4 Tips for Engaging Fundraising Event Attendees

Michael Hoffman
Co-founder & CEO, Gather Voices

Fundraising events are an essential revenue-generating source for nonprofits, associations, and other organizations. Whether you’re hosting an event in-person, virtually, or a combination of the two, incorporating a variety of activities will keep your event attendees engaged, and when your attendees are engaged, they are more likely to contribute to your cause.

In this guide, we’ll cover four tips that will help your organization to engage your event attendees and increase your ROI.

1. Choose an event type that interests your audience.

Consider your audience before you make big decisions about your event activities. To keep your event attendees engaged, it’s crucial to choose activities that cater to their needs and interests. Below are some popular and effective event formats to consider:

  • Fundraising auctions: This is a very popular event type that allows organizations to auction off unique and sought-after items. Auctions can be versatile in their engagement, especially when utilizing mobile bidding software. When conducting a silent auction, it’s important to set rules, like setting distinct open and close times, to keep the event running smoothly.
  • Peer-to-peer fundraisers: Walk-a-thons, knit-a-thons, dance-a-thons, and other “a-thon” fundraising approaches enable your attendees to raise money on behalf of your organization and crowdfund for the causes by raising money through a peer-to-peer style event. For example, they may raise $5 from their friends and family for every mile walked in a walk-a-thon.
  • Shows and presentations: Talent shows, concerts, and other spectator events enable your organization to raise money through ticket sales. Try hosting a concession stand or selling merchandise, like t-shirts, to raise additional funds at an event like this.
  • Fun runs: Fun runs promote a healthy lifestyle while raising money for your organization. This tried and true strategy can become even more successful as you recruit sponsors to help supplement the cost of SWAG bags, booths, and other expenses.

Once you’ve determined the type of event that best suits your audience’s interests, you can make further decisions about how to execute the event, and whether it will be held virtually, in-person, or a hybrid of both. Here’s a quick rundown of the benefits of each type of event:

  • Virtual events can dramatically expand your geographical reach. For example, if you are hosting a silent auction, think of how many more bidders you can have from all over the country, rather than just the maximum number of people that will fit in your venue. If you’re hosting an auction for your school in Austin, Grandma can support her grandchild’s class by bidding from Philadelphia.
  • In-person events create a connection and energy that can only come from being in a room together. Technology can be tricky if you aren’t well prepared with the right tools at your disposal, so you can help to mitigate those difficulties by holding your event and all of its activities in one room, with only the attendees who are available to participate.
  • Hybrid events give you the best of both worlds. You will have the energy of people in the room, and be able to engage event attendees from near and far.

2. Facilitate conversations between attendees.

People come to your event to engage with your activities, but most people are also looking for connection and community. An important part of a successful fundraising event is to ensure that your attendees have the chance to network and connect with one another in conversation, whether in-person or through online content.

Consider the following strategies to facilitate meaningful conversation between event attendees:

  • Have attendees introduce themselves on video during the registration process
  • Breakout rooms in virtual events
  • Conversation starter cards at the table for in-person events
  • Q&A sessions with keynote speakers

You’ll also need to make sure that the environment you create at your event, especially in-person events, encourages conversation between attendees. For example, at a silent auction, you might use mobile bidding so that attendees can engage in auction activities while interacting with other attendees at their table. This simple strategy will keep people engaged in your event activities, rather than having to get up to check their bids on paper bid sheets.

3. Provide a variety of opportunities to give.

The purpose of your fundraising event is to raise money for your organization, so you should provide plenty of different ways for your event attendees to help you accomplish your financial goals. Don’t let the fundraising stop after a ticket purchase or registration fee!

For example, you can include an opportunity to give via text message during the event by displaying signage and making announcements about your text-to-give campaign. You can promote your donation page via a QR code, or sell branded merchandise at the event. You can encourage supporters to record and share a quick video with their network about why they donated and invite others to do the same.

Another engaging way to raise money without making your attendees feel like they’re being nickeled and dimed is to auction off exciting items or sell raffle tickets. You can generate some friendly competition or make guests feel like they’re leaving with something of value in exchange for donating.

However you decide to raise additional money during your event, consider which giving opportunities work best for your event, and the auction software you’ll need to make it all possible. If you’re running an auction, you’ll need software to organize your items and make checkout simple for your guests. That same software may also come equipped with text-to-give functionality or crowdfunding features that help you raise more.

4. Follow up after the event to say thank you.

To set yourself up for fundraising success in the future, you need to think about engaging your event attendees both during and after the event. Showing appreciation after your fundraising event is an essential part of increasing donor retention.

Show appreciation to everyone who helps to make your event possible. You can do this by sending a short video message, writing personalized thank you notes, or giving them free “SWAG” like t-shirts or other branded items. Keep in mind that when someone buys something at your event, it’s important to always send them a receipt.

Most of all, communicate the impact of your attendees’ engagement in your event and how the event itself will help your organization reach your goals. People love to see their support in action!

While there are many ways to further engage your event attendees and make your fundraising event more meaningful, the four tips outlined above can serve as a starting point. How you choose to incorporate them will depend on your organization’s mission, the type of event you are hosting, and the message you are trying to convey. By staying mindful of these elements, you will be able to determine which best practices will work for you. Best of luck, and happy planning!

This article was written by Jeff Porter. Jeff Porter, Founder & CEO of Handbid, has spent 18 years in the nonprofit industry. In 2004 he founded the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association of Colorado where he still resides as board chair. Jeff learned early on that nonprofits desperately needed better and more affordable fundraising solutions.  Leveraging his software background, he built most of the tools his charities used, and in 2011 he launched Handbid at his own fundraising event.  The goal was to improve the guest experience, reduce administration and increase revenue.  Handbid accomplished all of those goals, effectively doubling revenue in its debut. Nine years later, Handbid's suite of tools has delighted over a half-million guests, generated millions of bids, and helped thousands of charities raise well over $100 million.

Michael Hoffman
Co-founder & CEO, Gather Voices

Michael Hoffman is the co-founder and CEO of Gather Voices, a technology company that automates the creation, management and publishing of video content. He is also the founder of See3 Communications, a digital marketing agency in Chicago and founder of the DoGooder Video Awards which honors the best social cause video on YouTube each year. Hoffman teaches marketing at the University of Chicago and is an internationally sought-after speaker and trainer who is a trusted advisor to business leaders on engagement strategy.

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