Think outside the fundraising box

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Many charities host fundraising events to raise money for their cause. But what your organization may not realize is that the type of fundraiser you choose to host says a lot about your organization. Therefore, when planning your fundraisers, in addition to accomplishing your financial goals, also consider how your fundraiser can help communicate your mission and spread awareness of your cause.

So, how do you find the perfect fundraising event idea for your organization?

The best place to start is by looking at the core of your business. What is your organization's mission and the message you are trying to communicate? How can you create a fundraising event that will help you spread awareness of your cause, appeal to your audience and local community while helping you accomplish your financial goals? Keep in mind that hosting a unique event isn’t only a great way to connect your message to your fundraising event, but it’s also a great way to differentiate yourself. After all, nonprofits, schools and community organizations host fundraisers year-round. Rather than being pigeonholed into the same category of fundraiser that everyone else is...go out on a limb! Do something that differentiates your organization so you receive attention and donations from media and community members alike.

Create a customized "a-thon"

As many of us are aware, walk-a-thon events are wonderful fundraisers! Not only do they provide a great potential to raise a large amount of funds, but they also bring people together to create a sense of community. Keep in mind that a walk-a-thon doesn’t have to mean walking. You can use this same concept to create a unique event that communicates what your organization stands for.

A great example of a unique type of “a-thon” event that educates the public and creates awareness of an important cause is a bird-a-thon. The Golden Gate Audubon in California hosts a bird-a-thon event in an effort to raise funds to protect the hundreds of thousands of birds who rest, feed or overwinter in the San Francisco Bay area. The bird-a-thon is a uniquely Audubon way to promote and protect the Bay Area’s native birds and wildlife. The fundraiser is a competitive and educational event suitable for any level of bird watcher. Participants join guided trips, organize their own trips, or count independently. And, although this bird-a-thon fundraiser has raised thousands of dollars in support of birds and bird-friendly habitats, the event has also become a great way to educate the local community about this important cause. Money is raised by asking friends and family to pledge a donation to Golden Gate Audubon on a fixed or per species basis — just like a walk-a-thon, only participants count beautiful bird species instead of miles. Golden Gate Audubon also motivates individuals and teams by offering various prizes and awards for top fundraisers. To further enhance fundraising efforts, the organization raises additional funds selling tickets and hosting a silent auction at an annual celebration dinner.

Another example of a walk-a-thon variation that has been very successful raising funds and creating awareness for an important cause is the Greater Ottawa Kingfish Swim Club. In this example a sports-team hosts an “a-thon” themed event that supports their specific sport, such as a swim-a-thon. The GO Kingfish Swim Club’s annual swim-a-thon raises money to help pay for pool time, coaching fees, special courses needed by coaches, training aids, and to purchase equipment. Just like a walk-a-thon, this event brings community members together in support of a great cause. Yet, it directly connects the Club’s mission with the fundraiser creating awareness for their swim club and allowing members to raise pledges by participating in an activity that they love...swimming! One reason GO Kingfish Swim Club has been so successful is by having a solid understanding of their target donors. As a swim club, Greater Ottawa targets potential donors who have a personal or vested interest in the sport of swimming. Most donors are friends and family of club members, as well as organizations who support not only the sport of swimming, but amateur sports in general.

“We’re able to maximize our fundraising potential by reaching out to donors in a way that goes beyond the traditional door-to-door fundraising we are all familiar with.” Explains Jason Zitter, vice president of GO Kingfish Swim Club. “Donors from all over the world have taken advantage of our online fundraising website to support our swim club and most importantly our swimmers.”

Time-themed fundraising events

One idea to differentiate your fundraising event is to create a theme to coincide with the month you are hosting the event. One example of an organization hosting a very different type of pledge event themed properly with the month they hosted the fundraiser is Planned Parenthood of Newfoundland and Labrador. The organization’s goal was to raise money in order to increase awareness about the importance of cervical health through routine cervical screenings and sexual health education. PPNL organized a unique event called Feb-U-Hairy - a hairy leg challenge! The purpose of the event was not only to raise money through a pledge drive, but also to have fun by presenting a feminine challenge to their target market...women. They challenged women to go an entire month without shaving in support of their cause, and encouraged participants to have fun with the challenge, to share stories and photos on their Facebook page, and to invite friends and family to participate helping to spread awareness of their cause through social media. This is definitely an example of a “unique” event, which proved to be extremely successful. The organization’s goal was to raise $7,000 and they exceeded this goal by 111%.

Another great way to achieve success is to host a fundraising event based around creating a sense of urgency. In this example, an organization will host a fundraiser in a short amount of time and encourage people to raise funds quickly. $30k in 30 Days, hosted by the Phoenix Chorale, does just that.

“Giving our patrons the opportunity to make a contribution in the name of their favorite singer has become a great way for our patrons to show their support,” said Director of Marketing & Communications Jen Rogers. “We’ve also found it very important to make participation as easy as possible for our fundraisers by providing all the tools necessary to be successful including: providing language that can be customized, demonstrating all aspects of their pledge pages, and encouraging them to personalize their pages to show their personality and passion for what they do. This spring campaign is a success each year because of the participation and support of our singers, staff, and board members.”

In addition to setting a goal to raise $30,000 in just 30 days, the Phoenix Chorale secured a matching grant from a generous donor to match each donation made, dollar-for-dollar (up to $30,000). This matching grant turned a $30 gift into $60. Not only did they reach their goal of raising $30,000, they exceeded it, and with the matching gift, raised a grand total of over $67,000!

In conclusion

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box! Your fundraiser can be virtually anything, from a community carnival, to an upscale gala event, to a charity golf tournament, to a scavenger hunt. With creative thinking and proper planning, your organization can create a unique fundraising event that accomplishes your financial goals, communicates your mission, and spreads awareness of your cause! All it takes is a little extra time to connect the dots. Remind yourself of your mission, and then plan accordingly. What is the important cause you are fighting for? What are your goals (besides raising dollars)? Is education important? If so, consider incorporating an educational element with your chosen fundraiser. Is promoting a healthy lifestyle important? Perhaps an “a-thon” variation that promotes health and wellness is your best fit. Is team-building a priority? If so, than why not organize a fundraising scavenger hunt that requires team members to work together? The options are endless. Invite members of your organization and supporters to share their ideas, and then...have fun planning and putting on your own unique fundraiser

To close, we leave you with some important considerations you may want to consider when hosting a fundraising event:

  • Be prepared. Events take months of planning and many negotiations with vendors including sourcing appropriate licenses needed for serving food and alcohol, as well as possible permits for using public parks, temporary street closures, etc.
  • Understand your target donors. Target potential donors who have a personal or vested interest in your organization and cause.
  • Ensure that your donors know how their donation is going to benefit the organization they are supporting. Donors want to know that their contribution is having a direct effect on the success of the organization.
  • Events are great opportunities for sponsorship. Consider pitching event sponsorships to local businesses and like-minded organizations.
  • With any pledge event, the success of the fundraiser lies in the success of each individual participant. Acknowledge top performers and motivate them with rewards and recognition.
  • Make it fun. Consider hosting games and contest before and after the fundraiser. Plan a fundraising party and award ceremony as a fun way to wrap up the fundraiser, and thank participants, sponsors, donors, etc.
  • Provide tools and training to help participants promote the fundraising event and increase their efficiency in their efforts to raise pledges. Provide sample donation request letters, how-to tips, and a personal fundraising website to easily collect donations.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of volunteers. These important people help make events successful by spreading the word and helping out. It is important to recruit volunteers early, and to have clear task descriptions.
  • If your event is based on “sense of urgency” an important feature is tracking progress in “real-time”. A fundraising website can help motivate participants and donors by monitoring the gap between current achievements and final goals on a daily basis with a fundraising thermometer.
  • Be sure to consider safety issues. If the event is being hosted outside on a hot, summer day provide sunscreen, bottles of water, shade for participants to take breaks, etc.

Kari Ann Kiel has 15 years experience managing events and marketing initiatives, and is currently marketing manager at DoJiggy, a company which provides a complete line of online fundraising software for fundraising events and initiatives including: walk-a-thons, charity golf tournaments, gala events, and online charity auctions.

Photo via Golden Gate Audobon. Used with permission.

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