Fundraising Events: 5 Smart Strategies to Boost Attendance
Although fundraising goes on all year round, there’s nothing like a blowout fundraising event to get nonprofit supporters excited about your cause. Your most reliable donors enjoy coming together to learn about your recent successes, support your cause and meet other like-minded people.
But you can’t just rely on those supporters who you know will show up every time. As your nonprofit grows and takes on more ambitious projects, you need to draw more people (and larger donations) to your events every time.
When it’s time for your next fundraising event, consider these five strategies to bring more supporters through the door:
- Invest in the right event management software.
- Brand your event.
- Incorporate special ticketing.
- Get smart with outreach.
- Make the most of your data.
With these techniques, you’ll not only bring more people to your event — you’ll also set yourself up for long-term fundraising success.
1. Invest in the right event management software.
Nowadays, it’s nearly impossible to host a successful fundraising event, especially a large one, without a reliable event registration software solution to help you out. Most nonprofits already use some kind of event management software to manage registration, issue tickets, or create an event page, if nothing else.
When your goal is to boost your attendance, you need features that may not be available in any generic event software package. Look for these features found in top event management software that will help you attract more attendees and donors:
Capacity and waitlist management: The last thing you want to do is call a registrant to tell them that you accidentally overbooked your event and they can no longer attend. Nonprofit event management software handles capacity and waitlists (including VIP overrides) so you never have to refund a ticket.
Custom registration forms: Fundraising events aren’t just about gathering donations once — they’re also capturing leads that you can use later on. You can create custom registration forms in top event software to gather important information for your donor database.
Add-on donations and sales. Your registrants already have their credit card out to buy their ticket, so it’s a good time to ask them for an additional donation or purchase to support the event. For example, right before checkout, ask if they’d like to purchase event memorabilia or make an extra donation to support the event.
Attendee communications: Avoid no-shows by sending automatic event reminders to your ticket holders, and share event updates like weather plans, items to bring, or parking information as your event approaches.
Specialized features for specific events: If you’re holding a special event like an auction, you’ll need specialized features. Some nonprofit event software providers package these options in their all-in-one solutions, while others sell individual point solutions for special types of events.
Implementing specialized software makes it possible for your staff to minimize or eliminate time spent on tasks that software can automate. That leaves them with the time and energy to focus on the other six strategies on our list!
2. Brand your event.
To ensure that everyone, from longtime supporters to people who’ve never heard of your organization before, knows what your event is about, you need to spend time focusing on your branding.
Branding your fundraising event starts with deciding on a catchy name. Then, you’ll need an eye-catching event logo, tagline, and social media hashtag.
These branding materials can work their way into:
- Press releases and online advertising.
- Your donation and registration forms.
- The event microsite.
- Your social media (and your supporters’ social media!).
Remember, your branding should say something about your mission as a nonprofit and the specific goal of your event.
3. Incorporate special ticketing.
Especially if you’re planning on hosting a large or complex event, you have an opportunity to include multiple levels of ticket packages on your event checklist — but only if the accounting matches up.
You need to balance the goal of attracting as many attendees as possible with affordable tickets against the need to bring in as much revenue as possible. Keeping ticket prices relatively low can be smart in some cases, but if you have major donors who would gladly purchase a pricier ticket in exchange for the best seats in the house, free drinks, or some other kind of VIP treatment, take advantage of that!
Special ticketing can be particularly effective if you have a membership program. Your members likely already get benefits like discounts or special access along with their membership card, so why not extend those benefits to increase attendance at your fundraising events?
Here are a few benefits you can offer your members that cost you little or nothing:
- Discounts on fundraising event tickets.
- Discounts on other goods or services, such as merchandise.
- Priority registration or seating at fundraising events.
- Special access to performers or speakers.
- A discount code for a friend.
Providing a discount code for a member to share with a friend serves dual purposes. Members get to share the benefits of their memberships with a friend, and nonmembers get to see firsthand what the benefits of membership are like. They’re more likely to purchase a membership once they’ve experienced the special benefits that members enjoy.
(Want to learn more about membership programs? Check out this ultimate guide from Doubleknot!)
4. Get smart with outreach.
Your supporters can’t show up to an event they don’t know about, so it’s important to share the news of your event as widely as possible.
Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are some of the best tools to reach a large number of people at once — if you use them right. Here are some common and effective ways to maximize your reach on social media:
Create an event page or profile that your attendees can RSVP to and share with their own social circles. (Remember to include a link to the registration page!) You can also share information after the event such as how much money was raised, who received awards and, of course, an album of photos from the event.
Change your organization’s profile pictures and cover photos to your event’s logo so even posts unrelated to the event will spread the word about it.
Use the social media hashtag you chose when you branded your event so your followers can track updates and share observations, and you can gather photos and comments about the event.
Share multimedia content, like videos and sideshows, so your updates stand out on your followers’ timelines.
Tag your sponsors so their social media teams can easily find and share your updates with their own followers.
While social media is a great tool to reach the largest number of people possible, your messages will likely be generic and, of course, short. These generic public messages aren’t the best way to reach out to your high-value donors, who expect a more personal touch.
To make sure major donors, members, and recurring donors attend your event, you have to show them that you need and value their personal support. That requires effort to make your invitation personal, addressing them by name and referencing the positive impact their support has had in the past.
To make your outreach more personal without spending hours researching, you need the right software.
Communication software features can draw information such as name and engagement history from your records and automatically input those into your emails. A well-organized donor database can ensure that staff members making calls or holding meetings with important constituents have all the information they need at their fingertips.
Personalizing invitations to fundraising events won’t just draw more people to your event; it will also set you up for future success, which brings us to our last point.
5. Make the most of your data.
You can’t get better at planning events to bring in more donors if you don’t understand what has and hasn’t worked before. Before you start planning your next event, you need to review the data from similar past events.
Take a look at:
- Attendance. Compare how many people attended to how many invitations you sent, how many people RSVPed, and how many of your major donors and members showed up.
- Average gift size at similar events. How does this metric compare to the number of people who attended?
- Budget. How well did you stick to your budget? Which areas will benefit from more funding, and which can afford being cut back?
- Feedback. What did your attendees have to say about your event, and how can you leverage that for the future?
These data points will guide you to the strategies that worked well last time and what you could improve, which will lead you to more successful events in the future.
Attendee feedback after an event is particularly important. Use your communications software to encourage them to give feedback, and include a link to a short but well-designed post-event survey. Be sure to explicitly ask what you could do better or what would encourage them to attend again.
Don’t forget to also ask them what they liked! Their positive comments about the event can be a big help for next year’s marketing!
When you incorporate attendee feedback for your next event, you show donors that you value their thoughtful contributions. That kind of attentiveness will make them want to come back again next year.
If you don’t have this data, set a plan for collecting it as you brainstorm your next fundraising event ideas, starting with these ideas from Doubleknot. An integrated event management software solution can produce post-event reports with the quantitative data, and software can also facilitate post-event surveys to gather important attendee feedback.
Planning fundraising events involves a lot of moving parts, all of which work together to increase attendance, raise donations, and promote awareness and goodwill. Make sure your next event is a success by implementing these techniques!
Special thanks to Special thanks to David Mimeles from Doubleknot for expert advice on how to boost attendance. David is the Vice President of Sales & Marketing at DoubleKnot.