5 Ways to Make Nonprofit Events More Sustainable

Logan Lewis
Content Coordinator, Smartwaiver

Fundraising events are a great way to engage your supporters, generate excitement around your cause, and shatter revenue goals. But, your nonprofit could be doing more to curb the financial and environmental costs of these occasions. For example, the expense and environmental impact of buying new decor, mailing out invitations, using paper activity waivers, and more add up quickly. 

Fortunately, there are easy ways to overcome these challenges to make your events more sustainable. The right technology can make your events completely paperless, and the evolving landscape of nonprofit events allows for more flexibility than ever with hybrid and virtual event options.

To get started, let’s cover how (and why) to switch all of your forms and communications to a digital format. 

Make the process paperless.

Paper accounts for 26% of all landfill waste in the US, and American offices go through 12.1 trillion sheets of paper each year. Given how far technology has come, why not opt for paperless methods instead?

Consider digitizing the following elements of your next fundraising event:

  • Invitations: Rather than taking the time to design, print, and mail physical invitations to your supporters, create an electronic invite to share with them via email or another digital platform. These invitations are much more cost-effective, and your nonprofit can incorporate engaging elements that aren’t possible with paper—think GIFs, embedded videos, and clickable RSVP buttons.
  • Tickets: Switch over to a digital ticketing platform to sell admission to the event. These platforms also help streamline the process by accurately tracking attendee and financial data. 
  • Waivers and consent forms: Your nonprofit may need to use waivers or consent forms if the event presents risks (e.g., physical activities where participants could get injured). Additionally, you may need to obtain a photo release if you plan on taking photos of attendees at the event. Smartwaiver recommends choosing a digital waiver provider over paper forms because digital waivers are easier to manage, provide better user experiences, and boost accessibility.
  • Marketing messages: Consider shifting more of your marketing efforts online to limit paper usage. Focus on delivering engaging content that tells a compelling story via email, social media platforms, search ads, and more. You can also use innovative strategies like collecting user-generated videos and other content that help you connect with your community of supporters.

Eliminating or reducing paper usage in each of these areas doesn’t just contribute toward sustainability. It can also save your nonprofit money on paper and printing costs, allowing you to reroute that funding toward mission-critical activities instead.

Use recycled or reused materials.

Even small events require a lot of materials to get started. For example, even a supply list for a simple charity 5K can quickly start growing when you consider getting race bibs, t-shirts for participants and volunteers, items for water stations, snacks, race packets, signage, and more.

Rather than purchasing all of the items you need for the event new, get creative by:

  • Searching for items like decor or folding tables in thrift shops or secondhand stores.
  • Renting items you likely won’t use again, such as tablecloths or buffet chafing dishes.
  • Borrowing supplies from peer organizations.
  • Creating signage that can be used multiple times. For example, you might just include your nonprofit’s name, logo, and “fundraising event,” leaving out logistical details that would render the sign obsolete after one event.
  • Recycling single-use items like plastic cups or bottles.

You can even get your attendees involved in these efforts. Continuing the race example from above, you might set up a sneaker recycling box and ask each participant to bring a pair of worn-out shoes to contribute.

Try different event formats.

A great way to save money and make your events sustainable is to choose hybrid or virtual event formats. These formats shift most of the event online, reducing the impact of transportation, wasted food and materials, physical marketing materials, and more. 

Hybrid events allow supporters to choose whether they’d like to attend in person or remotely, while virtual events take place completely online. Some of the benefits of these formats include:

  • More flexibility: When supporters have multiple attendance options, more of them are likely to participate in the event. Added flexibility allows them to choose the option that works best for their schedule and preferences. For example, a busy parent can call into a virtual event but may not be able to make it in person.
  • Increased convenience: Supporters can join your event from anywhere, including their home, car, or office. Additionally, the right technology will make registering for and joining the event seamless for participants.
  • More opportunities to engage: Virtual events open the door for many new ways to engage. For example, you might request user-generated content and then review the top submissions during the video call. These opportunities deepen your relationships with donors and show that you are developing innovative ways to engage and communicate that you value their contributions.

To get started, you’ll need the right virtual event platforms for your event. For example, you might use a mobile app at your hybrid event to connect both online and in-person attendees. Or, you may need a video conferencing platform and auction software for your virtual auction.

Work with local vendors.

Engage with your local community and benefit the planet by working with small businesses in your area. Supporting these businesses stimulates the local economy, helping you indirectly invest in the people and places where your nonprofit operates. 

In terms of sustainability, these organizations often source products from other local, sustainable companies which reduces transportation pollution. Think of a local restaurant purchasing its ingredients from family-owned farms in your town rather than shipping in frozen food from across the country.

Your nonprofit may even be able to secure these products and services at a lower cost than chain retailers and businesses can offer through corporate sponsorships. As Double the Donation’s guide to corporate sponsorships explains, event support can come in the form of free promotion, in-kind donations of goods or services, and financial donations. To increase the chance the business will agree to sponsor your event, offer something in return like placing their logo on signs or posters.

Support carbon offset projects.

Sometimes, it might be impossible to eliminate all sources of waste and pollution from your event—that’s okay. Reducing your impact is just as important.

There are ways to offset the negative effects your event may have on the environment. Specifically, you can join or start carbon offsetting initiatives to counter any harm. For example, perhaps you hold a large adoption festival for your animal shelter, and you know that the event will produce a significant amount of trash and pollution from transportation. 

In this case, you might decide to recycle and compost as much of the trash as you can and plant trees to offset pollution. Consider inviting participants to contribute by carpooling, adding new plants to their gardens, and reducing their single-use plastic consumption.

Making an effort to be more sustainable and limit your nonprofit’s carbon footprint not only benefits the environment but also boosts your reputation. When you show that you are doing everything you can to limit your impact on the environment, you’ll establish more trust and credibility with supporters who share these values.

Logan Lewis
Content Coordinator, Smartwaiver

Logan Lewis is the Content Coordinator at Smartwaiver, the leading digital waiver service trusted by thousands of organizations around the world.

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