). Let the participants tailor the message by adding details about why they decided to support the cause and maybe an image to personalize their request.
- Past performance is an indicator of future performance. This isn’t the stock market folks. You can rely on historical data points as indicators for what lies ahead. If an individual participated in an event before, then they’ll likely do it again. So sift through the list of last year’s participants and reach out to them first.
- Show some love to past participants. If I participated in your event last year, then show me a little love (and respect) when you reach out to me this year. Don’t send me the generic “Please join our event” email that you send to everyone whose email address you tracked down. No, I expect a little more from you. I’m not registrant #1967. I have a name. I have a history with your organization. I have a tie to your cause. Acknowledge my previous involvement. If I’m going to dedicate countless hours to raise money for your organization, then I expect you to make a bit of an effort by acknowledging our ‘relationship’. After all, we’ve already had our ‘first date’!
- A little social media can go a long way. What started off as a means to stay connected with people and share content, has transformed the way we interact with each other. There are so many opportunities to put this channel to good use. Your organization can use social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) to promote your event and recruit participants. You can also encourage registered participants to use social media to help them reach their fundraising goal.
Even more lessons learned and ideas can be found in the 2010 Nonprofit Resolutions Guide, and of course, I know there are many other tips participant fundraisers must have. So please chime in with your ideas. What worked for your organization in 2009? And what are you looking to do in 2010?