Statistically, events fundraising has never been one of the more profitable forms of fundraising. While both special events (e.g. a gala dinner or concert) and challenge events (e.g. a marathon or sporting challenge) can sometimes raise a lot, promotion costs are often high and a lot of staff time is required. For example, while you might expect a return on investment of 10:1 (£10 raised for every £1 spent) from trusts fundraising, or 5:1 from corporate fundraising, events are often closer to 2:1 or 3:1.
Even this figure is decreasing as fundraising events are hit by the current financial climate, market saturation and supporter fatigue (the challenge of keeping on going back to the same limited pool of supporters). If you have a small fundraising team, you’d be forgiven for wondering whether it’s worth your time committing to new fundraising events at all.
So in what circumstances are events still worth your time, and how do you decide whether they’re right for you?
Despite the challenges, events provide plenty of advantages, not all of them related to short-term income:
To capitalise on these advantages, you need to be crystal clear what you’re looking to achieve from your fundraising events, and plan accordingly
MAXIMISING THE BENEFITS OF SPECIAL EVENTS
Special events are excellent for engaging corporate and major donor prospects, encouraging existing supporters to introduce people from their own network, and recognising the contributions of key supporters. Particularly when your event features stories and speeches from the people you support, or creates an inspiring and celebratory atmosphere, or when senior staff and trustees are on hand to mingle with people.
When planning an event, liaise with people across your organisation to map out who should be invited. Then invite them well in advance, warmly, and with a personal message. Depending on how much you want them to be there, you can consider offering discounted or free tickets where appropriate, particularly if the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term cost.
On the night, make sure key prospects get plenty of time and attention, and take every opportunity to educate and inspire them about your organisation’s work. If you have a long-term plan about how you ideally want them to support your cause, you might be able to cunningly sow some seeds on the night.
Carry on the personal touch after the event, by thanking people and sending any follow-up material promptly, personally and creatively (for example with a handwritten card or colourful social media image). This often requires some advance planning, particularly if staff plan to take some much-needed time off after your event.
Bear in mind that high-value prospects expect ‘senior’ attention, so you need to enlist support from management and trustees at every stage - before, during and after your event. Particularly for corporate and major donor fundraising, it's rare to be successful without senior level buy-in.
MAXIMISING THE BENEFITS OF challenge EVENTS
Building long-term relationships with challenge event participants is typically much harder, but not impossible.
Firstly, you need to consider whether this is a realistic goal at all. This will depend on the nature of your event. If it's a big brand in its own right, or if it has no natural link to your cause, people are more likely to be participating in the event on its own merits, and have less natural interest in supporting you further. If your event has a high fundraising target - or, perhaps more importantly, involves a bigger fundraising effort - this provides greater scope to engage people further.
If you're trying to keep people engaged for the long term, a few things can really help:
If 'converting' participants into long-term supporters feels unlikely, it could be better to focus on maximising short-term profit instead. This can be achieved through:
STAYING FOCUSED ON THE BIGGER PICTURE
Many events potentially bring broad benefits, but often fundraisers only give this serious thought once it’s too late. When we take part in events, we’re often told it’s not the winning that counts, but the taking part. However, with a successful fundraising event, perhaps it’s not (just) the taking part that counts, but what happens next.
You need to think about this bigger picture from the very beginning, as soon as you start the planning process. It should dictate how you design your event, how you communicate with participants and which of your colleagues you ask to be involved.
If you do decide that your event has a higher purpose, make sure this is reflected in the evaluation process too. I’ve seen fundraisers get persuaded by colleagues to do an event because it has awareness-raising potential as well as income potential – but when push comes to shove, management lose sight of these objectives and only measure the return in hard cash. This can result in giving up on events early, or sacrificing the long-term benefits.
It sounds obvious, but if your event is primarily about long-term value, you need to find ways of actually measuring that value, and convincing people that results will take time to become visible.
As an organisation, how do you manage risk in your fundraising activities? Do you focus on financial or reputational risk, or both, or other things too? Do you keep going until you’ve eliminated every possible risk from your plans? If so, are your activities still worth doing by the end?
I recently popped along to the Arnolfini for the latest Bristol Fundraising Group talk about risk management in fundraising. The speaker was the excellent Ed Wyatt, an experienced Compliance Manager for multiple big charities and long-time fundraiser and trustee. Ed has kindly given us permission to share some key learning points here…
Conversations about risk in fundraising can be frustrating and unproductive. It can feel like natural risk-takers and risk-averse people are speaking entirely alien languages, and often the loudest voice in the room wins.
This can have several consequences:
Reviewing your current fundraising portfolio, and where you might find The Next Big Thing
In his talk, Ed demonstrated a simple way of reviewing your current fundraising portfolio and defining your activities using four categories:
Low risk, high reward activities are the obvious sweet spot to aim for. Most of your fundraising probably falls into this category already but, since everybody else is thinking the same thing, the growth potential or uniqueness of these activities may be limited.
Low risk, low reward activities might've been very easy to get approval for, but they may not be worth the effort. And in the unlikely event that you have any high risk, low reward activities, you should flag these up urgently. In both cases, terminating these activities could be a good way to free up capacity for something else.
That leaves high risk, high reward activities. Scary territory, but if you’re looking for The Next Big Thing in fundraising, you may need to creep beyond your comfort zone into this space.
To do this, first you need to define your organisation’s risk appetite (the blue line above) - the line you're willing to creep up to, but not cross. ‘High risk’ and ‘low risk’ are likely to mean very different things if you work for an international conservation charity with a history of provocative campaigning activities, compared to a local community library.
Your risk appetite should depend on the nature of your mission, your beneficiaries, your financial position and the characteristics of your existing fundraising activities. It’s crucial to avoid being guided by anybody’s personal judgement, even management and trustees – we recently explored this same topic in our blog about ethical fundraising policies.
It’s vital to remember that ‘high risk’ must never mean breaking the law, fundraising regulations, your internal guidelines, your ethical fundraising policy or your gift acceptance policy.
Identifying risks in new fundraising opportunities
Before you decide what level of risk you’re prepared to live with, you need to identify all possible risks associated with your activity or event. Ed suggested using your own ‘risk library’ of common categories that most risks fall into, for example:
This works best as an energetic debate, not a dreaded tick-box exercise for one person alone behind a desk. Try to ask a few different personality types to sit in a room together and discuss - both natural risk-takers and risk-averse people have a key role here. You need to create the right atmosphere and reassure people that there are no right or wrong answers at this stage.
This was illustrated nicely by a group exercise at the end of the talk. Ed asked us all to imagine we were the Fundraising Team at a local animal park, who had been approached by an events company with a new idea: a series of late-night parties at the animal park for 18-30 year olds. This would be a new and potentially lucrative audience for the charity, but hardly risk-free.
My group had five minutes to consider all possible risks, and came up with the following:
As you can probably guess, this was a light-hearted attempt at risk assessment. But Ed said that humour is a useful tool in real-life scenarios too. ‘Eaten by a bear’ might have been a joke, but it helps to highlight a real risk (injury inflicted by the resident animals) that the organisers of this event might otherwise have forgotten to flag up.
Discuss how to manage risks but decide what level of risk you’re ultimately comfortable with
When deciding what to do about each risk, use the Four Ts:
It’s crucial to adopt a varied approach. Tolerating everything would be reckless, but treating everything is likely to be exhausting and impractical. Transferring everything would be prohibitively expensive, and terminating everything would leave you with a vanilla fundraising activity, or no activity at all.
By taking ownership of your risks, and making sure they’re all within an acceptable level, you can move to a more Zen-like state with your fundraising. Most lucrative fundraising activities carry some level of risk, so you need to think back to your risk appetite (the blue line below) and decide what level of risk your organisation is prepared to accept given the circumstances:
Contrary to popular belief, compliance and risk management shouldn’t be about saying ‘no’ - it's more a case of ‘not like that’. Risk-free activities are rarely financially or commercially realistic, but that’s not an excuse for failing to take responsibility of the situation or control of your risks.
In other words, don’t let your participants get eaten by a bear, but don’t let compliance bears eat up all your good fundraising ideas either.
Huge thanks to Ed Wyatt for giving us permission to share his learning, including his diagrams, and introduce bears into the story for no particular reason.
I had a lovely trusts and foundations blog planned for this week. I really did. But it’s going on hold for a few weeks, because I’ve been bitten by the World Cup bug.
I’ve been a football fan since around 1994 (more on that later). However, for perhaps the first time, I didn’t feel too excited during the build-up to this World Cup. A combination of England’s seemingly bleak prospects and the questionable ethics of hosting the tournament in Russia left me feeling a bit underwhelmed.
Then the first ball was kicked and I've been captivated again - from the novelty of catching a few minutes of Portugal v Morocco at lunchtime to the joys of watching flamboyant surprise packages like Mexico and Senegal, and of course the typical emotional rollercoaster of an England game.
Amid the drama and entertainment, there are also a few handy lessons to be learned by fundraisers and charities:
Pride and motivation go a long way
Hands up if you predicted that Russia would be the top goalscorers and best entertainers so far?
Going into the tournament, there was a general sense that Russia had picked an incredibly bad time to assemble a weak squad. Nobody – including many Russian pundits – was talking about how far they could progress, only hoping that they wouldn’t embarrass the host nation.
In their first game, Russia put five past Saudi Arabia, before a stylish 3-1 win over Egypt on Tuesday. A seemingly ordinary team have thrived in the spotlight and been transformed in front of thousands of partisan home fans.
You probably can't find thousands of Russians to cheer on your fundraising team (and it might be a bit distracting anyway). But creating the right circumstances for people to thrive, and feel confident and comfortable in their work, is just as important as having skilled staff. If you can do more to make your team feel proud of their work, motivated to do a great job and clear about the end goal, they might be able to achieve more than you expect.
You can also punch above your weight if you play to your strengths and develop a clear plan
Russia aren’t the only team to raise eyebrows so far. Mexico secured a famous 1-0 victory over Germany, while Iceland claimed their latest scalp with a gutsy 1-1 draw with Argentina.
These two performances had something in common – both teams worked incredibly hard as a unit and had a clear gameplan, focused on playing to their own strengths and exploiting the weaknesses of their opponent.
This is also the key principle of a good fundraising strategy. You don’t need to be brilliant at everything to raise the money you need – just identify a few things that you do well, create a clear plan for maximising your return in those areas, and explain to everyone how they can play a part in getting it done.
Appropriately enough, this week is Small Charity Week – so an ideal time to celebrate the power of punching above your weight.
The power of a shared cause and dream
Even in the modern day of mega-rich football club owners and eye-wateringly big TV deals, it's still the fans that really light up any World Cup. I love the atmosphere and the colour, and seeing the passion of people who travel thousands of miles to watch their team. How many other events inspire people to give up their jobs and sell their possessions so they can be there?
Football fans are united by a sense of shared identity and a collective dream - and charities can tap into a similar feeling. People don’t support your cause because of who you are, or what you’re doing, but why you’re doing it. If you can articulate a clear vision, people will remember you and feel inspired to support your work – whether you’re trying to cure cancer, end child cruelty or make your local area a safer and better place.
Be willing to embrace change
A big talking point at this World Cup has been the introduction of VAR (Video Assistant Referees). In an attempt to reduce refereeing mistakes, certain key decisions are now referred to professional referees in a TV studio, who can review the incident from multiple angles and recommend that a referee overturns their decision.
VAR was first trialled in the UK during cup competitions last season, and was widely ridiculed. It caused long delays in play, confusion for fans in the stadium and on TV, and still got many decisions wrong. However, the system has quickly improved – while still not perfect, it’s already resulted in many correct decisions about penalties and goals at the World Cup, and is gradually being accepted as a positive development in the game.
The lesson is clear – when you try to make changes, particularly involving new technology, you’ll often face teething problems and encounter resistance. For charities, this often comes from donors, staff and trustees.
Trying to introduce a new CRM, run your first crowdfunding campaign or dabble in virtual reality technology is unlikely to be a pain-free experience. But people may change their views quicker than you expect, and you'll benefit from taking the time to iron out problems. In 6-12 months, you'll probably be glad you pushed through the change.
Tastes change over time
While I’ve been rapidly sucked into this World Cup, I haven’t always been a football fan. My first distant World Cup memories are from USA 1994, but they're not good memories. Apparently I came home from school, turned on the TV to watch my usual cartoon, found it'd been cancelled for the football, and threw a tantrum.
My parents like to remind me that I spent the next few hours sulking and cursing “stupid football”. I’m not sure what happened next, but by Euro 1996 I was a total convert, screaming the house down as we thrashed the Netherlands 4-1 at Wembley – one of my favourite football memories.
People’s tastes and circumstances change over time, and fundraisers need to stay on top of that. A student volunteer might not be in a position to donate to your work now, but may feel totally differently after five years in their graduate job. Your major donor might gradually lose interest in Project A, but start to really value the impact of Project B over time. Event trends come and go out of fashion, often leaving you scratching your head.
That’s why it’s so important to keep building genuine relationships with your supporters, recording what you learn from conversations about their interests, and developing personalised asks to match. This will help you develop a more engaged supporter base, and ultimately raise more money for your work.
But that's a job for tomorrow. Tonight you need to get home in time for Argentina v Croatia at 7pm - it's going to be a cracking game.
Fundraising events are a great way to raise money and awareness for your cause and really engage with your supporter base. But with so many charity fundraising events out there – not to mention thousands of profit-making events also competing for your supporters' cash and attention - it's never been harder to stand out from the crowd, especially on a limited budget.
Having been involved in promoting charity events for well over 10 years, we thought it'd be handy to compile a list of marketing ideas for smaller charities all in one place.
If your event marketing needs a boost or you're struggling to hit recruitment targets, or even if you just want a handy checklist to make sure you haven't forgotten anything, try these ideas for size…
First things first - visual is everything
1. Make it look nice – these days people are more and more turned off by text and increasingly skip over the copy that you so carefully craft. On social media, websites and even in print, your visual assets are everything. Beef up your event with exciting imagery, inspiring short videos and fun animations. Check out Canva – a great programme for easily creating professional graphics even if you’re no designer.
2. Get creative with new events – if you haven't run your event before, you'll inevitably be limited by a lack of real imagery, but it's vital to get around this. Rope in volunteers to take posed photos, create animated graphics or get hold of stock images if needed. Pixabay is a really useful site for free stock images.
We know it sounds obvious but...
3. Maximise your contacts – so many people could help you spread the word if only you took the plunge and asked them. Make sure you ask all your colleagues and your trustees to lend a hand, even if their role doesn't usually involve any fundraising. Make the effort to sit down with each person for five minutes and prompt them to think about what help you need and who they know - you'll be amazed by the results. Personal contacts - family and friends - can be a big help too.
4. Don't bury the key info – it's amazing how often charities hide away key details of their event like the date, time, location, entry fee and fundraising target. People will get frustrated if they can't find this information or have to click several times to see it, so keep things clear and simple.
5. Website – have you listed your event on your website, made it easy to navigate to, and made the key info easy to find (see above)? If it's a big event that you want to launch with a splash, more people will see it if you unveil it with a news story on your homepage.
6. Social media – with so many different channels to potentially post on, it can be hard to decide how to use your time wisely. Think about the type of people that are likely to sign up for your event, and which channels they use most regularly, then prioritise them. Make your content fun, exciting and interactive so people are more likely to respond to it and share it with their friends. Try to reach key 'influencers' with big followings – their retweets could be like gold dust. Consider trying pay-per-click advertising to reach new people or boost posts if you have the budget.
7. Email marketing – email newsletters are often still the best way for smaller charities to engage with their supporters. Include regular plugs about your event – keep text to a minimum but always include a strong image and link to a webpage. To really drive ticket sales, send a short stand-alone email only about your event to supporter groups that are likely to be particularly interested.
Still worth a go...
8. Telemarketing – if you use software like MailChimp, the advantage of including links in your emails (see above) is you can track who's clicking on them. These people will be curious about or interested in your event, so pick up the phone to them (if you have permission) and have a chat bout it. In today's digital-dominated world, don’t underestimate this as a recruitment tool.
9. Flyering – another traditional but effective method, flyers and posters of course get a low response rate but are cheap to produce and distribute. Flyering can also gives you an opportunity to talk to people about your event and build a local buzz. Try to be strategic, focusing on areas which fit your target demographic. Ensure your flyers are well designed, engaging and contain all the key info.
10. Paid advertising – if the free approach isn’t working, you could pay to place adverts on websites or in printed publications. This can be expensive so do your research first, find affordable options that are most likely to help you reach your target audience, and be sure your advert is good quality.
Think outside the box...
11. Free messages that reach everyone – you may not realise it, but you're broadcasting messages to people every single day that you could use to shout about your event. Add a line about your event to your email signature, out of office message, social media profiles and even your voicemail message - loads more people will hear about it and you'll barely have to lift a finger.
12. Free online publicity – many websites provide local event listings that you can add your event to for free. Try googling “free event listings” to find the best local options for you. You can also search for online forums for people with relevant interests (for instance cycling forums for your sponsored bike ride) and post in them. Even better if you're active on any forums already – you're less likely to see your post removed as spam!
13. Press coverage – quirky and visual events can attract interest from local or even national media. Use any press contacts you have and consider working with a PR company to secure that all-important coverage. You can find some extra tips in this blog.
14. Corporate support – companies can support your event by sponsoring it, promoting it to their staff and providing freebies for participants, particularly if you have a prior relationship with them. Have a think about who your best corporate contacts are and what benefits they would get from being involved in the event. For more ideas, check out this previous blog.
15. Student support – if your event is suitable for students, a discounted student entry rate could be really appealing. However, inside support is always very helpful, so consider approaching university RAG societies or recruiting student 'reps' to work with you.
Good luck with your fundraising events and if you’ve got any other great event marketing tips, please do share them in the comments below!
With so many compelling causes, great fundraising campaigns and quirky events out there, it's harder than ever to stand out from the crowd. With changing fundraising regulation and declining public trust in charities, we're going to need to be more creative than ever if we're to appeal to the general public and convince people to support us.
1. Be clear on the core purpose
Why do need a new campaign or event anyway? The obvious answer is ‘to raise money’ but it’s not always as simple as that. Sometimes charities organise events to raise awareness about their work or a specific issue or engage with a particular audience. Some campaigns can be a low-cost way of acquiring new supporters who may contribute in other ways in future - this can be more important than the immediate fundraising return.
Establishing one clear purpose is better than trying to tick lots of vague boxes at the same time. It'll make it easier to evaluate your ideas then measure success later. It may even help you decide whether to go it alone or sign up to be part of a third party event or campaign.
2. Decide whether to link to your mission
Campaigns like Sleep Out for Centrepoint and Live Below The Line have the double benefit of raising money for a good cause and encouraging participants to empathise with people in need. This is something that you might want to replicate, but it's not essential.
When I worked at Link and we first discussed Sumo Run, some trustees were sceptical – why would an African charity want to organise a Japanese-themed run? But the event was so fun and visual that it got wide press attention and introduced us to so many new supporters, despite not being directly relevant to our work.
Think carefully about how closely you want to link to your mission. Bear in mind your core purpose (see above) – for instance an awareness-raising event is more likely to require that direct connection. However, sometimes linking to your mission can seem tenuous or even crass - Live Below The Line has been heavily criticised by many - so don’t be afraid to try something radical instead.
3. Involve your supporters
Charities often ask me ‘what new event should we sign up to?’ or ‘how often would our supporters like to receive our newsletter?’ but don’t ask their supporters the same question! I think smaller charities should try to engage supporters more with their tricky decisions, rather than always trying to present a polished, professional face.
Your supporters are the best people to tell you what they do and don’t like. Try organising a focus group, creating a quick survey with a site like Survey Monkey or inviting trusted supporters to join your team brainstorming meeting. You not only get valuable insight, you’ll create ambassadors who are naturally invested in seeing you succeed - if only so they can prove their idea was right!
4. Examine the market
Before you try to come up with your perfect idea, look at what's out there already. Which fundraising events have been particularly successful? Which campaigns have really got people talking? Equally importantly, what can you learn from activities that have gone badly?
Don’t just look at competitors’ websites. Phone them and ask questions or sign up yourself to experience things as a participant. This helps you to understand what people are likely to get excited or unhappy about, meaning you can learn from the mistakes of others. For physical events, this can give you an invaluable insight into specific issues like how to ensure that on-the-day registration runs smoothly or deciding what music to play at the finish line.
5. Generate lots of ideas
With a clear core purpose, a sound knowledge of the market and insight from your supporters, it’s time to start brainstorming ideas of your own. You’re likely to want to identify at least ten initial ideas, then pick out at least three to explore in detail.
Research shows that people tend to be afraid of sharing 'bad' ideas and that we're psychologically resistant to having too many options to choose between. This can make people reluctant to contribute. For a powerful brainstorming session, summarise your initial research (1-4 above), explain the importance of generating lots of ideas to evaluate and foster a relaxed and creative environment where everyone feels able to contribute in the knowledge that no ideas are wrong.
6. ...then evaluate and prioritise the strongest ones
One great approach is to come up with a shortlist of key questions to test each idea against. These may include ‘Will our supporters be excited about it?’, ‘Does it help us achieve our core purpose?’ and ‘Do we have the resources to make it happen?’
This stage can take the form of an open discussion or a much more scientific approach where you score ideas based on different criteria. Either way, it will help to focus people on what really matters when making a decision. Check out Lucy Gower’s brilliant book The Innovation Workout for in-depth advice on brainstorming and filtering ideas.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, but you should again seek supporter feedback at this stage to ensure you haven’t got things wrong. Even the best known charities can misjudge their ideas – Samaritans Radar was an ill-fated app that was cancelled within 10 days due to a public backlash.
7. Create a clear launch plan
Turning a great idea into real-life success requires a strong plan. Pull together a launch team with the range of skills required, but avoiding involving 'too many cooks' at this stage as it can hold you back. Be clear on the main tasks, people responsible and key milestones – and be firm about staying on schedule. Basecamp is a great project management tool for planning campaign launches.
A good launch plan isn't just about logistics. You need to sound your best supporters and friends of the charity in advance so that they’re primed to sign up, donate or share content immediately. This is crucial for launching with a splash - people will naturally be more excited about getting involved with activities that already seem popular. This is particularly important for crowdfunding campaigns.
This may be a great time to consider external support as you'll benefit from specialist expertise, extra resources and independent, unbiased perspective. Take a look at how we work with charities.
8. Perfectionists – just get it launched!
You can go round in circles forever fine-tuning your idea, but at some point you need to launch it and find out what the world thinks. It’s too easy to spend ages fussing about your website copy, timetable or registration form, only to launch and find out that the core idea isn't right anyway.
In business there's a concept called the minimum viable product (MVP). This is a simplified, scaled-down version of your idea that you launch and continue developing later. Early feedback will help you to sharpen up the concept and initial demand will justify putting more time into development. So get your event or campaign out there ASAP and worry about scaling it up and perfecting it later.
This blog is based on a version that was first published on Eventbrite in February 2016. If you've enjoyed reading it, please sign up to our mailing list for more blogs and advice.
This is the second part of my blog based on a presentation I gave last month at an event organised by Eventbrite. Part one explored how to identify the competition, find the right income model, be as visual as possible and build momentum – click here to read it.
Part two now explores how corporate support can make your event more successful, why organisation is everything and how to prepare your event for the most unlikely of circumstances - including a terrorist attack.
Lesson 5 - the value of corporate support
Many people underestimate the range of ways in which a company can help to raise the profile of your event and make it more profitable. In my experience, companies can:
Hitch-hiking is sometimes perceived as a risky activity and some students felt unsure about the event when they first heard about it. So having support from a well-known travel company like Rough Guides, who were so enthusiastic about Hitch, added a lot of credibility. It was a great relationship for Rough Guides too – many students became loyal users of their guidebooks after first reading the Rough Guide to Morocco.
It’s always difficult to secure high-level sponsorship for a new and unproven event, so for Moon Rise Run I took a different approach. We secured free products for participant goodie bags from five companies that were perfect for the health-conscious, young, mostly female audience. We also gave away several free Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitors generously provided by OutdoorGB as competition prizes.
While these relationships weren't worth thousands of pounds in sponsorship, it gave participants something extra to take away afterwards and gave the event extra credibility too. Who knows – maybe in future one of these companies will increase their support and become the major sponsor?
Lesson 6 - Organisation is everything
Let’s face it – events are hard work. They’re stressful and unpredictable. You can rarely control everything, especially when you’re dependent on third parties to deliver a successful event.
For instance, Moon Rise Run used Eventbrite for ticketing and several companies for sound and lighting. There were four bands, four food vendors and a bar. Add in volunteer race stewards, charity partners and the corporate supporters and you’ve got an impressive array of partners! This inevitably causes hiccups, and you will almost always have to deal with unexpected circumstances beyond your control.
Moon Rise Run was a new event and the team didn’t always get things right first time around, making changes to the promotion strategy, ticket options and the festival line-up along the way. None of this surprised me.
When working with charities and event organisers, I often use the swan analogy. The swan is a picture of elegance and serenity on the surface as it smoothly glides around the water. Under the surface, its little legs are paddling frantically, putting in a lot of effort to get it to its destination – but you’d never know!
I think this is the perfect analogy for fundraising events, where so much ‘paddling’ goes on behind the scenes. There are always tricky decisions to debate, make and occasionally go back on. Even the best events are powered by blood, sweat and tears!
The vital thing is to keep all that behind the scenes. To your participants and prospective customers, you need to be calm, consistent and confident at all times.
Accept that mistakes will happen, but be willing to release key information early. Don’t hold back from announcing your festival line-up, your free goodie bags or your event schedule, even if details may be changed or added later – it’s what gets your participants excited about the event and willing to talk about it to others.
Lesson 7: Equip yourself with the right tools
Being calm and composed enough to glide like a good swan is only possible if you are supremely organised, and there are many tools to help you.
I highly recommend a project management tool called Basecamp, which allows you to list action points, calendar items, work on shared files and start discussions. You can choose who gets email notifications about different topics and even give restricted access to certain third parties.
I’ve used Basecamp when counting down to major events or website launches and my clients always love it. Every individual staff member can create a unique profile with a photo – on a recent project, everybody used their favourite cartoon character or super hero. This makes organisation fun and tactile, rather than overbearing.
For simpler projects, I use Evernote which is really great for creating clean and simple to do lists.
One big problem which organisers experience is the sheer rush of demand right before a major event. Just when you’re busy with final preparations, you start getting a high volume of emails and social media interaction from participants. It will inevitably happen when you’re least available to respond well – but your participants still expect ‘normal service’.
Make your life easier by having a really structured inbox with items clearly assigned or colour-coded to people – both Gmail and Outlook allow for this. Share the responsibility among your team and don’t let your hectic preparations impact on the quality and speed of your replies, because it will really affect people's experience.
Lesson 8 - Never underestimate contingency plans
There’s one very difficult experience that has helped shape the way I prepare for fundraising events. It happened a few years ago when I was Fundraising Manager at Link, responsible for overseeing Hitch.
Hitch had a comprehensive range of safety measures and contingency plans designed to safeguard participants and ensure that the event ran smoothly. Despite the effort that went into preparing these, many contingency measures seemed only to exist on paper and we hoped that most would never be needed.
Then one day they were tested and it had nothing to do with hitch-hiking. In April 2011, a bomb exploded in central Marrakech in what turned out to be a terrorist attack. The explosion happened in a cafe used as a meeting point for students enjoying a holiday after their journey, five minutes before the daily meeting time.
I wasn’t in the office at the time, but took a call on the dedicated emergency mobile from a student participant who had witnessed the explosion. I immediately rushed into the office, fearing the worst.
Link operated an excellent daily tracking system which meant that we knew the location of all our student groups within the last 12-24 hours. However, we had over 600 students whom we couldn’t completely rule out as having been in Marrakech when the incident happened.
Despite our concern, we knew we had robust safety measures in place. We immediately sent emergency text messages to participants to check they were safe and had a great process for logging incoming information quickly. We were trained to respond to worried parents and even had a dedicated contact person at the FCO.
Within two hours, we had spoken to most of our students. Later that night, the final person got back to us – he’d been out of contact after taking an early flight home to Heathrow. All 600 students were confirmed as safe, although some had been in the cafe at the time of the explosion and were understandably distressed.
I couldn’t be more proud of the way my team reacted in very challenging circumstances. Everybody kept calm and relied on the processes we had in place. However, the message was clear – very unlikely scenarios can happen and you must always plan accordingly. As an event organiser, it’s your responsibility to be prepared for anything.
I hope that hearing about my eight biggest lessons will help you to improve the way that you create, promote and organise your own fundraising events. If you have any questions, please comment below or get in touch.
I was recently invited by Eventbrite to speak about 'How to organise stand-out fundraising events' at the House of St Barnabas, a stunning Grade 1 listed building nestled in the heart of Soho.
Eventbrite has helped loads of charities of all types and sizes to promote and sell tickets for their fundraising events, so it was great to be invited along to their event to share my own expertise and ideas with almost 100 attendees.
It also felt like a fitting opportunity, as my whole charity career started with a fundraising event. It was 11 years ago, while in my first year of university at Nottingham, that I was asked by a friend to hitch-hike with them to Morocco – an idea which certainly captured my curiosity!
What sounded like a crazy idea turned out to be part of an iconic and successful student event. Long story short, I not only did the event but went on to work for the charity which organised it – and stayed there for five years before leaving to set up Lime Green Consulting.
Many charities said that they found my presentation helpful and I’m delighted to have now been asked to write a regular blog for Eventbrite about charity fundraising and events.
I decided to also share the content here as a two-part blog exploring the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my time organising fundraising events.
Much of my experience is based on three memorable events in particular:
1. Morocco Hitch – of course! The event started in 1992 when two students decided to take on their own ‘Cambridge to Casablanca Challenge’ to raise money for an emerging charity called Link Community Development.
It became not only an annual hitch-hiking event but a high-profile student challenge and the forerunner to many of today’s mass participation charity events. In 23 years, Hitch has raised over £5,000,000 for Link and at its peak attracted 1,500 participants each year.
2. Sumo Run – known as “the inflatable charity fun run” and pure light-hearted silliness! Sumo Run has an incredibly strong visual brand and intrigue which has helped it to attract widespread press coverage – including in the Independent, on ITV and even in last year’s Coca Cola TV advert.
I was excited by the potential of Sumo Run from the very first time I heard about it and was able to persuade Foolish Fundraising, the company which owns it, to license it to Link to run alongside their other events.
3. Moon Rise Run – I’ve recently been working with the team at No. 24 Events on a new 5k run and festival experience called Moon Rise Run, which took place for the first time in Heaton Park in Manchester on Saturday 18 April!
I was originally asked to create a charity partnership model for Moon Rise Run so that they could raise money for local causes. I then stayed on to help the team secure corporate support and to provide input on promotion strategy and overall organisation.
So what are my biggest lessons to share with you?
1. This isn’t just a charity space – and it’s ultra-competitive
Potential participants have a serious choice to make these days between so many events, from major challenges to light-hearted days out, running events to cycling events, events which require major training to those which require no preparation at all.
Crucially, charities don’t just face competition from other charities but from profit-making companies who run many brilliant events. While many charities don’t think that non-charity events offer direct competition, the chances are that the majority of your supporters will think differently.
We learned this the hard way with Hitch. Although we were watching out for competition from other major charity events, we eventually realised that smaller local events organised by university RAG societies and gap year-style trekking experiences offered by travel companies were offering students a tempting alternative way to spend their money and time.
So it is crucial to make your fundraising event stand out as much as possible and give people really compelling reasons to take part. Simply having a fun concept isn’t enough when there are so many great concepts out there, and saying that it’s for a good cause might not help convince people if that’s not their primary motivation for wanting to do an event.
Some of the ideas below will also help your event to succeed and stand out from the crowd.
2. Find the right income model
I find it odd that there are so many companies out there making money from successful mass participation events which charge lots of people a simple entry fee, while charities typically persist with the traditional ‘small entry fee + fundraising’ model.
Many charities are great at creating imaginative events but miss a few tricks in terms of monetising that appeal. It can really pay to make your event accessible for as wide an audience as possible – even those who feel unable to fundraise, are already fundraising for another challenge or only hear about the event at the last minute.
For Sumo Run, we introduced a ‘general entry’ option for people who were unwilling or unable to fundraise but would pay a higher entry fee instead. This proved really popular in the build-up to the event and allowed Link to raise valuable extra income.
Doing this requires confidence that you can attract many more participants with less income per person, and you need to do it carefully in a way that doesn’t put people off fundraising.
However, get it right and the larger number of participants also opens the door to raising money in other ways, including:
The best events don’t need that much selling. With Sumo Run, we often found that the sight of somebody waddling around in a huge inflatable suit and the videos of the group inflation and touch-your-toes warm-up routine convinced a lot of people to join in the fun there and then.
This meant that simple activities like street flyering were so much more engaging and successful, and adverts on social media worked well because the event made an instant visual impact.
If you can create an event which has the same instant impact then you've immediately got a key ingredient for success.
Sumo Run was also hugely media-friendly. Crucially, the main identifiable feature of the event was the suits themselves, not any logo or name. This made it much easier to get news coverage because media outlets could use images of people in sumo suits without feeling like they were explicitly advertising a particular charity or product.
4. Build momentum and don’t leave people hanging
In its first year at Link, Sumo Run attracted press coverage valued at over £250,000 – that’s how much you would have had to pay for the equivalent advertising space.
This was an amazing result for a small charity, but it was hard to maximise the impact of that coverage because most of it came just before the event or immediately afterwards, so it had a limited impact on ticket sales.
This taught me the value of trying to have the next event lined up before the previous one happens, so you can cash in on the buzz and attention generated.
This can be hard for small charities, particularly when they are running an event for the first time, because they want to see how popular it is and how much it raises before committing to it again. However, delaying will limit your ability to grow your event and participant numbers over time.
Ask yourself this – what can you do to make sure that people who loved the experience can sign up for the next event straight away, and people who missed out get an immediate opportunity to put that right?
Click here to read the second part of this blog, covering how to secure corporate support for your events, the value of good organisation and the importance of contingency plans.
I've done a few slightly silly things for charity over the years that have had me questioning my common sense. I’ve tackled numerous running and cycling challenges that I was wholly unprepared for and even hitch-hiked to a whole different continent. But it was another challenge that really took the biscuit – or three to be precise.
In April I took part in Live Below The Line, which challenges participants to live on just £1 per day for five days.
I didn't give this much thought before signing up and it was much harder than I expected – turns out that surviving on 800 calories per day and constantly thinking ahead to your next meal isn't a great approach when you’re trying to establish a new business.
The stories I shared across the week paint a picture of my increasingly desperate mental state. I lamented a microwave accident that saw my meagre portion of porridge oats boil over and debated eating the remains off the turntable. I rejoiced the arrival of ‘treat day’ which brought three mini sausages in my half a can of baked beans – hello protein!
I was deliriously proud of my decision to buy a 25p packet of ASDA Smart Price bourbons, giving me three precious biscuits to enjoy each day. Those humble little biscuits became the centre of my world – I don’t think I’ve ever been as creative as I was when trying to justify reasons for deserving a mouthful of their chocolatey, sugary goodness.
This sanity-sapping challenge had a serious side of course – there are millions of people for whom hunger and surviving on even less than £1 per day is a constant reality. That's why I participated in Live Below The Line in the first place.
I raised over £500 for AbleChildAfrica, a charity working with and for disabled children in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. I joined them as a Trustee earlier this year, and it was great to play an active role in supporting their fantastic work.
This week the charity sector is celebrating Trustees’ Week. This is a great chance to celebrate the vital role that Trustees play in helping our charities. It also helps to raise awareness that anybody can be a Trustee and that it is a richly rewarding way of making a difference.
I’ve only been a Trustee for a few months so there will be people better placed than me to talk about the amazing work that so many people do as Trustees. However, I've witnessed first hand what a difference this can make for a charity.
AbleChildAfrica has a Board of around 15 very talented and hugely committed Trustees. They are divided into sub-committees which provide expert advice in specialist areas like finance, fundraising and programmes. This is a larger Board than many other small charities have which poses a few challenges. Lines of communication need to be managed carefully and responsibilities set so that everybody has a significant role to play. However, it works very well and is an incredible resource for the charity.
Last Friday, AbleChildAfrica held their annual Gala Dinner in London and it was a roaring, record-breaking success. The fundraising total will top an incredible £37,000 and the event has raised so much awareness for the work AbleChildAfrica does. It is impossible the overstate the difference that this makes for a small charity. Trustees were instrumental in planning the event, sourcing auction prizes and selling tickets to their personal contacts.
Why did I become a charity Trustee? I think there were three main reasons:
1. I knew that I had the skills and experience to really help a charity and I believe that everybody should consider taking the opportunity to help where possible. As a fundraising consultant with very specialist expertise, this was especially true for me.
2. It’s a great way to meet interesting and inspiring people and spend time with them in both a professional and social context. AbleChildAfrica Trustees give up several Saturdays a year for meetings – but the atmosphere in these meetings is so positive that they are something we genuinely all look forward to.
3. Being a Trustee gives me an excellent understanding of how charities operate ‘behind the scenes’ and how Trustees choose to evaluate opportunities, invest in fundraising and manage risk. This is invaluable to my day-to-day role and makes me a better consultant.
Not enough people know that charities desperately need more Trustees and that young people are especially under-represented as Trustees.
There are an estimated 180,000-260,000 charities in England and Wales, with almost 50% having at least one vacancy on their Board. Young people form 12% of the adult population yet make up only 0.5% of Trustees. These facts alone may make many people stop and think about becoming a Trustee.
Like many others, before taking the plunge I wasn't certain whether I could contribute what was needed. I knew that my expertise meant that I could make a big difference on a strategic level, but I wasn't in a position to offer much direct financial support. There's a perception that Trustees need to have deep pockets and that making regular donations to your charity is a requirement.
Being a Trustee does involve making a personal commitment to a charity and you should definitely pick a cause that you are willing to actively support. However, you can also do this in other ways - such as the fundraising I did by participating in Live Below The Line.
I know there is more that I can do personally as a Trustee. Sadly I wasn't able to attend this year's AbleChildAfrica Gala Dinner so my role in the success of the event was small. I'd like to put that right in 2015 and also use my professional expertise to help the charity continue improving the way it communicates with supporters and raises donations.
However, you don’t have to be a charity expert or specialist to help. Charities are always on the lookout for sharp strategic brains and people who can represent and understand their supporter base. This is especially important given the rise of social media and digital marketing as tools for fundraising and awareness-raising.
I was lucky enough to be helped and inspired by a couple of people when thinking about becoming a Trustee. Alex Swallow, who founded Young Charity Trustees, is always a source of great inspiration and his podcast about becoming a Trustee is well worth a listen. Sam Ma’ayan, who specialises in Trustee recruitment, also gave me some invaluable advice about the AbleChildAfrica role.
I’m proud to be a Trustee and have really enjoyed the experience so far, so I want to use Trustees’ Week as an opportunity to tell my personal story and encourage others to consider becoming a Trustee too.
Please check out http://trusteesweek.blogspot.co.uk for more info about becoming a Trustee and http://ablechildafrica.org/ to find out about AbleChildAfrica.
You can also #nominateatrustee on Twitter if you know somebody whom you think would make a great charity Trustee.
There are a few things I’ve had to adjust to since leaving my full-time Fundraising Manager job, becoming my own boss and setting up Lime Green Consulting. Having complete control and responsibility over my own time. Not having an office full of colleagues to bounce ideas off and share a few light-hearted moments with at lunch. The incredible cumulative cost of coffee from meetings and work sessions in cafes!
I’ve also been able to make much more time to read about the experiences and challenges faced by other fundraisers. I share ideas with people all the time and am a big follower of discussions on LinkedIn and Twitter. I don’t get paid for this but it’s one of the most crucial things I do, because there is a lot to learn from the opinions, experiences and mistakes of others.
I’ve been really interested to follow one particular debate about the merits of themed ‘fun runs’ for small charities.
I could talk about events all day, having worked with both charities and event companies to design and run them for many years.
You’ll be familiar with many of the countless challenges out there. Run while paint is thrown at you. Propel yourself around a painful obstacle course. Dress as something silly and reach the finish line in defiance of your completely impractical costume.
The most successful events, like the ubiquitous Color Run, have spawned many imitations. While the Color Run is not primarily a fundraising event, plenty of charities are setting up their own version to raise valuable funds. Yet many report that they find it harder to make money than they expect.
Why is that, and how can you overcome it?
Themed running events are colourful, eye-catching and fun. They don’t require training and winning isn’t the main aim. All this makes them very popular. They are a marketing dream because it’s so easy to look at the promo photos and think (1) “That looks hilarious!” and (2) “There’s nothing to stop me doing that!”
However, this is precisely what can hinder fundraising efforts. Most people sign up because of the appeal of the event, not to raise money for charity. They register on a whim because the commitment level is low. Not great ingredients for high fundraising totals.
I have a basic rule to predict how a fundraising event will perform. The more quirky and spontaneous it is, the more participants you can expect, but the less you can rely on strong fundraising efforts, and the lower your chances of converting participants into long-term supporters.
This may not be the case if you already have a good-sized database of active supporters just waiting for the next opportunity to fundraise for you. Perhaps your event offers them a different way of supporting you or really appeals to a certain supporter group. If so, your participants might turn out to be fundraising heroes. Just don’t expect this kind of event to be a good way of creating that kind of loyal supporter from scratch.
Bearing all this in mind, here are some useful tips to make your event a fundraising success:
1. Do your research and budget cautiously – bear in mind that ‘fun runs’ tend to have a much lower fundraising target than a typical ‘challenge’ event, so look at the competition and set your target sensibly. Don’t expect all your participants – or even the majority – to reach that target. If your calculations assume that everybody will reach the minimum target and the event is still only making a small profit, consider something different.
2. Try a different model – charge participants a higher entry fee and make fundraising optional. If your entry fee covers all costs and makes a profit on top, then the chances of failure are greatly reduced. Your profit margin may be small but you will attract more 'casual' participants, which decreases the cost per head. Just don’t set your registration fee too high in relation to similar events or you risk putting people off.
3. Get your marketing right – the popularity of this type of event means that new versions pop up all the time. It’s a saturated market and it’s hard to stand out from the crowd. So you need to convince people that your event is the experience they have must have this year. Develop strong promo materials, email campaigns, PR activity and social media plans: the more channels, the better. I have a ‘marketing checklist’ that I use to ensure charities are doing all they can to promote their event. If you need any advice, I’d love to talk to you.
4. Find a sponsor – this is a great way to underwrite the costs of your event and propel it to a new level of profitability. Companies may be keen to support the event in return for publicity and exposure to participants, particularly if you go for a low-cost ‘mass participation’ model and can attract press coverage. Try offering potential sponsors different packages so they have multiple ways to get involved.
5. Partner with another charity – increasingly charities are teaming up to organise events together and share the running costs. The obvious advantage is that your break-even point will be much lower. However, the income will be lower too, and arrangements can get complicated, so consider this carefully.
6. Always remind people of the end goal – many participants will not consciously realise that your event would not happen if it didn’t raise money for a good cause, and why that cause is important. So tell them. Repeatedly. Establish the importance of any minimum fundraising target from the outset and create a comms plan to encourage participants to reach it. If you're not comfortable urging participants in this way, you're unlikely to harness their fundraising potential.
Finally, bear in mind that return on investment isn’t everything. Fundraising activities are also a platform for your charity. Happy participants will shout about their involvement and you never know who may hear about your charity as a result. Income might be the main aim, but awareness is a key benefit. As this article suggests, the way people make decisions about charities are changing. Events are a great way of tapping into this.
This blog isn’t meant to discourage anybody from organising themed running events. I’ve been involved with so many events and genuinely love them. However, understand the challenges that come with the territory. Low-commitment, high-excitement events aren’t always big business. They require a lot of work and planning. Get the basics right, make use of the tips above and feel free to ask me any questions. Good luck!
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