If fundraising events are part of your organization’s strategy, you know fall events are critical to revenue. So it’s likely you are already deep into event execution – making sure registration is open or about to open; recruiting supporters; monitoring registrations, dollars raised and fees paid; and, of course, comparing daily results to last year to project what it all means for this year’s bottom line.Supporter-Circle-Full

Donation requests from supporters are 90% more effective than direct requests from an organization, and online fundraising has much higher response rates than direct mail. On top of that, online-acquired donors who subsequently give to and promote your cause across many channels have the highest lifetime value. With that in mind, many organizations recently have invested significant time and resources in online event solutions (registration, fundraising and donation pages). Here’s the ROI they expected:

  • For Supporters: Easier and faster ways to engage friends, family and colleagues in the mission, simplified results tracking and speedier ways to give.
  • For the Organization: Less time-consuming donation tracking and reconciliation, as well as higher campaign response rates as supporters combine their worldwide networks (assuming the solution is multi-currency) by way of the multiplying effect of the Internet.

At the end of the day, however, the best designed and easiest-to-use solutions are all for naught if no one is using them. While it may be easy to think, “Well, this just means our participants don’t want to participate and fundraise online,” it’s much more likely that participants need a little encouragement, a few incentives and a bit of training and handholding to get comfortable with online fundraising. A small investment in that support pays big dividends.

Below are some proven practices for encouraging participants (and donors) to migrate to online peer-to-peer fundraising, creating banner years for organizations:

  1. Introduce the capabilities to your participants. While this might seem self-evident, it’s not always so. If I’m in the habit of registering for an event offline, it might not be obvious to me that online options exist. Even if I do register online, I might think I don’t have time right away to figure it out. Although everyone says their solutions are easy to use, there is in fact a wide range of “easy.” So create and share with your participants some introductory material, such as a five-step guide for using an event center or an overview of everything that’s available. Communicate these tips via email for new online registrants or a welcome letter for new offline registrants. Consider having the intro come from another participant who’s been using the capabilities successfully and can connect on the peer level. Note that this may be sent from your organization with the “from” appearing to be from a fellow participant.
  2. Encourage participants to take the first step. Market data shows that a participant who takes a first step such as personalizing a participant page photo or changing the default language to their personal story is exponentially more likely to become a regular online user and raise funds or recruit other online participants. Online-recruited donors who subsequently give across many channels have the highest lifetime value. So it’s mission-critical to focus your follow-up material on encouraging that first step.
  3. Invest in an extra thank-you. Your peer-to-peer solution should enable you to automatically send a customized registration thank-you email. If you can afford a phone call, do so. Or send a personal email. Write if you have to. Thank the participant for signing up, tell him or her how their participation supports your mission and review the online capabilities that make outreach and fundraising easier.
  4. Provide contests and incentives. Offer weekly and monthly online-only incentives and prizes. Because event registration and participation is often on a rolling basis prior to the event, develop an ongoing list of incentives and contests and publicize them regularly. Make sure the options appeal to all levels of fundraisers. For example, an incentive structure based only on dollars raised might discourage participants who don’t have deep-pocketed connections. They will think that the person with the greatest number of wealthy friends will win – so why try? Consider incentives for the most gifts received in a given week (volume over total revenue), most new online registrants in a given week, most team members recruited, most shared, etc. Incentives can span the gamut depending on event type; gift cards, registration fee waivers, matching funds and physical training support are just a few of many options. And how about monthly incentives driven by financial results? For example, anyone who crossed the $1,000 mark that week could be eligible for a drawing.
  5. Promote the benefits of online vs. offline donation collection for fundraising participants. Not only will this make your life easier (no more entering all of those offline checks!), but also there is a clear benefit to donors in sending an immediate receipt for their records.

While this might seem like just another chore to add to the gargantuan list of what it takes to manage events season, the ROI of the effort is more than worthwhile. With a targeted, planned approach, the investment of time and resources can be straightforward and, most importantly, become a desired value-add for your participants. Just a handful of steps can result in overall greater brand awareness, giving and lifelong loyalty.

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