5 Strategies to Raise More and Stress Less When Planning Your Next Nonprofit Event
A fundraising event can bring in a surge of revenue, but how can you use that momentum to sustain giving for the long-term?
At last week’s Nonprofit Marketing Summit, Floyd Jones, director of community and partnerships at Givebutter, shared how to raise more and stress less when it comes to fundraising events. His lessons come from years as a nonprofit fundraiser, including an instance of missing a fundraising event goal that taught him an important lesson.
“Fundraising events are important," Jones said. “Fundraising events can bring new people in, but they can’t be your lynchpin. See we were fundraising around a moment and not our mission. And when you fundraise around a moment and not your mission, you’re going to captivate people for a moment, but you’re not going to keep them long term. And if you only have a moment, you’re not going to have momentum to take you to the mountaintop.”
Here are the five strategies he suggested nonprofits try to raise more and stress less when planning their next event.
1. Plan a Virtual or Hybrid Event
Statistics show that 70% of nonprofits want to include a virtual element in their events going forward, whereas 24% plan to stay completely virtual, Jones said. However, with a return to in-person, nonprofits are understandably concerned with rising food, rental and programming costs. That’s where incorporating virtual elements or sticking with a completely virtual format can help.
For Giving Tuesday last year, Hope Booth, which places remodeled phone booths that deliver artistic messages of hope throughout cities, created a 12-hour telethon called Hope-a-Thon that not only reached its $50,000 goal, but surpassed it by $47,000. Jones broke down its success into four questions nonprofits should ask themselves when planning a hybrid or virtual event.
What is your theme? Jones is always focused on mission and vision, so he noticed that Hope Booth knew how many booths it wanted to launch, where they wanted to launch them and revolved the event around those decisions.
What is your goal? Jones noted that participants love a progress bar showing how close the organization is to the goal and how they can help the organization to reach that goal. After all, people love to donate to a winning cause. But don’t get too ambitious. Be smart, with specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timebound expectations, Jones said. If you reach your goal, it won’t stop people from continuing to donate; however, don’t be afraid to up your goal mid-campaign.
“If you set the bar, you’re creating an atmosphere for your people to rise with you,” Jones said. “So don’t be afraid to ask them to rise.”
What is your distribution method? There are numerous virtual options out there — Zoom, Facebook Live, YouTube, etc. Regardless of your choice, make sure you’re directing donors to your platform of choice, like Hope Booth did by sharing its telethon via social media and email channels.
“They gave everybody one link to go to,” Jones said. “They said, ‘Come to our Givebutter page, you can continue to get involved, you can continue to watch the event directly on the site.’ Any time someone was inspired, they made a donation right on the page and continued to reach their goal in real time.”
Who can you include? Tap into local speakers, performers and artists connected to your cause. They don’t need to be household names that come with high fees.
“We don’t need a headliner. If I wanted to go to a headliner, trust me, Ticketmaster got me on lock. I’ll stay in somebody’s waiting room to get these tickets, OK? Listen, you don’t need that. Go and call on somebody in your actual community.”
2. Create a Peer-to-Peer Community
Peer-to-peer fundraising figures continue to rise year after year, Jones said. In 2021, TeenTix, a nonprofit that makes the arts more affordable for teenagers, hosted a virtual gala that netted its $45,000 goal.
“If any of y’all are wondering, ‘How am I going to do it? I don’t have enough people.’ No, if teenagers can … raise money for their cause and their campaign and their mission, so can you,” Jones said.
But finding volunteer ambassadors to lead the fundraising efforts — whether your nonprofit is just getting started or seeking new faces — can be tough. Jones recommended the three A’s: attendance, attention and attitude.
- Attendance. To determine this, check your data. Which volunteers show up for a lot of events, fundraisers and programs? Who has an above average email open rate?
- Attention. Include surveys or calls-to-actions in email outreach. Who is responding?
- Attitude. Don’t let miserable volunteers affect your culture. Your volunteers’ tone will help mobilize more volunteers, setting you up for the long haul. Are they pleasant to be around? Are they easy to work with?
3. Find Power in Partnerships
“People are your partners, not your piggy banks, so treat them as such,” Jones said.
There are numerous ways to build corporate partnerships for your next event that can result in in-kind donations, monetary donations and a lasting relationship with your organization. But it may take more time and effort than you realize.
First, Jones recommended seeking companies in alignment with your mission. Then present your event as a bridge to help achieve its marketing, corporate social responsibility and outreach goals. Don’t ask for too much too soon though.
“A lot of people want the big bucks,” Jones said. “I want the big bucks. I get it. We all want the big bucks, but you have to start somewhere. Start with an in-kind gift. Let it be successful first. Build a relationship with the people who are in charge and then, throughout and over time, you’ll see the big donations begin to come.”
The biggest misconception about developing partnerships, Jones shared, is nonprofits being self-conscious about the number of people on their email lists, the number of donors who support them or number of constituents they serve. Focus on impact just like when cultivating individual donors.
“The mom and pop organization down the street still needs to serve people, right? Your local gift shop down the street — they still need to serve people,” Jones said. “People forget that community is still important. We always talk about Wall Street. Don’t forget Main Street, OK? … They still want to reach people, and you can be the ones to help them.”
4. Coordinate an Auction
Having great auction items is a must to raise money, but finding them doesn’t have to be difficult. For example, there are companies, like TheShareWay, that connect nonprofits with auction and raffle items from companies in proximity to your event (It also compiled this extensive list of national companies with online donation request forms).
In a prerecorded video, Hannah Yang, founder and CEO of TheShareWay, offered three auction tips:
- Ask for auction items everywhere. Yang noted that 75% of small businesses and 94% of small restaurants donate to charity.
- Ask for in-kind donations at least two months in advance of your event date. Half of companies require at least six weeks advance notice, Yang said.
- Follow up. Yang has found that 45% of sponsors say yes after the first and second follow up.
5. Optimize Mobile Giving
From Venmo to Apple Pay to PayPal and more, your website donation form should be optimized for mobile and digital wallets.
Shunpike, a small nonprofit that empowers independent artists, raised more than $1,000 in under 30 minutes with a mobile-first approach to payment collection at an in-person event. Here are three tactics they embraced:
- QR codes. Event attendees could scan a QR code when walking into the event that would direct them to the donation form.
- Text to donate. Event attendees could text the designated number to make a donation.
- Credit card readers. Event attendees could pay directly with a credit card on site.
“Everybody has a smartphone,” Jones said. “So if they have a smartphone, they have an opportunity to sponsor and donate to your organization, right? But you have to provide a method. You have to make a plan.”
Amanda L. Cole is the editor-in-chief of NonProfit PRO. She was formerly editor-in-chief of special projects for NonProfit PRO's sister publication, Promo Marketing. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.