Fundraising Events Bring in Fun-Lovers: But Donors?

The Guardian (U.K.) recently brought together a group of experts to give their top tips for holding a fundraising event, in “Best bits: making events-based fundraising work.” All of the advice is worth a look, but what intrigued me was how many experts focused on the issue of connecting the event and its participants to the ongoing work of the nonprofit.

By way of background, many nonprofit fundraising events have no thematic consistency with the nonprofit’s mission or activities. Scanning the headlines these days will give you a pretty quick indicator of this. Aside from the Cicero, New York family that’s holding a dog-washing event to raise money for their child’s service dog, most of the stories you’ll find are about events like a Relay for Life marathon to support cancer research, a dog walk and fun run to support the Salvation Army, and a bowling tournament for a children’s foundation.

I’m not saying these are inconsistent or antithetical to the nonprofit’s mission — just that they’re as likely to attract people wishing to take on a personal challenge or have fun with friends as people with any long-term desire to support the nonprofit in question.

Here’s what the Guardian’s slate of experts had to say about this issue:

  • “Focus on participants: . . . It’s really important to listen to them, thank them and provide them with the tools to get more involved with the charity.” – Hywel Mills, partnership manager, Movember.
  • “[When] charities bring in a new audience and add them to their main supporter database[,] [t]he events supporters then receive what feels like irrelevant and disengaging messages because they didn’t get involved due to the cause. Targeted and transition communications are essential for retention.” – Al Bell – freelance consultant, Directory of Social Change (DSC).
  • “We recently conducted a study on a mass-participation run (80,000 runners) and found that the challenge of the event was more important than the fundraising for participants. Charities should find a way to keep their brand and cause central . . . .” – Simon Lockyer – marketing director, Blackbaud.
  • “We have given out free DVDs with a few short films at appropriate events as they are good way of getting our charity’s message across.” – Claire McHenry – events team manager, Help for Heroes.

It’s definitely a tough balance to get right. You’re focused on making sure the event goes smoothly and on schedule, and that people are enjoying themselves. Going to an extreme like, say, sitting everyone down for a half-hour video about your nonprofit is not going to work. But in my experience, too many nonprofits head toward the other extreme. Aside from knowing the nonprofit’s name, participants may leave knowing nothing about what the group does, what it needs, and what their participation and donation did to help. Don’t let that happen at your next event.