Tag Archives: fundraising

Online Advocates Help You Raise More

This article about online advocates, entitled “Online Advocates Help You Raise More”, originally appeared in the May/June 2011 issue of Advancing Philanthropy

Empower your raving fans to fundraise on your behalf

By Stacy Dyer, Sage North America

Humans are social creatures.  We are more likely to support a cause when asked by friends or family.  Make the most of people’s natural social nature by empowering those individuals who are most passionate about your cause to share their passion for your cause and solicit support on your behalf.

“We work hard to develop long-lasting, strategic relationships with individuals, organizations, and businesses, so our pool of existing supporters and donors are essential to us,” says Jessica Anderson, communications manager for Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC). “Not only are they the most loyal event participants, but they also reach out to new supporters with whom we wouldn’t otherwise connect.”

It’s about more than just getting people to sign online petitions. Encourage your raving fans (you know who they are, right?) to ask their own social networks to support your cause online. There are several ways to encourage personal advocacy online.

Peer-to-peer fundraising

First, there is simple peer-to-peer fundraising.  This happens when a donor or supporter shares a link to your donation form on their personal email or Facebook, Twitter, or blog page, encouraging their friends, colleagues, and readers to visit your website and make a donation.

Make it easy for supporters to share your organization’s donation forms on popular networks by embedding “share” links on every donation and event registration form you create.

Personal Fundraising Pages

To engage your supporters even more, allow individuals and partners supporting your organization to host personal fundraising pages on their own websites or blogs.  Maximize distribution with a portable virtual form. Advocates will be more willing to host a form on their site if it does not require visitors to leave their site in order to complete the form.

Make sure you address security within the form itself.  Credit card transaction security is crucial. Allow advocates to host your form without needing to worry about security, and without needing to specially configure their own blog or website.  Sponsors and other organizational partners will find this particularly helpful and will be more likely to not only sponsor your organization or special event, but also fundraise and advocate on your behalf on their own websites.

Ideally, the form you distribute to allow others to fundraise on your behalf will be easy for you to update, at any time.  The wider your distribution, the more difficult it would be to contact each advocate and request them to manually update it.  Create a form that you control, so that if you need to update your message for an urgent call to action, or any other reason, your changes will be immediately reflected anywhere the form is published.

Personalized Advocacy Center

Bring e-advocacy even further by allowing individuals to create their own personalized fundraising page, tracking the donations they have raised for your cause, on your site.  This type of advocacy is often used by registrants of race events, as they ask their friends to sponsor their participation in your run, walk, or ride.  But you don’t need to host a race to encourage advocate fundraising; it can be used in any type of fundraising campaign.

Create widgets online that supporters and participants can customize and share with their own peer-to-peer networks.  Make it both fun and personal.  Allow advocates to upload an image and share a personal statement about why they are supporting your cause.

Encourage your advocates to thank their friends and family who donate or pledge their support. Collect and share the email addresses of donors with the advocate, so they can send a thank you message to each of their personal supporters.

Competition can be a great motivator, too.  Set clear goals for each advocate, and allow advocates to increase their goal to keep the support flowing even after the original goal is met and surpassed. Be sure that any donations your advocate collects offline are counted, too. Use visual progress meters to publically track progress and allow individuals to share their success.

“We’re excited to have an advocacy center for each of our Pennsylvania Environment Ride participants,” says Anderson. “Making it easy for riders to ask their friends to sponsor them in the event, plus get credit for all the donations they raise themselves, will increase the amount of money raised by the event.”

Expand Your Reach

You rarely get anything you don’t ask for, so ask for it!  Your network of supporters, participants, and donors are your greatest asset when it comes to expanding your organization’s reach.  Ask your raving fans and most motivated supporters for help and make it easy for them to do, and you’ll be pleased by the results.


About Advancing Philanthropy
With 32,000 subscribers, Advancing Philanthropy is written for the members of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and executives of nonprofit organizations and institutions. The magazine provides ideas and strategies for the fundraising community, and includes information on education, training and advocacy for philanthropy. It also addresses ethical concerns and provides the latest news, resources, tools, models and technology for the sector. Web site: http://www.afpnet.org/Publications/IssueList.cfm?navItemNumber=544

Online Advocates.. from AdvPhil (pp33-41) Technology MayJun 2011


Participants’ tips for race fundraising success, part two

This article is part two of a series that focuses on the participants perspective of an event fundraiser and how to improve participants’ experience with events, and increase overall event participation. It was originally published by Hilborn eNEWS, formerly Canadian Fundraising & Philanthropy.

If you haven’t already, please read part one of the series.


Participants’ tips for race fundraising success, part two

By Heather Burton, Stacy Dyer, and Stacey Miller

As we said in our last article, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Timing, location and course selection are key starting points to providing a fantastic experience and having us show up again next year.

We’re going to finish our sneak peek into the participants’ perspective with three other areas of focus: technology, marketing and race necessities.

Easy event registration

There’s nothing worse than getting excited about information from a PSA, local newspaper ad or even a friend, only to struggle with event registration. These days, easy online registration is a must for successful charity races.  If we have to step away from your registration for any reason, there is a good chance we might never return.

Consider vendors that specialize in event management software and online event registration. They should have pre-made templates that you can modify to suit your own event, saving you time and effort and making our online registration a breeze. Help us find your form – make it available not only from your website, but also from your Facebook page or anywhere else your supporters might find you online.

We all hate filling out forms, so make sure you remove as many barriers as possible to completing the registration. Most of us like forms that are simple to complete, collecting all the relevant information (such as t-shirt size), in one place.  We understand that you need this information for your database and we support you in that endeavor. But please, collect only the information you absolutely need.  Use an after-race nurture e-mail for additional information or cultivation as necessary.

Ensure your technology includes a merchant gateway so you can securely collect payment at the time of registration. Give me options to pay for my registration, such as credit cards, Paypal, or Google Checkout.

Be sure to capture the registration data in a database so you can run reports and email the participants in case your logistics change. Having email addresses also allows you to add participant information to your fundraising database.

Hear ye, hear ye!

Market, market, market, and market some more! During race season, you’ll have to make a lot of marketing “noise” for us to notice your race – especially if yours is an inaugural race. Many of the most effective channels will run your race announcement free of charge. This includes local running stores, websites, and newspapers. Many television and radio news programs also allow local nonprofits to publicize their events. No matter where you advertise, be sure to include the name of the race, date, time, place, charitable beneficiary, directions for registering and contact information.

Don’t forget about or ignore the role of social media. Facebook and Twitter can be your best friends for viral marketing. People are more persuaded to participate in a race when asked by family or friends, so make sure links to registration forms are easy for us to share directly in our social networks. Allow us to monitor the success of our fundraising efforts with online thermometers or status bars that update automatically whenever a contribution is made.

It’s true that as runners or cyclists we love our sport, but incentives will draw us toward a particular race. Everyone loves to get the “stuff” that comes with organized events. From the souvenir shirt to the bib number, participants feel satisfaction from having proof of completion. Many participate in races year after year just because they enjoy collecting the unique, limited-edition t-shirt included in their race packet!

And don’t forget that we love extras – discount coupons to local smoothie shops, athletic stores, health clubs or spas are popular items. Many times the charity can get these items donated or at a reduced cost in return for the advertising. Make the packet a true “goodie bag” to entice the racer to register year after year, and remember to consider what you can do to make your packet unique. It will get talked about in race circles and draw even more participants to next year’s event.

“This was OK, but…”

We want to remember your race, not only for your cause but because of its excitement and memories. Here are some race necessities to consider.

Race-start excitement Make sure you have a clear starting line with a countdown clock, and have a bullhorn so you can start your race on time. Consider providing entertainment and engaging with a local radio station to make announcements. We appreciate the local touch of celebrities and activities for our families to enjoy while we run or ride.

Quench the thirst, motivate the soul Along the race course, make sure you have plenty of water stations. High school cheerleaders and athletes make a great addition to cheer your racers on. Music is a great motivator, and local musicians might want to join in the excitement. Have people monitoring the course to keep your racers safe.

Celebrate success. After the race is celebration time! Make sure your finish line is appropriately marked and festive. Consider a finish chute consisting of a rope/flag border about six feet wide and long enough to accommodate the maximum number of participants you think will be finishing within any one-minute period in your race. Keep the finish exciting for us by having racers announced as they cross the finish line. Provide water bottles as we finish the race – don’t make us search for water.

Feed us! And don’t forget that during a race we can burn anywhere from 300 to 700 calories that we need to replenish. Most races will provide fruit (bananas, cut oranges), bagels sliced in half or cookies. Many sports-food vendors like to test their latest products at events, so ask them! Additionally you might consider getting sponsorship from massage schools or chiropractic practices. Give us a good 15-minute massage after a 5K run and your event will stand out in the crowd. These activities will help turn your race event into an after-race party!

Holding a charity race can be daunting and rewarding. From start to finish, there are a million little details to which you must attend. However, these steps will help you anticipate the needs of your participants and supporters and provide an excellent race experience to keep attendees coming back year after year.


Heather Burton, product marketing director for Sage North America’s Nonprofit Solutions business, has been involved in the nonprofit sector for more than a decade. Stacy Dyer is a product marketing manager for Sage’s Austin-based Nonprofit Solutions business. She has worked and volunteered with nonprofits for more than 15 years. With more than 20 years of experience in market management and marketing communications for both nonprofits and for-profits, Stacey Miller currently serves as a consultant to Sage Nonprofit Solutions.

Participants’ tips for race fundraising success, part one

This article is part one of a series that focuses on the participants perspective of an event fundraiser and how to improve participants’ experience with events, and increase overall event participation. It was originally published by Hilborn eNEWS, formerly Canadian Fundraising & Philanthropy.


Participants’ tips for race fundraising success, part one

By Heather Burton, Stacy Dyer, and Stacey Miller

We love to participate in charity races, walks and rides. They’re a great way for nonprofits to amplify their reach and raise money. They make us feel good, emotionally and physically. And these days, it’s a rare weekend when some sort of athletic charity event can’t be found. We’ve even stumbled across a “yoga-a-thon,” which is not a race, run, or ride, but still a pretty cool idea for summer athletes in the winter months!

In this two-part article, we’ll give you a sneak peek into the participants’ perspective, with key ways to turn avid event participants into not only yearly attendees, but also fans for your cause.

The Toronto People With AIDS Foundation holds its Friends For Life Bike Rally each year. Tim Ledger and Carmelo Millimaci, co-leaders of the event’s media and communications committee, say some of this year’s participants are returning for their 11th year.

“Returning riders and crew tell us that, aside from the cause, the reasons they return are the sense of community they find during the event, the truly lifelong friendships they have developed, the physical challenge, and the feeling of accomplishment they get from cycling or volunteering for the six-day journey from Toronto to Montreal,” says Millimaci.

One chance to make a first impression

All participants love a well-organized event. Tell us where to park on race day. Give us a map of the course and clearly mark the starting point. The way you manage your race, run, or walk is how we will perceive your charity, especially if this is our first experience with you.

From setting the course to counting down to the start, it’s never too early to begin planning. A few key areas on which to focus include the anticipated number of participants, cost of the packets, advertising, weather conditions, and technology considerations for registration, communication, and tracking runner, walker, and rider times.


Spring and fall are considered race seasons. The weather and the desire to be outdoors make these the most comfortable and largest attended races. Open registration early, especially if you’re asking us to fundraise on your behalf. Four months isn’t too early to open registration. In fact, some participants prefer a six-month registration window. We need to get your message out to our networks, so give us time to do that. Consider this: What lead time would you need to ensure participants have the best possible registration experience?

A considerable number of runs, walks, and rides are held on Saturday mornings. If you set yourself apart by holding your event on Friday or Saturday evening, you give us the option to participate in multiple events. Remember to look at all types of events, including cycling, swimming, and triathlons, because cross-endurance activities are common. Check with your local run and cycle shops as they usually keep an active events calendar.

Location, location, location

Courses are a key component of any successful run, walk, or ride event. Great courses offer a challenge for a variety of fitness levels, good terrain, and nice scenery. Many participants will use your well-planned and enjoyable course to train for your event, so consider accessibility, traffic patterns, and overall appeal of your planned course. The best course routes are not only convenient, but also a pleasure to run, walk, or ride anytime – not just during race day.

Consider family participation

Give us a reason to make your race a “family affair.” If your charity can arrange it, cast a wide net by offering multiple events within one, such as a 5K, a 10K, and a Kids K. Doing this can get tricky, but having various distance challenges allows participants to market your event to multiple audiences to help increase participation and encourage family engagement with your cause. Arrange all the different courses to have the same start and finish line, so supporters who are not racing can cheer on all of the participants from one location.

Measure accurately

For avid racers, it’s frustrating to run or ride a course feeling like your time is incredibly slow or thinking this is your fastest race ever. Accuracy of the course distance is crucial. Please don’t use a car odometer because you’ll only be accurate within 1/10 to 2/10 of the stated distance. The most common way to accurately measure the course is with a Jones-Oerth counter attached to the front wheel of a bicycle. Better yet, get your course certified by Athletics Canada / Run Canada.

Course certification is great for garnering the attention of serious, competitive athletes in your community. It can also help raise the profile of your event in local media, increase participation, and raise more awareness for your cause. Participants like to check times from race to race, so knowing that your course is accurate helps us improve our fitness levels, as well as advocate for your particular event.

Invisible but vital details

Finally, pay attention to elevation gain, traffic, road conditions, and any other factors that could make participating in your event strenuous for the less physically able. Remember, you’re not only catering to athletes, but also the general public and your current constituency. You may also benefit from contacting a local running or walking club for suggestions of routes that may fit your participants’ ability levels.

Millimaci adds, “Our bike rally is attractive to participants for many reasons – for fitness, for charity, for the love of community and friendship, and to make a positive difference in the lives of others.”

In our next article, we’ll talk about choosing technology, marketing, and a few essentials for event day. Happy planning!

Please read part two of the series.

Heather Burton, product marketing director for Sage North America‘s Nonprofit Solutions business, has been involved in the nonprofit sector for more than a decade.

Stacy Dyer is a product marketing manager for Sage’s Austin-based Nonprofit Solutions business. She has worked and volunteered with nonprofits for more than 15 years.

With more than 20 years of experience in market management and marketing communications for both nonprofits and for-profits, Stacey Miller serves as a consultant to Sage Nonprofit Solutions.

Turning Offline Events into Powerful Online Donation Engines

My article: Turning Offline Events into Powerful Online Donation Engines, has been published in the Desert Charity News.  Check it out here, page 37.

It has tips and tricks savvy nonprofits can use to increase online giving for real-world events; such as races, golf tournaments, or opening night galas.

SXSW: Text-to-Donate Fundraising for Non-Profits

In a core conversation with Bridge Communities, Amy Van Polen, Resource Dev Dir, discussed her experiences with text-to-give campaigns. The results surprised me.

Typically, text-to-give campaigns involve using a for-profit ASP (application service provider) to act as the trusted third party between the phone carrier and the nonprofit. This ASP provider manages the short codes and keywords and typically charges a monthly fee ($79-$99/mo) and a per text charge ($0.48/txt).Bridge Communities used Give By Cell.

Then they shared this little tidbit of information:




Really? Breaking even a success? She also mentioned her costs to be approximately $4000 to run the campaign for a single special event. This price tag is beyond the reach of most NPOs.

In addition to the high cost, the delay between the donors text and funds actually being received by the charity can be as long as 30 to 60 days.

The process for text-to-give campaigns can be complicated. When a donor texts to donate, they receive a confirmation message to which they must reply to complete the donation.There is an average 30% dropoff rate for Bridge Communities. Many donors were kids on family plans, and carriers frequently do not permit ad hoc text charges on family plans.

My biggest takeaway from this case study is that with text-to-give campaigns,the NPO does not have the ability to collect donors’ personal information such as name or email address. This makes it impossible to follow up with a thank you or develop a long term relationship.Instead, consider text-to-pledge campaigns.

With text-to-pledge, organizations collect vital donor data with which to follow up and collect the pledge, so they can develop the relationship with the donor.

Another consideration was the judicious promotion of the text-to-give campaign. Since the minimum donation on the web campaign was $25 and the text campaign was set at $10, Bridge Communities carefully promoted the text campaign where it would not cannibalize their web and other donations.

For maximum success, Amy recommended using emotional appeals, making it fun, and using an emcee or other high energy spokesperson at the event to create a sense of immediacy and encourage attendees to pull out their phones and donate right then.

For more comments on this topic, read the tweets on #text2donate Twitter hashtag.

SXSW: Let’s Hook Up: Brands, Celebs, and Non-profits

In a panel (click for recording) with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (@IAVA) and LIVESTRONG (@LIVESTRONG) panelists, Katie VanLangen (@kvanlangen), Dir of Strategic Partnerships, and Paul Rieckhoff (@paulrieckhoff), Exec Dir of IAVA and Chris Brewer, Sr Mgr, Dev Comm with LIVESTRONG discussed using sponsorships and celebrity endorsements for your cause.

The key is to find a sponsor who really cares about your cause and then demonstrate the ROI to their brand.

Be sure your cause is a good fit with their personal interests. This will help alleviate possible problems when and if conflicts arise, such as for scheduling appearances. A sponsor who has an early morning flight will be much more likely to stay late at your gala if they truly believe in your cause than one who only has a passing interest.

If you are going to involve a celebrity in your special events, ensuring their security and comfort is paramount.




They also mentioned Movember as a great example of how nonprofits can use the power of social media to engage supporters.Read more about Movember on Wikipedia.

Check out the comments for this panel on the Twitter hashtag, #letshookup.

Online Fundraising: Fact vs. Fiction

The following article, Online Fundraising: Fact vs. Fiction, was originally published in the January/February 2011 issue of Advancing Philanthropy, a publication for the members of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and executives of nonprofit organizations and institutions.


Online Fundraising: Facts vs Fiction

By Stacy Dyer

Most organizations see the huge opportunity presented by online fundraising. Unfortunately, the majority have achieved limited success. In the 2007 Philanthropic Giving Index report, published by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, only 34 percent of nonprofits surveyed reported success with online fundraising. Even worse, survey participants ranked online giving as the least successful fundraising technique.

If your organization has yet to experience strong results raising funds online, it may be because you have bought into the online fundraising myths – that it is not as effective as traditional fundraising, that your donors don’t give online, or that you need expensive technology to be successful. These common misconceptions can easily be addressed with a few simple facts.

FACT: Online fundraising is just as effective as offline fundraising

Traditional fundraising campaigns focus on presenting professionally printed mailings, which include moving stories about your mission, and multiple giving programs to which donors may contribute. Too often, when donors go online, they find a generic giving form with no associated content as to how their donation will be used. Should it be surprising that they frequently abandon the process of making a donation online?

Make it easy for a donor to give directly within the content that motivated them in the first place. By creating donation forms that can be embedded within an email, or even within content pages of your website, you will remove barriers to completing the transaction and create a simple, elegant experience for your donor.

Start by evaluating whether you are committing a comparable amount of resources—people, time, and planning—to both your online and direct mail initiatives.

FACT: More donors are more comfortable with giving online than ever before

A 2008 Nielsen Company survey showed that 94 percent of Internet users in the U.S. have shopped online. Clearly, there is little reluctance within the general population to make purchases online. So, is something holding people back from giving online to your organization?

The answer to this question has a lot to do with the options given to donors. If online giving software is complex, cumbersome, and unrewarding for a nonprofit, it is almost certainly complex, cumbersome, and unrewarding for a donor, too.

A donation is an extremely important social interaction, but once someone is committed to a gift, it is simply another transaction; and the more steps a donor is asked to take, the less likely he or she is to complete that transaction. Creating multiple giving opportunities for each of your programs and streamlining the donation process are two simple changes that can increase online giving and strengthen donor satisfaction.

FACT: Raise more money by reaching donors where they already are online

Many organizations try to reroute people from wherever they are on the Internet – such as social networking sites or sponsors’ websites – back to a central, generic giving form on their own website. However, the true opportunity of online fundraising is unleashed when you tap into the powerful networking potential of all the other websites that your supporters frequently visit.

If we look at the places individuals visit online everyday, their favorite charity is probably not among them. However, they do visit their employers’ websites, and they might take action for a nonprofit their company supports. They likely edit their personal pages or blogs everyday, and they’ll even publish about a cause that inspires them. They also visit their friends’ blogs and personal pages, and may post, email, chat, or tweet about their favorite charity.

The individuals engaged in these conversations include some of your strongest, most vocal advocates. They have established bonds of trust with their personal networks. Why, then, would you ask them to leave a site they trust and go to yours?

Instead, take your message to where the social interaction is already happening. Reach out to your network of supporting partners, and the personal sites of individual advocates, and encourage them to continue the conversation.

FACT: Set high expectations to achieve better results

In January 2008, the Barack Obama campaign raised $28 million online—88 percent of the total funds raised. In fact, in one day that same month, the campaign raised $525,000 online in one hour. Many political campaigns, like most nonprofits, consider raising five to 10 percent of all funds online to be a success.

Ed Kless, political candidate for the Texas State Senate has much higher goals. He says, “Online donations are critical to any small campaign. In fact, I expect to raise nearly 100 percent of my campaign contributions online.”

To be successful, organizations must commit to making the Internet a major point of supporter engagement. Kless agrees, “In addition to my website, which includes a regularly updated blog, I have a Facebook page. It’s crucial that I have a fundraising tool that’s both easy to use and integrate into my current website and campaign.”

FACT: You don’t have to stop what you’re doing

In the past, online giving tools were expensive, only worked on a single website, and were difficult to update once deployed. Today’s online fundraising solutions are designed to work with your existing website and program content, so you don’t have to stop what you’re doing. By directly integrating into the methods you already use to communicate with your supporters and advocates, you can create a seamless, multi-channel approach to your fundraising.

Apply the same focus to your online strategy as you have to other communication channels. New online fundraising and advocacy tools allow you to easily control the message without the need for IT intervention or complicated website updates. Be agile – experiment and test often. Use your results to design more successful campaigns in the future.


You already have a compelling story for why your donors should support your mission.  Leverage it by embedding rich media, such as images and videos, into your donation forms, and then empower your advocates to share that message on your behalf. Consider this your opportunity.  The vast social shift happening online will create winners and losers. Be one of the winners.

Prepare Your Website for Year-End Giving

This article was originally published by Sage Nonprofit Solutions.

Prepare Your Website for Year-End Giving
By Stacy Dyer

If your nonprofit is like most, you receive over half of your annual contributed income during your year-end campaign. Donors often procrastinate until the last minute to make tax-exempt donations to charitable organizations.

To be successful, nonprofits must be at the top of donors’ minds when the time is right. In order to be eligible for the current tax year, donations must be made before December 31. While that may sound like a long way into the future, it’s a crucial fundraising opportunity for which your infrastructure must be prepared.

Simplify Online Giving

One of the best ways to capitalize on the additional traffic — and increased number of highly motivated donors — is to make it easy for supporters to give via your website. Whether they have searched for you online, responded to an email, or visited your website directly because of a postcard or direct mail solicitation, donors should be offered both highly effective opportunities to give online and an easy, seamless transaction process.

Online giving is driven by opportunity and convenience; yet, many organizations have online giving forms that are separate from the content meant to inspire the donor to give. If your donation solution requires supporters to leave your website to complete their transaction, you could suffer from higher abandonment rates and fewer completed transactions.

Instead, ensure your fundraising forms are embedded directly on pages with motivating stories, images, and videos about how donations will be used. Focus on keeping traffic on your site, and eliminate barriers to completing a donation transaction.

Create Targeted Donation Forms

Generalized donation forms – which are usually long and contain unnecessary or irrelevant questions – may also cause donors to abandon their transaction. Retain donor interest and motivation by keeping forms as simple as possible.

If different programs within your organization require different information to be collected, customize donation forms for each cause, and only require donors to supply the answers relevant to the cause that motivated them to donate in the first place.

For example, if you are offering promotional gifts in exchange for qualifying donations, don’t provide a list of every available item. Only list the items that are relevant to the program to which they are donating.

Start Identifying Opportunities Early

But, this kind of customized strategy doesn’t happen overnight. Challenge your team to identify all the giving opportunities on your website, and then create content that will resonate with new donors around each opportunity.

And, remember that it’s important to start preparations early. A thoughtful web strategy and well-implemented plan can significantly contribute to your year-end success, as well as stimulate new donor acquisition throughout the coming year.

Event Success: Operation & Execution

This is the third and final installment of a series about successful event planning for nonprofits originally published in Canadian Fundraiser eNews in October 2010.

Please read parts one and two of this series: Event Success: Practical Planning Tips and Event Success: Practical Promotion Tips


Event Success: Operation & Execution

By Stacy Dyer

As we explored in the first two parts of this series, planning and promoting special events, auctions, and ‘a-thons have many similarities. Different types of fundraising events, however, each have their own unique execution challenges.

A golf tournament may operate differently from a gala opening night, but there are several tips any organizer can use to ensure smooth operations and a headache-free fundraiser.

Harness the Power of E-mail

E-mail has become one of the most ubiquitous forms of modern communication. Seventy-eight percent of U.S. adults now use the Internet, and nearly all of those (91%) send and receive e-mail. (* Pew Internet & American Life Project, Generational difference in online activities, Accessed online January 28, 2009)

While many of us routinely ignore marketing messaging from generic organizational senders, most of us will open and read e-mails from friends, colleagues, and family. It’s important to empower participants and supporters to easily communicate with potential donors in their personal networks about your fundraiser.

Control the message your supporters share regarding your organization and its event by providing teams with e-mail templates. Consistent imagery and wording that matches other communications promoting your event will help the message resonate. Ideally, e-mail templates should not only contain information about your event, but also link back to a registration, sponsorship, or donation form where the recipient can take immediate action.

When you provide easy-to-use e-mail templates for your supporters to send on your behalf, you extend your reach far beyond your organization’s traditional online fundraising.

Technology Tip: Extend your online reach even further by adding a “Send to a Friend” link to your e-mails. Also include links from completed donation and registration “thank-you” pages online to immediately share participation on popular social networks. Look for systems that provide these links in your templates automatically. Some services also let your supporters customize personal donation forms, so individuals fundraising in their own networks can easily track their progress and monitor their success.

Create an Event T-Shirt

T-shirts are a wonderful way to promote your fundraising event. As supporters wear the shirts, they raise awareness about your upcoming event. Provide t-shirts to participants, sponsors, and staff as early as possible. Feature your event’s sponsors on the shirts to provide them with additional publicity, and sell the shirts online to raise additional money.

Technology Tip: If you aren’t able to secure a sponsor to print the t-shirts locally, consider a using a service, such as www.cafepress.com, so you don’t have to purchase a large inventory of shirts upfront. You can upload images and customize text to create your own unique design.

Maximize Event Revenue with Concessions

Successful sports franchises understand how important a concession stand can be to happy event attendees. Onlookers and supporters will remain at your event longer if they aren’t hungry or thirsty. And don’t forget about participants – take care of them, too, so they can walk further and, hopefully, raise more funds. To keep expenses at a minimum, get refreshments donated. Ask local restaurants, caterers, or wholesale distributors to become corporate sponsors. Be sure to check local ordinances if you plan to have volunteers supply food.

Technology Tip: Create volunteer registration forms on your event website to collect contacts from interested individuals. Have information from the web connect seamlessly to your existing donor database where coordinators can track contact information, assign duties, and schedule shifts, as needed.

Hold an Auction

A live or silent auction is another fun way to generate extra donations at the event. Get local businesses to provide items you can auction. If you have an emcee at your event, they can oversee live bidding and help encourage participation by attendees.

Technology Tip: Check out this thread in the On Fundraising group of LinkedIn, sponsored by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (registration required.) The ongoing discussion includes tips and best practices from nonprofit professionals using eBay Giving Works to enhance their organizations’ auction potential using the Web.

Photograph the Event

You can use event photos in many fun and creative ways. Publish photos on your website; include them in next year’s event publicity posters and pamphlets; or create keepsake photo books to use as thank you gifts to sponsors, committee members, or team captains.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” so photograph as many activities as possible. Use images to tell your organization’s stories; however, make sure to check with your legal counsel on what photo consents you need before publishing.

Technology Tip: Use Flickr to create a Photostream highlighting your organization’s activities. Explore Creative Commons licensing (www.creativecommons.org) to allow others to share the images of your mission-related work, fundraisers, and events. Maximize the viral nature of compelling imagery by selecting images that do not require captions to clearly demonstrate your organization’s presence.

Don’t Forget to Say ‘Thank You’

Everyone who helped make your event a success should receive a personalized thank you note. Send a thank you gift and letter to your sponsors, recognizing their contribution and the impact it will have on your mission. Many organizations opt to invite participants and team captains to a special post-event celebration, where you can hand out prizes and recognize their efforts.

Technology Tip: While it may be tempting to utilize the mail merge functionality of your donor database, this is one occasion where a streamlined technological process can hurt you. Depending on the size of your event, consider hand-writing as many thank you notes as possible. The personal attention you invest will pay dividends since those appreciated volunteers, sponsors, and participants will be easier to recruit next time.


Executing your fundraising event smoothly and successfully doesn’t have to be tedious. Remember these simple tips and tricks to help make the most out of your next ‘a-thon, tournament, or auction. By planning ahead; utilizing multiple promotional channels; and setting the right operational expectations for staff, participants, sponsors, and volunteers; you can create a phenomenal fundraiser to support your mission without interrupting programmatic priorities.

Event Success: Practical Promotion Tips

This is the second installment of a series about successful event planning for nonprofits originally published in Canadian Fundraiser eNews in September 2010.

Please read parts one and three of this series: Event Success: Practical Planning Tips and Event Success: Operation & Execution


Event Success: Practical Promotion Tips

By Stacy Dyer

Fundraising events – like ‘a-thons, tournaments, and races – can help build community support for nonprofits and causes. While planning a successful ‘a-thon may seem like a daunting task, preparation goes a long way. Last month, we looked at practical tips to help you get started with event planning.

Now that you’re organized, let’s focus on strategies and tools for publicizing your fundraiser. Use these promotional tips to maximize engagement and tap into the power of social networking to ensure your next event is a fundraising success.

Get on Calendars Early

You’ll need the participation of your organization’s supporters and donors, if your ‘a-thon event is to be successful. As soon as the event date is confirmed, mention it in any communication you send to donors. If “thank you” confirmation letters or emails are automatically generated, update the templates with your event’s information.

Send out save-the-date postcards several months in advance of your event. Submit your schedule to community calendars published by newspapers and television and radio stations. Include any deadlines for registration or entry, as well the event date. Also, submit your event to local Chambers of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureaus.

Technology Tip: If your fundraiser is tied to a specific event date, use the Events applications on Facebook and LinkedIn, or www.eventbrite.com, to schedule your event and invite your fans to attend it. Consider listing your event on upcoming.yahoo.com, www.eventful.com, or www.charityhappenings.org (for large cities).

Exploit Free Publicity Opportunities

Maximize free publicity opportunities for both your event and your nonprofit. Submit public service announcements (PSA) about your event to local television and radio stations.

Make connections in the local media. Ask reporters from the community or lifestyle sections of area newspapers and business journals to cover your event as a story. Make yourself available for media interviews, and be prepared to discuss how your event supports your organization’s mission.

Technology Tip: Want to make it easier for donors to find your organization on the Web? Try applying to Google Grants, which provides free Google AdWords (PPC or “pay per click”) advertising for nonprofit organizations. Learn more at http://www.google.com/grants/index.html

Reach Out to Supporters Online

Your supporters are probably already among the estimated 46% of American adults now using social networking websites, such as Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn. (Amanda Lenhart, The Democratization of Social Media, presentation given on October 8, 2009) Enable your participants, supporters, and donors to become donation engines by giving them tools that easily share information about your event on their own personal networks. Encourage supporters to continue the conversation.

Technology Tip: Use www.hootsuite.com or www.tweetdeck.com to monitor conversations from several social media sites in a single dashboard.

Remember the Rule of Threes

Remember the time-tested marketing theory known as the “Rule of Threes.” A person must hear about your event three times before they will remember it and possibly take action. You’ll need to speak to the community about your event many times to ensure that people hear it enough to drive them to take action.

Technology Tip: Use social media channels, such as twitter.com to publish status updates and enable others to share the message on your behalf. Provide “share” buttons that send links to popular networks automatically on your event registration and donation forms.

Reach a Wide Audience Using Multi-Channel Communication

Different people prefer different communication methods – email, phone, text message, etc. Keep this in mind when you create your publicity plan. Utilize as many channels as you can, including traditional direct mail, email, social media, newspapers, and radio or television, to help get your message out.

Technology Tip: Keep your donor and participant databases in-house so that you can own the relationship and keep in touch with these supporters. Don’t be tempted to outsource your fundraising efforts. By maintaining control over your own data, you can incur fewer fees and help ensure that your donor list remains up-to-date.

Use Story-Telling to Make Personal Connections

Help supporters make a connection between their donation and the cause it will support through individual stories. Studies show that human empathy tends to diminish as we are asked to help a larger and larger group of people in need. Give your community personal, individual stories that demonstrate why your mission is important.

Technology Tip: When supporters are moved by your compelling story, don’t rely on donors to click on multiple links to get back to a generic form on your website.  Give your supporters personalized donation forms, so they can ask friends and family for donations directly on their social networking or personal websites. Create mini fundraising pages and forms that include images, video and other compelling content.

Motivate Donors by Clearly Communicating Results

Donors want to see evidence of the difference they’re making. Make a habit of regularly updating your supporters on program results, project status, and fundraising progress so they feel more connected to your mission. (And, don’t forget to do this using multiple channels – direct mail, social networking sites, etc.)

Technology Tip: Use online “thermometers” to show your financial goal and the amount of donations received. Seeing your organization get closer to your goal will keep participants and donors motivated and excited.


Promoting your next event doesn’t have to require a massive budget to be successful. Take advantage of existing networks, publicity opportunities in local media, participant fundraising, and powerful story telling to create buzz and encourage community engagement.

Now that we’ve covered planning and promotional activities, we’ll look at tips and best practices for executing on those plans in the final installment of this series. We’ll learn how to create an exceptional experience for participants and supporters, both during and after the event.

Read parts one and three of this series: Event Success: Practical Planning Tips and Event Success: Operation & Execution