Game-Changers: How to Galvanize Supporters as Charitable Events Evolve
Managing director for the Blackbaud Institute responsible for driving Blackbaud’s extensive research, thought leadership, and best practice content.
Furthering CSR and peer-to-peer development as the founder of Cause Marketing Forum, Inc., parent of the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum and Engage for Good.
Strategizing fundraising, national events, and campaigns as a consultant and Managing Director of the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum.
Michelle Flores Vryn, CFRE
Creating a more inclusive non-profit work culture as an advocate, expert in non-profit development and marketing, and mentor of BIPOC nonprofit professionals.
Growing expertise and advancing knowledge in the social good sector as a Principal Instructor at Blackbaud University, writer, and public speaker.
Lives and breathes direct response and fundraising, working with non-profit clients across the globe and authoring two books on monthly giving.
Making the digital world a better place as a non-profit digital consultant, speaker, and author of two books for non-profits on social media and storytelling.
Supporting non-profits through tech solutions to help them engage supporters and raise funds, most recently through his work at JustGiving from Blackbaud.
Shaping the global generosity movement through ground-breaking research and analysis of individual giving behaviors.
Collaborating with charities across North America to help them push the limits of online fundraising, finding unique solutions with a donor-centric approach.
As is often said, the word philanthropy means the love of humanity. By embracing the good in our nature, individuals join with their communities to create a positive impact on our world and the lives therein. Events, at their core, lean into these inherent values of generosity.
Yet, while there have been philanthropic events of all types since the beginning of time, the way in which we achieve our goals is ever-changing. In just a few years, new modes for giving and digital engagement were shoved to the forefront as charitable individuals had to find new ways to connect with their friends and networks. And while many new modes of giving have taken hold, there is still an innate desire to convene in person.
So, where does that leave us today? Are we all digital? Are we moving back to an in-person world? Or will it be a hybrid version—a mix of digital and in-person—that ultimately takes hold? In this year’s npEXPERTS®, Game-Changers: How to Galvanize Supporters as Charitable Events Evolve, we have enlisted the foremost thinkers on this topic. We are thankful for these visionaries and sector experts who have lent us their thoughts on what has changed, what remains, and what will continue to unfold for some time. We are delighted to play a part in the convening of minds as we dive into this topic and (hopefully) heed the advice and strategies within.
Managing Director, Blackbaud Institute
CHAPTER ONE: Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Has Changed…or Has It?
David Hessekiel | President, Cause Marketing Forum, Inc.
Marcie Maxwell | Managing Director, Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum
David Hessekiel is founder and president of Cause Marketing Forum, Inc., parent of the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum and Engage for Good, both of which empower people working to create social and financial impact through in-person and digital offerings.
A noted speaker and writer on CSR and peer-to-peer development, Hessekiel is a frequent contributor to Forbes.com and is often quoted in varied publications such as the Chronicle of Philanthropy, The Wall Street Journal and MediaPost.
A former journalist and marketing executive, Hessekiel has led CMFI for more than 20 years and still wakes up excited to help do some good in this crazy, mixed-up world.
Marcie Maxwell is the managing director of the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum. Marcie joined the P2PPF team in 2021 after 15+ years as a front-line fundraiser, national events & campaign director, and fundraising consultant. She started her career in fundraising with 10+ years at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where she ran local fundraising events, managed national volunteer partnerships and launched their national walk program. She then spent 5+ years as the director of Chapter Fundraising Events with Make-A-Wish America, where she provided strategy, support, and training to 60 chapters on the full event portfolio—walks, school fundraising, an endurance hiking program, galas, and social events. In her most recent role at Charity Dynamics, she partnered with clients to provide strategic guidance and analysis to help them optimize and grow their peer-to-peer fundraising events and campaigns. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication from Louisiana State University and a master’s degree in Ethical Leadership from Christian Brothers University. She resides in Memphis, TN.
Over the past few years, we have seen the world change at warp speed. Isolation led to innovation. We traded grocery shopping for curbside pickup, doctor visits for telehealth appointments, gym memberships for at-home equipment. In the absence of movie theaters and live TV, we streamed what we wanted, when we wanted, all from the comfort of home. And our once bustling in-person peer-to-peer events gave way to virtual or hybrid experiences.
These innovations were critical to our survival, but now what? As we navigate our new normal, it’s important that we ask if and how our peer-to-peer events can meet the ever-changing needs of our supporters.
Peer-to-peer fundraising has never been easier…yet people still need to be told how to fundraise. Participants want to fundraise on their own terms…and be part of a larger community. Participants’ expectations have changed, but their motivation has stayed the same. There are more mass communication channels than ever before, yet one-on-one relationships are still key to fundraising success.
So how do we build a peer-to-peer experience that meets all these demands?
First, it’s not thinking of events as only live, or virtual, or hybrid…we need to collaborate in our organizations to build well-rounded, holistic experiences that check all boxes for our supporters. Each side needs to take a little bit from the other. The digital experts can learn from the in-person event experts—and vice versa.
For traditionally in-person events, this could mean building a robust community on social media to connect with supporters prior to the event. It could mean live streaming your opening ceremony for those unable to attend. It could include adding online challenges that encourage fundraisers to meet milestones and foster a sense of both competition and camaraderie.
For traditionally virtual events, this could mean hosting monthly community group calls for your active fundraisers so they can learn from one another. It could mean meeting your top fundraisers for coffee and getting to know them face-to-face. It could include sending actual handwritten thank-you notes in addition to the digital shoutout.
The key to a well-rounded peer-to-peer event experience is finding ways to bring it to life before, during, and after the event, in-person and virtually, one-on-one and as a larger group. This holistic approach gives us the chance to build deeper relationships between our supporters and our mission.
Second, it’s important to remember that it’s never actually been about the event.
The author of “The Art of Gathering,” Priya Parker, wrote, “We gather to solve problems we can’t solve on our own.” Why do people wake up early to come to our walk or plan their own fundraiser with friends or tune in to our live stream? Because they care about a problem in the world and they want to come together with other like-minded individuals to help solve it.
These supporters are raising money to support a cause they love, not raising money for our events. The event or campaign might be the spark, the rallying cry, the impetus—but it’s never been the reason why people are fundraising.
Just like some shoppers are going back inside the grocery store and some are continuing to opt for curbside pickup, our supporters now have more choices for how they want to support our organizations. Many supporters will come back to their favorite events (and early 2022 results show that they are!) and others may continue their fundraising through different channels.
It’s important that we meet our fundraisers where they want to be instead of forcing them down one path or the other.
So back to the original question posed…has peer-to-peer fundraising changed? Yes—and for the better, as long as we can resist the urge to put it back in its pre-pandemic box.
CHAPTER TWO: Transforming Events: What If We Get This Right?
Michelle Flores Vyrn, CFRE | Chief Development Officer, OneStar
Michelle Flores Vryn, CFRE currently serves as the Chief Development Officer on the OneStar team. She has 15 years of experience in nonprofit development and marketing. Michelle is an active member of the social impact community, serves on the board of Mission Capital and is active on committees with the Association of Fundraising Professionals Global, including the new Fundraiser Bill of Rights Task Force. As a first-generation college student, she is passionate about mentoring Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) nonprofit professionals and creating more inclusive nonprofit work cultures.
Over the past three years, COVID-19 challenged us to think differently about how we approach work. Along with this came a reckoning with the reality that nonprofit outreach and programming were, in many cases, not aligned with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
Special events are certainly in this “ripe for change” category.
Creating an equitable and inclusive event is no small feat. It takes intention and our so-called “best practices” are, ironically, not the best at crafting this. Training at special events I have attended tell you to keep donors content and primed to spend generously. Questions like: “How do we get them to give more money?” and “What auction items will attract competitive bids?” are centered. Now, we are in a paradigmatic shift to more mission-aligned introspection—and I am here for it. New guiding questions include: “How does this gathering further educate about our mission?” “Who is in this space?” “How do people feel in this space?” “How do we make it more inclusive?” It is in this space that I hope we stay and illustrate how to build an even stronger community around our mission.
In 2022, some organizations are eager to get back to in-person events while others are not. Either way, this is my question to you, and I think it’s a fair one: “What is the problem that you are trying to solve with this event?”
Why are you doing this?
Because we are deeply influenced by what has been, we’re drawn to the default design. In doing so, we engage the same narrow audience and miss opportunities for mission-aligned tactics. Iteration is innovation. And it’s now time to scrap the old thinking; assume that no past versions of your special event exist.
What would you do differently if you were building from scratch?
Goals most often associated with special events are financial. And bringing in funds may still be a leading goal, but it can no longer be the goal. Consider the broader goals and objectives for your nonprofit outside of the event. Everyone in the organization can contribute here—not just fundraisers. [Insert opportune time for cross-functional teamwork.] Are you going all in on acquisition this year? Perhaps you are spreading the word about a new program that your supporter base is likely unaware of. Is supporter diversification high on the list?
Determine your top three to four priorities. Assign a percentage of importance to each goal, so the sum equals one hundred.
As an example, model your list like this:
Organizational Priorities for 2023-24
- 40% Diversify supporter base with 15-25% more representation from the community we serve
- 25% Re-engage longtime donors who have lapsed during COVID-19
- 25% Deepen mission-adjacent nonprofit partnerships
- 10% Educate the community about new program offerings
After delineating the type of work that needs to get done this year, map out event-integrated strategies. For instance, if your team aims to intentionally collaborate with nonprofit partners, consider a joint event. Here in Austin, three female-led nonprofits—including Latinitas, AVANCE, and Con Mi Madre—joined forces to host a vibrant community celebration, Salsa for the Soul! All three organizations serve Latinx children, women, and families.
Equity Starts at the Beginning
I venture to guess that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is an organizational goal at your nonprofit. To integrate DEI into the DNA into your organizational culture, you must work toward inner and outer alignment. That is, what you say and do both match your stated values.
Equitable event design truly starts with the people at the planning table. Who is on your planning committee? Make sure the group reflects a mix of stakeholders, from volunteers to donors to external partners. If you have an internal DEI committee, invite a representative from that group to lend their perspective.
Be Very Intentional About the Space
Spend significant time in the initial planning of your event on the following topics—do not slap this onto the agenda one month before the gala! Bake it in from the beginning.
- Exclusivity: Is the event open to a limited audience due to price point or location? Would the event be more meaningful with a more diversified audience? (Spoiler: The answer is yes.)
- Accessibility: The “pay what you can” model is really taking off and may work for your event. Information shared before and after the event should be done with accessibility in mind. Remember to use closed captions, transcripts, and screen-reader-friendly content.
- Programming: Events should center around an environment of connection. Programming should build connections to your mission and story. Remember, not every event needs to be a giant blowout—smaller and hybrid special events can offer deeper connections than the traditional big gala.
Events are relationship-building tools. As fundraisers, we know this to be true. When you deeply connect—and I mean when event attendees walk away eagerly talking about how marvelous your work is—it is an otherworldly delight.
Be intentional about connection points and strive to really weave connections between the community and your mission. Routinely reference your goals to ensure that the resource-intense effort pays in waves of dividends through the organization.
Does starting with a clean slate for your next special event feel like a tall order? Sure.
But what will happen if we get this right? Let’s find out.
CHAPTER THREE: Events in 2022 and Beyond: Pandemics, Politics, and Perception
Matt Connell | Principal Instructor, Blackbaud
Matt Connell is a Blackbaud University Instructor at the principal level, and the lead instructor for nonprofit organizational best practices and fundraising. Matt has been a contributor to sgENGAGE®, NonprofitPRO, and the Blackbaud Community and has presented at bbcon and AFP events. As an educator to the social good sector, Matt helps to grow the expertise and advance the knowledge of those working to do the most good for the world we share.
I remember my first in-person event after the initial outbreak of COVID-19. It felt different. There was a noticeable uneasiness in the crowd.
I’m now on a committee planning an in-person event, and the uneasiness is there, too. Thinking back on past events, I realize there was always anxiety, concern, or drama to plan around. Event planning, at its heart, hasn’t changed. The constant uncertainty we face has forced our approach to mature, just as it has all of us.
Whether you’re planning an event that’s in-person, virtual, or some combination of both, your plan should start with well-thought-out goals. Like everything your organization does, the event goals should amplify your mission and vision and be shaped by your core values. An event might be one of the most noticeable efforts an organization has, and the impression an event makes can be beneficial to your reputation—or detrimental.
The budget (and how you spend it) can have the same impact. Many times, I’ve seen an organization choose a vendor or a menu option for reasons other than an alignment with their values and goals. Those choices didn’t often escape the notice of attendees.
An event is about bringing people together, and your attendees’ satisfaction and safety are major priorities. It may seem like those two priorities are at odds with each other. But for a person to enjoy an event, it needs to first meet a need they have. As you plan, consider who you’re inviting. What are their goals and motivations? How can they play a part in making the event more enjoyable?
An event needs to be easy and accessible, so consider how comfortable and smooth you can make the process of guests registering, traveling, arriving, entering, and attending. A development director I worked with would choose a venue after driving there from the houses of major donors and board members to make sure the location was convenient.
Access goes beyond the route to the venue—and is important for all attendees, not just your major donors and board. Open the doors to your event wide, and make your guests feel safe as they participate. The impressions you create will ripple throughout the event and afterward. If your organization’s values include inclusivity or equity in any way, this must be reflected in how your organization communicates and who is represented in communication.
It’s essential to consider the perspectives represented at your event. Are attendees’ viewpoints respected and their voices welcomed at every stage—planning the event and running it? Are you forcing your guests to adjust because of personal, institutional, or cultural factors? If your invitation list, itinerary, menu, or venue wouldn’t feel welcoming to the communities you’re trying to serve, consider how that might undermine your organization’s vision.
If you respect public health or your attendees’ concerns for health and safety, you need clear, consistent policies observed by all, not just linked to in an email. I recently attended an event that started with a session where an unmasked group from different households told attendees to wear masks and respect social distancing, causing anxiety for many and confusion for all. Other guests are part of the experience, too. Your organization needs to take steps to ensure that mutual respect and the values of the community you’re trying to build are supported and reinforced. Inform your guests of their responsibilities and what behavior is expected from them for everyone to make the most of the event.
Imagine the life cycle of an attendee’s participation in your event, from the first announcement to the end of the last session. The more you visualize that journey—and the more thoughtful you are about making it easier and safer for all—the more enjoyment your attendees will get from your event. If any part of the attendees’ journey presents challenges, provide resources (like a FAQ) to help them and ensure that a point of contact is always available.
Throughout the planning process and the event, record the questions you’re being asked—and the questions you ask yourself. Use those questions (and your answers) to refine your event planning process for the future. The changes our world is facing are forcing our organizations to mature. Your events need to mature, as well.
CHAPTER FOUR: Trust and Personal Connection Lead to Recurring Gifts and Loyalty
Erica Waasdorp | President, A Direct Solution
Erica Waasdorp is president of A Direct Solution, located on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Erica lives and breathes direct response and fundraising and can be considered a philanthropyholic.
She works with nonprofit clients all over the country as well as internationally, helping them with their appeals and monthly giving. She is also the former US ambassador for the International Fundraising Congress (IFC)—learn more here.
Erica Waasdorp has published two books on monthly giving. Her first is Monthly Giving. The Sleeping Giant, published in 2012, and her second is Monthly Giving Made Easy, a How-To Guide, published in 2021. She created the “monthly donor roadmap” and several ebooks to include the Monthly Donor Retention Playbook and many other resources. Erica is an AFP Master Trainer, and she regularly blogs and presents on appeals, direct mail, and monthly giving.
This section focuses on retention, especially for peer-to-peer donors. While these donors are often the hardest to keep, most of what you’ll read here is meaningful for any and all types of donors, no matter the channel, message, or source.
Peer-to-peer giving is growing. In the last 12 months, three in 10 US adults gave through fundraising events, peer-to-peer fundraising, or occasion/giving day campaigns.* If you look at the fundamentals of successful peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns, it’s all about bringing in urgency, goals, emotion, and momentum.
Peer-to-peer donors are often also called social or transactional (or one-off) donors. They respond because someone asked them to, or because they felt moved by something that happened that very moment.
For a nonprofit, it doesn’t make sense to generate a lot of these transactional social donors and then just have them sit there. That’s just a drag on a donor base. The key is to build that personal connection to the organization, which then leads to trust and that crucial second gift.
When I first started in recurring giving some 30 years ago, peer-to-peer didn’t exist, but disasters did happen and those generated transactional donors. Hurricanes. 9/11. Wildfires. Tornadoes. Wars.
Then, the quickest turnaround time for a campaign geared toward donors was 48 hours—if you were lucky enough to have envelopes on the shelf and a printer and mail house on standby. You could launch a quick phone campaign if you had a tele-fundraising agency in place.
We weren’t using email; there was no social media, no online giving pages, no payment platforms, no texting, no smartphones—not even cell phones!
The good news is that now, you have the tools to engage your donors. It may take a bit of planning time, but once you have them set up, they’ll work. You can really do a great job getting recent peer-to-peer donors to make a second gift (then a third gift, a recurring gift, and so on).
In addition to the more traditional activity-focused (like bike, walk, and run) peer-to-peer events, I’ve seen a tremendous increase in giving days. GivingTuesday was already popular. Then, early on during the pandemic, there was GivingTuesday NOW—another huge success.
Now, organizations have started their own giving days. Using the peer-to-peer fundamentals, creativity, urgency (the deadline/giving day), a finite goal, and ideally a match, it works! There’s literally no end to special days you as a nonprofit can tap into. Just check out this special calendar to find days that may fit your nonprofit.
How do you turn transactional donors into more loyal donors?
I looked at two different studies that focus on loyalty and donor giving experiences. The first one, About Loyalty, came from the UK.
They tracked 50,000 donors across 12 charities over three years, looked at how donors first started giving to the organization, and gave them a loyalty score. The definition of loyalty is “the feeling of connection, support, and allegiance” toward a charity.
In their research you can see the difference in loyalty scores. For example, community events and “in memory” gifts have higher loyalty than a first cash gift! How can you improve those scores further? The three most significant drivers of loyalty are commitment, satisfaction, and trust.
Growing loyalty starts with the right mindset, but the results are huge!
“When we look at those charities that are most consistently growing their supporters’ loyalty, we see three things:
- A continual focus on growing commitment, satisfaction, and trust
- A targeted approach for every group of supporters
- A culture that values supporters for who they are as much as the income and support they contribute.”
The results don’t lie: “15% more donors continued to give after three years. Because more loyal donors also gave more, 20% more income after three years, 9% increase in the number of people wanting to include you in their will.” (About Loyalty, June 2022.)
“Yes,” you might say, “that’s all great. That’s the UK.” Guess what? US donors are not different. The reality is: EVERY DONOR wants this. Not just peer-to-peer donors. Not just recurring donors. Not just major donors. So how can you do this?
Create a loyalty day!
If you want to start focusing on growing more loyal donors, how about creating a loyalty-focused day?
If you’ve gone back to the office, get your communications team and fundraisers together from all levels and bring in anything and everything you’re currently sending on all your channels. If you’re remote, get into Zoom®, Microsoft® Teams, or Google® Meet and use the whiteboard or some other collaborative option.
Create a vision of how you want your donors to feel when they support you.
You have a website. You may have a blog. You may have a print newsletter. You have your appeals. You have an e-news update. You have a thank-you email—but do you have a thank-you letter? Do you have a welcome kit? Does your major gifts department do something special? Do they have a stewardship letter?
You have thank-you videos or other video footage of good news. You’ve only shared it on social media. You sent it in an email a year ago.
Do you have a welcome email series in place? You may not have gotten around to it yet, but I highly recommend you start as soon as possible—and preferably before you get too busy with year-end giving campaigns.
If a donor comes in because someone asked (for a walk, run, or bike challenge, for example), there’s already an interpersonal connection, but no connection yet with the organization.
You can send an email from the asker with a thank-you video, by email, social media, and even by text. What can you use to engage new donors and tell them how their gifts are making a difference? What do you think fits the bill and gives concrete, specific examples of where the money is going? How often can you do this?
You can program a welcome series to start after a peer-to-peer event, or right after a giving day. You can show those concrete samples and you can then ask for the second gift and a recurring gift. Especially now, small recurring gifts could be more comfortable for donors than one bigger gift. Build that into the welcome series. You have the room to add that into a three- or four-part email series. Try it for a few months and see what happens.
Frankly, most nonprofits are not communicating enough because they are afraid donors don’t want it. Have you asked them? Include a survey and ask them how often they want to hear from you and how!
Trust, personal connection, and immediacy drive peer-to-peer donors to get more engaged and thus give more money to those organizations they care about. If you can give a peer-to-peer/transactional/one-time donor feedback on how their gift is making a difference and then convert them to make small recurring gifts, you’re really golden.
There is a reason to focus on trust and loyalty.
“Feeling like a donation makes a difference” continues to be the number one reason that social donors across all generations decide to give again. Seventy percent of social donors say they’re very or somewhat likely to become regular annual donors, and 59% said they’re very or somewhat likely to become monthly donors.”
It’s not just me saying it. Donors are saying it. They’re giving you clues about what they want.
You have the tools. You have the messaging and the channels. Create that loyalty day. Create the vision for how you want your donors to feel when they give to you. You are responsible for building that trust, personal connection, and loyalty. You have the power to keep your donors, even in challenging times!
It will require some focus and some time, but it will pay off multi-fold. It certainly doesn’t have to take much money, but it will benefit your clients, individuals, patients, animals, and your mission. If nothing else, let’s at least give it a try!
*OneCause, 2022 Giving Experience Research Study.
CHAPTER FIVE: Building Online Community Around Your Events
Julia Campbell | Founder and Principal, J Campbell Social Marketing
Named as a top thought leader and one to follow by Forbes® and LinkedIn® for nonprofits, Julia Campbell is a nonprofit digital consultant, speaker, and author on a mission to make the digital world a better place. In addition to hosting the acclaimed Nonprofit Nation podcast, she’s written two books for nonprofits on social media and storytelling. Her online courses, webinars, and talks have helped hundreds of nonprofits make the shift to digital thinking. You can learn more about Julia on her blog.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the increased use of social media and online community-building tools, in-person, live nonprofit events have kept their popularity. Galas, auctions, marathons, serve-a-thons, breakfasts, you name it—nonprofit events can be a fantastic opportunity to:
- Bring new people into the fold,
- Deepen relationships with current supporters,
- Showcase impact first hand through donor-centered storytelling and person-to-person connections.
However, if you are a one-person nonprofit marketing shop, nonprofit event promotion can be challenging. It can be difficult to continually fill up your events with the right people—the ones that will show up, bring friends, and become more involved with your cause.
With so many marketing options available, how can you manage your time efficiently, and effectively spread the word about the event? How can you leverage social media channels to promote your event in a targeted, effective, and efficient way, without spending all your time on the computer or your phone?
I work with small nonprofits on the best and most strategic ways to use storytelling and social media to accomplish their goals. If holding a successful event with a vibrant, engaged audience is your goal, keep reading!
Here are just 10 simple ways to get more people to your nonprofit event, using Facebook® and Instagram®.
Post updates on the Facebook Event page.
The Facebook Event page serves as the hub of information about your event. Once created, you can, and should, post frequent updates to keep the excitement up about the event.
Remember that the majority of people indicate that they are “Interested” in the event and may not immediately purchase a ticket or say that they are “Going.” The more updates you share, the more information they will have to make their decision, as well as to decide whether to share it with their friends.
When I indicate that I am “Interested” in a Facebook Event, it usually means that I want to be reminded about it later, when I have time to ask my husband or get out my credit card to purchase tickets.
What should you share in the updates?
- Snippets from speakers, photos, visuals;
- The questions: “What are people most excited to see at this event?” and “What inspires them?”;
- Behind-the-scenes content at the venue while preparing for the event, printing the program, or anything to give a glimpse into your nonprofit.
Resource: Nonprofit Facebook Events Checklist
Go live on Facebook to announce the event.
Facebook Live videos continue to be the most engaging form of content on the site. They have 10 times the reach of native videos (videos posted on Facebook that are not live). It’s silly to waste this opportunity to game the Facebook algorithm—make a plan to go live and announce the event!
Make sure you have the ticket or registration link ready to go. Be sure to add it in the comments during and immediately after the live broadcast.
You can go live from your nonprofit’s Facebook page, then share the video to the Event Page afterward to reach even more people.
Share short videos of the sponsors or speakers.
Use your smartphone to take short videos of the featured speakers, awardees, and/or corporate sponsors of the event. Video catches the eye and grabs attention better than any other kind of content on Facebook.
Ask them what your cause means to them, how they started, and why they stay involved. Make sure to ask leading interview questions and keep the videos SHORT. Thirty seconds to one minute is perfect for Facebook.
Take these video files and upload them to other social media accounts for added exposure!
Create a private Facebook Group for the event committee.
A private Facebook Group for event committee members will ensure that everyone is on the same page and apprised of the progress in ticket sales, registrations, media coverage, and the like.
Write and share social media posts for committee members and provide graphics and visuals. Tell them the priority of the day or week, leading up to the event.
Update frequently and be enthusiastic. For example: “Hey everyone, we have to sell 200 tickets to make this event a success, and we’ve sold 125 so far. Let’s get the word out and sell the remaining 75!”
(Don’t have an event committee? Form one! There is no way that you can sell all the tickets, find all the sponsors, meet with all the vendors, get all the permits, and do all the event promotion by yourself. I am more than happy to get on the phone with your board and your boss to tell them just that.)
Promote your event through targeted ads.
To get the ball rolling a bit, budget some money to promote the event to more people who may be interested. (Note: Your budget depends on your goals—if you need to sell 500 gala tickets, you will definitely need a bigger ad budget than you would for a 25-person town hall.)
The best part of Facebook’s ad platform (and all that data they collect on their users) is the ability to target the event to just the audience that you want to reach, based on demographics, behavior, location, and more.
First, upload your email list to Facebook and create a Custom Audience. This way, you can get the event in front of people who have signed up for your emails—meaning they know you and are at least somewhat aware of your mission.
Second, create “Lookalike” audiences, which is where Facebook finds other people similar to those on your email list.
If you are really starting from scratch and want to reach completely new people on Facebook, use their advanced targeting tools to identify locations (the more local and specific the better), interests, occupations, and other characteristics of your ideal audience member.
Resource: The Nonprofit Facebook Ad Planner
Have a visual strategy for your event.
Nonprofits do not always do a great job expressing their mission in a visual way. When using Instagram for promotion, you must make sure that you are posting visually-appealing videos and photos. Full stop.
What doesn’t work on Instagram:
- Ugly corporate logos (Here are five things to do instead!)
- Empty conference tables
- Backs of heads
- Tote bags (Unless they are NTEN tote bags)
What works on Instagram:
- Action shots
- Behind-the-scenes shots
Create a list of at least five pieces of visual content that you can post on Instagram leading up to the event.
What images would best represent the purpose of the event? Who are the speakers? Where is the venue?
Users can post a clickable URL link in the bio portion of your profile, and not on individual posts. Instagram link stickers have recently replaced the “swipe up” feature in Instagram Stories, and are available to all accounts. Using link stickers, you can promote your event, digital fundraising campaign, or sign-up link directly inside your Instagram Stories.
Actual ticket sales and registrations may be slow to come in from Instagram but this platform is a great way to create buzz, build excitement, and highlight special features of your event, leading people to want to learn more and hopefully, attend!
Research and use relevant hashtags.
If you are planning a large, public event, create and use a custom hashtag.
This will help you curate the posts before, during, and after the event, gauging interest and helping acknowledge your social media ambassadors who are spreading the word. Association of Fundraising Professionals at their International Conference (ICON) uses the year of the event and “ICON”—so this year’s hashtag was #AFPICON22. Short, sweet, and easy to spell are bonuses!
When posting on Instagram, you also want to do some research on popular and more widely used hashtags upon which to piggyback. Location-based hashtags such as #WashingtonDC or #BostonMA are popular and help people when searching for posts of interest in a specific area.
Create a set of square graphics.
Use free graphic design platform Canva or low-cost mobile apps like WordSwag to easily create beautiful graphics promoting your event. These platforms perfectly size and adjust the image for Instagram.
Before the event, create a set of eye-catching graphics to share at intervals leading up to the event.
If you want to include the event URL, use a link-shortening service like bit.ly to make custom URLs that won’t take up too much space on the graphic.
Leverage Instagram Stories.
Instagram Stories are the perfect place to share brief, raw, in-the-moment, and behind-the-scenes snippets of event preparation.
Share an Insta-Story when you secure a new speaker, acquire a new sponsor, meet with a vendor, do a food tasting, etc.
Instagram Stories humanize your brand and show your followers that there are real, genuine people behind the logo.
(Tip: I am obsessed with Instagram Stories, so if you want to see them in action, follow me on Instagram and look for me in the circles at the top of your feed when you log in! Tap or click on my circle and it will show you my latest Insta-Story.)
Host a contest.
Hosting a contest before and during the event will drive engagement and interaction, pique curiosity, and grab attention (the name of the marketing game).
One idea for a contest is to have attendees post selfies with the event ticket in the days leading up to your actual event. When they post the photo, entrants should include the event hashtag and tag your nonprofit’s Instagram handle.
You can then select a winner at random and give them some sort of “prize pack”—movie tickets, a basket of wine and cheese, a T-shirt. By the simple act of getting more people to share selfies on their personal Instagram accounts, you will get more exposure for your event.
Make sure to thank and acknowledge each and every contest entrant, and to let their followers know where they can get more information about the event.
There you have it—just 10 simple ways to increase exposure and publicity for your nonprofit event using Facebook and Instagram.
CHAPTER SIX: DIY Fundraising: High Potential in Difficult Times
Casper Harrat | Senior Director, JustGiving® from Blackbaud®
Casper has spent the last 15 years working with nonprofits, providing tech solutions to help them engage supporters and raise funds. He is based in the UK, where he’s currently senior operations director at JustGiving from Blackbaud, the world’s most trusted online giving platform.
We’re headed for an uncertain economic period. There’s no doubt that as the world adjusts in the wake of the pandemic, ordinary people are feeling the squeeze. Inflation, energy bills, and the cost of living are all increasing. This will put a strain on households’ budgets and some donors may feel they can no longer give what they used to.
However, as we continue to move fast into a digital-first fundraising culture, DIY (do-it-yourself) fundraising stands out as a key income stream that’s worth exploring. With DIY, rather than attending an organised event, the supporter is encouraged to come up with their own challenge or activity to build a fundraising “ask” around. It might be a severe haircut, giving up something they love, or building a challenge around their own unusual hobby.
The trend we typically see in tough times is one of fewer donors, but higher average donation amounts. Fewer people can afford to give, but those who do give more. This means there are still many valuable donors out there who you can engage. Plus, with DIY fundraising, your existing supporter base has the potential to be your most effective marketing tool in growing and expanding your mission. You may capture the attention of new supporters who can’t afford to give now, but who you can steward and nurture for the future.
With the reach and accessibility of DIY fundraising, we see organizations empowering their supporters to raise funds their own way resulting in heartwarming outcomes based on the good news of real humans. Some examples include:
- Grateful patients and families crowdfunding hospital foundations to fund life-saving technology or research studies
- People rallying behind something as simple and personal as a haircut, using it to harness the good in their community and raise money for a cause they are passionate about
- Teachers fundraising to stock the supply closet so kids can enjoy learning
- Visitors, staff, and board members crowdfunding to save an animal or exhibit at the local zoo
- Community members fundraising for a local nonprofit project like a shared community garden to address food scarcity
- Universities and colleges hosting giving days to connect with students, parents, engaged alumni, and those disengaged so future students can experience education
In 2020, the Pew Research Center predicted that “like-minded people from around the world will more effectively advocate for causes” and “crowdfunding/small-dollar fundraising will continue to grow.” As we move into the post-pandemic world, with its own unique challenges, this is certainly proving to be the case.
During the height of the pandemic, nonprofits had to get creative. Physical events were cancelled often with very short notice, and a vital income stream was virtually switched off. With the resilience and adaptability that is so often the hallmark of the social good community, campaigns and programmes were put in place to drive supporters to come up with new ways to fundraise—and in so doing, new communities were forged, new donors engaged, and income grew.
What’s interesting is that now, even though most physical events have returned as normal, many are struggling to recruit the same numbers of participants as they did pre-pandemic. Some of our partners predict in-person events could be down as much as 20% in 2023. People seem to be re-thinking what they find enjoyable, and standard running and cycling events don’t seem to have the broad-based appeal that they used to.
This creates a clear need for nonprofits to diversify income streams and test new approaches. The DIY form of peer-to-peer fundraising is one that every nonprofit should be educating its supporter base about. Whilst encouraging new ways to fundraise, it retains all the same power to capture the three Ps of peer-to-peer as a physical event:
- Person: The donor has a personal connection to the fundraiser
- Passion: The donor has an affinity for the cause
- Pride: The fundraiser is proud of the effort they’re putting in and is motivated to spread their message throughout their network
In addition, it gives those who aren’t able to give financially right now another way to get involved. Whether that’s through fundraising themselves, or simply sharing the fundraising page of someone who is—no small act is worthless and DIY peer-to-peer gives everyone a way to help.
All you need to do is get the right tech platform in place and then start inspiring your supporters. The beauty of this approach is putting the power into the hands of your greatest advocates—let them be the mouthpiece for your cause, and let their creativity inspire their networks to give.
I hope this has motivated you to consider launching your inaugural online DIY fundraising initiative. By continuing to diversify your activity, you will see how a wide range of events can move your mission forward.
CHAPTER SEVEN: What GivingTuesday Teaches Us About Year-Round Giving
Woodrow Rosenbaum | Chief Data Officer, GivingTuesday
As chief data officer for GivingTuesday, Woodrow has been instrumental in shaping the global generosity movement and has led groundbreaking research and analysis of individual giving behaviors. He leads the GivingTuesday Data Commons, bringing together a coalition of more than 100 collaborators coordinated through eight working groups as well as data teams in 50 countries to understand the drivers and impacts of generosity to inspire more giving of all types. Woodrow brings expertise in moving markets and transforms audiences from passive participants to active and vocal ambassadors. Woodrow is also the founder of With Intent Strategies, an international agency specializing in brand reimagination. Woodrow is a member of the Generosity Commission Research Task Force, serves as a co-chair for Global Impact Canada’s Board of Directors, and was recently named a fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School with the Technology and Public Purpose project.
As the nonprofit sector faces the prospect of a global recession, there are some important learnings from past GivingTuesdays, and the state of generosity in general, that can help us navigate economic uncertainties to remain more resilient—and even prosper. Findings about giving from the annual global day of generosity reveal key lessons about how to engage givers all year.
The GivingTuesday Experience
Our examination of giving behaviors and results on GivingTuesday each year have highlighted important and consistent trends. Analysis by the GivingTuesday Data Commons and our partners has shown that, in some ways, GivingTuesday is different than other giving moments throughout the year and doesn’t conform to broader donation trends. Understanding what these trends tell us about giver behavior and motivation can help us to better engage supporters not only through the “giving season” but also beyond.
Leveling the Playing Field
From the earliest days of GivingTuesday, analysis by Blackbaud has shown that, while the largest organizations receive the biggest share of GivingTuesday donations, it’s mid-sized charities that have substantially driven growth in giving over the years. Indicative of the “all boats lifted” result, small organizations, who unsurprisingly receive the smallest share of GivingTuesday dollars, do at least twice as well on GivingTuesday compared to the rest of the year. These grassroots charities have fewer resources to leverage on GivingTuesday compared to larger organizations, and yet, they’re able to achieve fundraising results more than twice the usual level. Understanding what’s working for small, community-based organizations is critically important as we’ve seen them most impacted by the stress and turmoil the sector has faced since the onset of COVID.
Bringing in New Givers
Our analysis of donations, and that of our donor platform partners, has shown that GivingTuesday has always been highly engaging, driving a spike in donations and donors that consistently meets or surpasses December 31 levels, as thousands of organizations come together to celebrate generosity and inspire their supporters. Over the years, we have seen that donors engaged on GivingTuesday are retained at higher rates and increase their giving at a faster pace. The day is also an important driver of donor acquisition. Even in 2020, a year that was notable for reversing the long-term trend of fewer and fewer donors with many crises, issues, and giving moments bringing in new donors, GivingTuesday stood out as the single biggest day of the year for donor acquisition.
Research has shown that organizations with a broad base of support, including smaller donors, are more resilient to economic shocks. This is going to be critically important, as we are now seeing a return to the pre-pandemic trend of a consolidation of charitable giving from a shrinking pool of high-value donors. This does not bode well for sector prospects as these donors are more likely to reduce their giving in response to economic shifts. However, mitigating this risk is within our control, and the experience of givers on GivingTuesday provides some insight into how organizations can recession-proof themselves.
The giving landscape on GivingTuesday has always looked somewhat different than the rest of the year. Although participation is strong across demographics, it’s particularly engaging with younger donors; crowdfunding and peer-to-peer campaigns are especially common; donors support more causes and are more likely to become fundraisers; and giving transcends transactional dollars-focused fundraising by embracing many different ways to give. It is because of this broader celebration of the many forms of generosity, not despite it, that GivingTuesday has steadily grown to drive more than $2.7 billion in charitable donations in the US last year. The most common way Americans participate in GivingTuesday is by donating money. However, only donating money is the least common behavior. The vast majority of donors on GivingTuesday are also taking other generous actions. This is unusual only through the nonprofit sector fundraising lens. In fact, this more diverse behavior is much more in keeping with how most people give all year.
Generosity Is Abundant
Over the past year, we have been looking at the myriad ways that people give to address pressing issues, support causes they care about, and build the communities and world they wish to live in. Our goal is an expanded horizon of generosity based on a rethinking of how we measure giving. What is clear from this initial work is that despite a renewed trend of fewer charitable donors, giving is not in decline.
There are likely many factors driving this troubling trend of fewer donors, but we should be aware that our fundraising systems are performing exactly as designed. A focus on large donor stewardship optimizes for the outcome we’re seeing: more dollars from fewer donors. Embracing a broader community of givers across a broader range of giving actions, as we observe on GivingTuesday, has the potential to inspire more giving throughout the year.
Almost Everyone Gives in Lots of Ways
- Our research shows that 82% of Americans are givers with very few (7%) only giving money.
- The vast majority of givers (80%) engaged in two of our tracked types of giving (money, items, time, and advocacy), and 27% gave in at least three ways.
- Some long-standing giving traditions, like mutual aid networks are engaging with givers more effectively than nonprofit organizations are.
Giving Isn’t Only About Nonprofit Support
- Most acts of generosity in the US (65%) do not involve registered nonprofits.
- Only 2.5% of people who give only give money to nonprofits.
- Only 14% of Americans only give to registered nonprofits. More than 2.5 times as many Americans give through multiple mechanisms—informally, through unincorporated groups like mutual aid networks, as well as to nonprofit orgs.
Critically, we have seen repeatedly that giving moments and mechanisms are not competitive or cannibalistic. People who engage in giving outside of the nonprofit economy also tend to be more generous and supportive of charitable organizations. In fact, the best indicator that someone will take action for good is that they practice some other generous behavior. The opportunity for our sector to be more resilient and to thrive lies in our ability to embrace giving in all its forms—meeting and inspiring a community of givers on their terms. If we can bring to our practice more of what works on GivingTuesday for the rest of the year, that future is within our grasp.
CHAPTER EIGHT: Innovative Approaches to Fundraising
Eugene Astone | Senior Manager, Deloitte
Eugene Astone has been a high-preforming senior manager at Deloitte for the past 15 years. He has a passion for helping nonprofits push the limits of their online fundraising and finding unique and creative solutions to their problems.
He has collaborated with a variety of charities across North America to help them grow their peer-to-peer fundraising, third-party sites, online donations forms, lottery ticket sales, etc., while always keeping a donor-centric approach.
Most recently, he and his team have been focused on educating nonprofits on the exciting new ways to revamp their traditional fundraising initiatives, which include (but are not limited to): esports/live-streaming, virtual galas, fitness tracking, and augmented reality.
Finally, Eugene is committed to continuous learning and contributing to team success.
There are always questions about the future of fundraising: What trends will take hold? What new technology will be the must-have tool? What digital disruptor will cause organizations to change how they do business?
The answers to those questions are constantly being written and rewritten, but these last few years have shown us that the most successful fundraising organizations are those that try new strategies, take calculated risks, and, most importantly, focus on being proactive.
The event space for nonprofits has predominately focused on traditional walks, runs, rides, and galas, and while there is nothing wrong with these types of events, there are so many additional tools that charities can use to fundraise in unique ways. These tools can help organizations incorporate brand-new fundraising strategies or revamp their traditional events to make them much more engaging.
Like all other businesses, charities need to be where their donors are, and in today’s society, they are everywhere and anywhere. Therefore, using these tools is necessary for reaching them all.
Let’s look at some exciting ways nonprofits can revamp their event fundraising strategies.
Esports and Live-Streaming
You would be hard-pressed to find an organization that did not want to attract a younger donor base, as most organizations rely heavily on aging demographics such as Boomers and Matures. One way to broaden your donor base is through esports and live-streaming.
There are countless examples of streamers, influencers, and gamers going online and fundraising for a cause. Video content is being consumed at higher and higher rates and is the preferred medium for most. A simple way to add esports and live-streaming to your roster of events is to include this functionality into your existing DIY platform. For example, your existing platform allows your donor to choose if they want to do a lemonade stand or a page in lieu of birthday gifts. Now, give them the ability to complete an eight-hour stream for your charity! It’s all about giving them the tools to fundraise how and where they want.
This space will also allow you to create new events, such as gaming tournaments for Mario Kart™, NBA® 2K, or Madden NFL®. With many universities, major league sports, and countless other organizations focused on this industry, there are many opportunities to find partners to create something new.
Finally, there is also something unique to the esport/live-streaming space, and that is how it converts your passive donors into active donors. Instead of simply coming to the page to sponsor a participant in your event, when donors watch a live stream, they can interact with the performer using live chat or communicate with other donors engaged in the event. This shared experience builds a sense of community and social interaction around your cause.
“Not another Zoom meeting!” We heard this many times throughout the pandemic, but online events do not have to feel like generic team conference calls. From taking a seat at a virtual table with colleagues, family, and friends, to instant donor recognition, to silent auctions, to accessing exclusive content, there are many digital solutions that can enhance your donor experience.
These enhancements can also help you reach a larger audience. Whether your venue has space restrictions, or your donor network is spread across the country, virtual galas allow everyone to join. They also give organizations and attendees the flexibility we all long for. Another wave of restrictions or needing to isolate? Don’t miss a beat—move everyone to your online platform or just a select few. One of your donors can no longer attend in-person? Have them attend virtually. A special guest speaker is across the globe? Broadcast their stream to both your in-person and online attendees.
Bringing your gala online also provides opportunities to incorporate other fundraising tools, such as peer-to-peer. Have each table be set up as a “team” and allow your attendees to reach out to their network for additional donations.
A great way to get fundraisers excited about a cause is to get them moving. Integrating fitness tracking platforms into peer-to-peer events gives participants the ability to not only raise money for a meaningful purpose, but also stay healthy while doing it.
Fitness tracking also allows organizations to expand the reach of traditional walks, runs, rides, and other distance events. Now, fundraisers can participate from anywhere in the world, showing their progress on interactive maps, while charities can use these metrics to tell their stories. Did your participant walk five miles/kilometers? Great! Now have them connect this milestone to your cause. For example, a child must walk five kilometers to access fresh water. Did your participant just unlock the 20K step badge? Then let your participant, and their supporters, know this is how many individuals will be affected by your cause this year.
Storytelling is not new for charities, but the way we tell them can be!
Augmented Reality (AR)
Augmented reality’s goal is to enrich your current physical environment, but it also has the potential to enhance your current event space. With AR, you can turn logos, QR codes, and geolocations into interactive checkpoints. Add this along to your existing walk/run/ride routes to give your participants a more engaging experience. Or, create a scavenger hunt across your city, allowing teams to come together to solve problems, figure out clues, and earn points alongside fundraising dollars.
You couldn’t talk about the future of fundraising events without also mentioning the fact that crypto donations, NFTs, and emerging social media platforms (i.e., TikTok®) will also be areas charities need to monitor.
We finally saw nonprofits moving out of their comfort zones during the pandemic, being forced to innovate in all sorts of ways. I hope this trend continues in our industry. Charities have shiny new tools in their workshops, but it is now up to organizers to carve, build, and shape exciting events that will bring both existing and new supporters immersive, story-rich experiences.
Published November 2022