It happens to people all the time, and it’s likely happening to you. You post an event on Facebook. 500+ people say they’re either going or interested in going, so you plan for at least 350. Then the big day comes, and you realize you’ve overspent on food, beverages and a large venue for the few who showed up. What gives?
Fundraising events like galas, auctions, walks, donor recognition talks and dinners are critical to the success of nonprofits. Many nonprofits have one or two annual traditions that make up a large portion of the donations they’ll receive during a calendar year. We’ve put together some tips on how to make the most of the digital tools at your disposal to find more attendees, reach a wider audience and ultimately gain more donations at your events.
Before, During and After the Big Day
Think about your biggest event of the year—you start planning early, and even after it’s over, there’s still plenty to do. Make a plan that breaks down what you need to do before, during and after your nonprofit event. Then enlist help to take some of the stress of building online buzz off your plate.
In the weeks and months leading up to the event, it’s time to assemble your army. These should be volunteers, family, friends and community members who are ready to speak about your nonprofit, its mission and the upcoming event with gusto. Give them time to prepare, letting them know when and where you’ll post online about the event so they can share information and get their own network excited and engaged.
Provide them with materials like flyers and pre-written blurbs or content about the work you do and why people should care about the fundraising event you’re hosting. Remind them to always link to your nonprofit website or an online tool you use to sell tickets so their network can easily commit to attending.
During the event, create buzz for the people who were interested but couldn’t attend. Make them feel that little twinge of regret they’ll need to show up next year by posting photos of exciting parts of your event, using a unique hashtag or sending live updates via Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook. Always assign at least one member of your team to be in charge of posting online during your event.
The digital work done after the event is potentially the most important since this is the part many nonprofits forget. Utilize the content you gathered during the event to keep excitement about your mission in the months to come. By sprinkling this content into the mix with your other regular posts, there’s a better chance people will remember your organization and want to attend your next nonprofit event.
The most important part is the thank you. Thank individuals who showed up by tagging them. Thank your volunteers with a photo of them during setup and teardown time. Thank keynote speakers or the person(s) who inspired the event in the first place.
Create Email and Social Campaigns
Posting content and sending out emails are essential to reaching your audience. However, what many organizers don’t realize is that creative fundraising event promotion takes time and care to plan.
Create a content calendar for at least two months ahead of the event (further ahead of time if you can), and spend time creating strong graphical elements to support your message. You could include pictures from past events or you could enlist the help of a graphic designer. At the same time, prepare a strategy for sending unique emails with differing messaging to build excitement.
To make people more familiar with your organization, post on your social channels a few times per week with small ways for your audience to engage (sign up for our email list to learn more, make a $2 donation to help fund our event, etc.). Eventually, you can ask for a commitment to attend your event, with the higher likelihood of attendance.
Storytelling and the Art of the Ask
When you’re creating this content, keep in mind the story you’re trying to tell. Pick out 3–5 main themes surrounding your nonprofit event—these could be about the history of the event, how it began, who it benefits, etc.—and create stories and posts around those themes. This way, you ensure your content is varied and doesn’t get stale.
There are three main things to remember when telling the story of your organization and event:
- Be genuine and sincere: Sincerity resonates with people. If you come from a place of honesty and genuine care, people will remember it.
- Make it relatable: Not everything has to be about making a huge splash. If you can tell the story of how your event helped one individual or share a single volunteer’s insight on the important work you’re accomplishing, people will notice that much more than numbers and statistics.
- Ask, don’t beg: If every post you create asks people for their attendance, your audience may think your fundraising event is not worth attending—that you have to beg for people to show up. All your content should end in some kind of ask: visit our website, volunteer to work our event, make a small donation or attend it. However, if you ask from a place of authority and vary what you’re asking your audience for, they’ll be more likely to respond positively to your message.
Use Online Tools for Registration
Today people crave one thing above all else: ease. If your event registration tools are inefficient, hard to use on mobile or worse, inaccessible online (GASP!), you’re alienating yourself from many tech savvy users who would come to your event if registration were easier. We’ve seen countless nonprofits using outdated tech—like requiring potential attendees to download a PDF, print a physical copy, fill it out and send it in—and it greatly hinders the success of their events.
In fact, 19.6% of event registrations occurred on mobile devices in 2015—and that was four years ago. Since then, mobile use has continued to skyrocket as the main way people access information. That means using outdated online tools could cut off a fifth of your potential attendees. Making it possible to register online for your event is not only convenient for end users, but also for the staff and volunteers who would have to sort through and manage all those physical registration pages.
Using online registration tools will also ensure that the work you do after your event is easy. One of the best ways to utilize the information you’ve gathered about your attendees is to send them a thank-you note. It doesn’t have to be long—two to three sentences will do. Thank-you cards are a tool you can use to show how much you appreciate your audience while incentivizing them to continue supporting you in the future.
These are just some of the high level tips we share with nonprofit event planning professionals who feel they’ve hit a plateau with their success. For a deeper dive, check out our webinar: Events in a Digital Age: How to Maximize Your Offline Events in an Online World.