Planning an Effective Fundraising Event: 5 Data-Driven Strategies
By: Sarah Tedesco, Executive Vice President, DonorSearch
When your organization wants to build relationships with donors and showcase the great work you do in your community, hosting an event can be a wonderful way to accomplish these goals and contribute to your fundraising success in the process. Live events create an opportunity to get your supporters talking about your organization, inspiring them to give and encourage others in their networks to do the same.
To host an event that your supporters are sure to enjoy, learn about your attendees ahead of time. Consider their histories of involvement with your organization, reasons for supporting your cause, and general interests are all important factors to consider in your planning process. We’ll show you how to use information on your current and potential donors to:
1. Invite guests who share your organization’s mission.
2. Involve your supporters in a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.
3. Simplify registration with an event ticketing system.
4. Choose a fundraising event that encourages your guests to participate.
5. Gather information on attendees to stay connected with them.
A successful fundraising event can transform casual supporters into dedicated contributors to your organization. Begin your planning process by finding and inviting guests who are already the most likely to care about your cause.
1. Invite guests who share your organization’s mission
To ensure that your fundraising event is effective, create a guest list of current and prospective supporters whose past involvement with your institution or organization indicates their concern for your cause and their willingness to support it. Conducting prospect research on your donors can help you form the right guest list for your event.
Prospect research is the process of gathering information on current and potential donors to determine their ability to give and their likelihood of doing so. Conducting prospect research generates information on your supporters that you can use to structure your approaches toward them.
Prospect data categories are broadly divided into the two categories of wealth markers and philanthropic indicators. Wealth markers indicate your donors’ capacity to give, while philanthropic indicators provide insight into their likelihood of giving. Through prospect research, you’ll learn more about your potential attendees’:
- Capacity to donate. Wealth markers such as business affiliations, real estate ownership, and stock holdings can help you identify donors with high capacities to give. If these individuals are already involved in your cause or have otherwise demonstrated philanthropic activity, you’ll want to put them on your guest list.
- Past involvement with your institution and other organizations. Trying to predict a potential attendee’s likelihood of donating? Past giving to your organization is the top predictor of future giving, so you’ll want to invite guests who have made regular or significant contributions to your institution. Histories of past giving to other organizations, especially those that share goals and values with you, also indicate a likelihood to give.
- Activities and interests. The causes your donors express support for on social media, the organizations they volunteer with, and the ways they spend their free time are all valuable to your organization as you consider whether they are likely to support your organization. If their interests and values align with your institution’s mission, they should go on your guest list.
Your fundraising team can conduct prospect research on their own, submit the donors in your database to a prospect research service for screening, or hire a consultant to bring professional expertise to your research. While your current donors will likely make up the majority of your attendees, you can use a prospect generator to find more individuals who may be interested in supporting your organization.
Fundraising events are an excellent opportunity to reconnect with current and past donors and meet new supporters for the first time in person. To encourage some of your most dedicated supporters to engage more closely with your organization before the day of the event, you can involve them as volunteer fundraisers in a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.
2. Involve your supporters in a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign
In a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, your organization transforms your most committed supporters into volunteer fundraisers, taking advantage of their pre-existing social media networks to boost online donations prior to your event. Your organization can maximize your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign success by using your donor data to choose the best possible volunteer fundraisers.
Who among your donors are strong candidates to involve in your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign? Reach out to your current volunteers, as they have dedicated significant amounts of time to your cause. You should also look to the most active philanthropists in your donor database, especially if they have made regular contributions to your organization.
Once you have contacted and selected your volunteer fundraisers, you’ll need to select peer-to-peer fundraising software to carry out your campaign. This software provides your volunteer fundraisers with individual donation pages that they can customize and share on social media.
After your volunteer fundraisers set up their pages and share them on social media with their friends and followers, keep them motivated by using your software’s gamification tools to track successes and encourage friendly competition! Badges and trophies recognize your volunteer fundraisers’ progress, while fundraising thermometers encourage their followers to donate.
Your organization can join in by updating the leaderboard of volunteer fundraisers on your own social media accounts. You can announce the winner at your event and may even choose to reward them with merchandise branded to your organization.
As your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign gains momentum and the event approaches, your organization will need to have an efficient way to register your attendees. One way to keep track of your guests and gather more donor data is to use a ticketing system for your event.
3. Simplify registration with an event ticketing system
When you host your next fundraising event, your organization needs a way to track your attendees’ giving and they need a way to confirm their registration. An event ticketing system makes registration easy for you and your guests, while also providing you with valuable information on your registrants.
If your organization chooses this method of collecting registration donations, you will first need to choose software that allows you to sell fundraising tickets. Attendees purchase tickets to make their initial contributions to your fundraising effort and receive confirmation of their registration in return. Look for software that provides your attendees with a receipt when they purchase their tickets. They can save these in their records as confirmation of their donations.
For your attendees, a ticketing system confirms both their attendance and their donation. For your organization, it not only provides an accurate list of guests to expect, but it also allows you to save that information in your donor database. You can use your ticketing system to create new profiles for first-time donors or supplement the information already available to you on your current donors.
Your ticketing system can also help you measure the success of your fundraising event, informing your decisions for the next event. Use your ticketing system to track:
- Your most popular ticket packages. If you choose to offer your attendees different ticket packages at different donation levels, for instance, it helps you to know which of these are popular among your supporters.
- When attendees buy their tickets. This information can impact your strategy for spreading the word about future events.
- Which types of events are popular among your donors. Once you have used your ticketing system for multiple events, identify which types of events your donors prefer.
Your organization will sell more tickets and raise more in donations when you plan a fundraising event that your attendees are excited about. Motivate your donors by choosing a fundraising event that encourages them to participate.
4. Choose a fundraising event that encourages your guests to participate
Your supporters attend your events because they want to ensure that your organization continues doing good work in their community, but they also register because going to events is a lot of fun! Strengthen relationships with your donors by hosting enjoyable and original fundraising events that will encourage your guests to become more involved with your organization.
When it comes to choosing the right fundraising event for your organization, a good starting place is the demographic information you already have in your donor database. If many of your donors have families and children, a weekend event that includes activities for the kids may be the best choice. Family-oriented events are also a great opportunity to incorporate additional fundraising ideas that provide your supporters with additional chances to get involved in your organization’s work beyond merely making a donation.
The time of year in which you’re planning to host your event is important to take into consideration, as is the nature of your organization’s work. The ideal fundraising event is one that actively engages your donors with an activity and reinforces the reasons that your institution is deserving of their continued support.
Once you have decided on the perfect event, created your guest list, and shared the news of your upcoming event with your current donors and social media followers, it’s time to enjoy the time you get to spend with your supporters. Maintain these relationships after the event is over by adding them to your contact lists.
5. Gather information on attendees to stay connected with them
Your organization worked hard to plan an exciting event that your supporters enjoyed. Don’t lose contact with them now that it’s over! To maintain and strengthen relationships with your supporters after your event has ended, ensure that you have their information saved in your donor database for future communications.
If your event attendees have a particularly high affinity or capacity to give to your organization, consider conducting additional prospect research so that you can develop an effective strategy to approach them for future gifts. DonorSearch’s guide to prospect development can get you started on this process, which can result in lasting partnerships with key donors capable of making significant gifts.
For attendees at any giving level, email follow-ups are a great way to keep them up-to-date on your organization’s work and provide them with an opportunity to give online. You should also encourage attendees to follow your organization on social media for updates and convenient giving opportunities.
When your organization combines the right attendees with the perfect event and a strong follow-up strategy, your event is sure to transform your current fundraising effort and create the foundations of lasting relationships with new and current donors.
For higher ed fundraising professionals, learn about 3 massive myths in higher ed fundraising and what you can do to keep improving your results.
About the Author
Sarah Tedesco is the Executive Vice President of DonorSearch, a prospect research and wealth screening company that focuses on proven philanthropy. Sarah is responsible for managing the production and customer support department concerning client contract fulfillment, increasing retention rate and customer satisfaction. She collaborates with other team members on a variety of issues including sales, marketing and product development ideas.
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