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."
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising,” and the 2023 book, "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape," and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” She and Otis are also co-authors of the books, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" and "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape." When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.