Events and Community Fundraising, From IFC 2011

I saved my favorite session for last to blog about. Now I’ve been the first to discount the effectiveness of events as a way to raise money. But I’m generally open to having my mind changed and I think Kerry Packman (with Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres) and Ruth Ruderham (with British Waterways) have convinced me that there are ways to use events to both raise awareness about a cause and raise a significant amount of money.

Ms. Packman and Ms. Ruderham provided some very compelling reasons to not overlook events as a real fundraising strategy. A well-done event can certainly provide an entry-point to build long-term partnerships with contributors.

Donor engagement continues to be a challenge for many of us in the fundraising field. But what is it that really engages supporters? These suggest ions are from an “Engagement Checklist” from The Good Agency: relevant, resonant, real, reassuring, recognition, and rewarding. Do your engagement strategies fit these criteria?

The presenters focused on four case studies to help generate some ideas for our own organizations:

  1. Breakthrough Breast Cancer. Working primarily through volunteer ‘Sparklers,’ this organization seeks to raise awareness and funding. With the staffed offices in the UK, it is an approach that allows far more visibility than just relying on staff. When potential ‘Sparklers’ are identified, they are offered three levels of involvement (one-time activities, introducing Breakthrough Breast Cancer to two companies or community organizations or going out and speaking on behalf of the organization.
  2. Christian Aid’s Big Christmas Sing. Each year, a few churches across the UK held singing events and sent the funds in to support Christian Aid. Seeing an opportunity, they chose to formalize the event and add some national, regional, local and peer-to-peer support for it. The first year they raised £100,000 – twice their goal! Year Two experienced a bit of a setback because of poor weather the day of the event, but still raised £90,000.
  3. Royal Park’s Foundation – Half Marathon. This is an idea I’ll be sharing with a parks organization in my local community. Knowing that it would difficult to have runners raise big sponsorship dollars for the Foundation, they opted to recruit charities that would pay a fee to participate – and then use that as an opportunity to fundraising for their own organization. To make it even easier, they hired an agency to run the event for them. About 30,000 runners participated in the most recent half marathon.
  4. The Big Bagel. This may have been my favorite idea of the day. So simple – and so effective. Volunteers agree to host a gathering to serve bagels. In exchange for the bagels, attendees give a donation to support World Jewish Relief. Finding people to host the bagel gatherings proved a little more difficult than originally thought. So year two, rather than just running an ad in one of their newsletters, they replaced one of their financial appeals with an appeal for hosts. They had over 1,000 people attend events that second year.

An often missed donor development tool is to invite event organizers to continue to support the charity through a small monthly gift. While many in the room were skeptical, the presenters assured us that the response was very positive. They wanted to continue to be part of the family and were welcome to have the opportunity.

I hope this gives you some fresh ideas. Let me know if you’re able to try them out!

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