Registration Fee Bonfire
Registration fees cause as much debate in peer-to-peer fundraising as the design of the event T-shirt. That's a lot.
In peer-to-peer fundraising we struggle with the question of whether to use a registration fee or not. The Blackbaud Benchmark study makes it clear, at least in a walk environment, that the registration fee is highly co-related to lower fundraising.
Why is that? Social science tells us it is because a registration fee tells your brain, "This is something I am buying—now, I have bought it. I don't need to do more."
But what if your event was born and raised on registration fees? How do you transition from them? I've seen and heard of some horrific stories of efforts to change to a no-reg fee environment. The results were not good: income dropped like a rock, bunch of people showed up anyway.
At least one nonprofit accomplished the switch successfully. But, the director didn't know it until we helped her review the data resulting from the event.
Diana Aldecoa, vice president of Breathe Deep Events for Lungevity, switched her New York event from a registration fee entry requirement to no registration fee with a recognition T-shirt at $100 in fundraising.
Diana said, "I wasn't 100 percent sold on the idea even after we did it, until I saw the data."
In summary, the event raised $176,000 in 2013 and $172,000 in 2014, in individual donations.
Diana said, "We missed our revenue goal for individual donations, and we went under last year. We were bummed. Then, we started looking at our data and realized these things:
- Our total participants went down by almost 5 percent, but our zero-dollar fundraisers went down by almost 12 percent
- We did not realize over $30,000 in registration fees and still missed by only $4,000 last year's number
- The number of people who showed up day of event, registered, and didn't raise any money dropped from 216 to 34. The amount of money we realized from that group was—wait for it—$505 in 2013 with 216 people, and it was $490 in 2014 with 34 people."
A registration fee helps deadwood accumulate at your event. What Diana saw is an audience that had the deadwood burned off. What she had left was a more mission-attached audience. The day of the event, she had terrible weather. Until she looked at her data, and the timing of registration and fundraising, she didn't realize how much it did not matter. Her 34 people who were mission-attached and had not registered still showed up in terrible weather, and they created as much money on a nasty day as 216 people had on a beautiful day the year before.
How did Lungevity and Diana make this magic happen? First, says Diana, her event staff person came from an organization with no registration fee for their income event. That meant the event staff person had bought in already to the idea.
Second, Lungevity messaged early and often these points: "This is a fundraising event. At $100 in fundraising we will recognize you with a T-shirt symbolic of your effort."
Of the experience at large, Diana said, "I wanted more. It didn't work as well as I wanted, but it worked well enough to continue. I see the trend and I know what it will mean long-term."
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.