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Going online for independent fundraising events

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[Publisher’s note: This article was provided by Blackbaud, a maker of fundraising software. Blackbaud is a PJ business partner.]

Mark Davis and Meghan Dankovich

Each year, people fundraise on behalf of their favorite nonprofits in any number of events like runs, walks, bicycle rides, auctions, car washes and hundreds of other creative ways.

We all are familiar with the large, nationally-organized fundraising events like the Heart Walk and the Memory Walk.

But what about the numerous smaller independent fundraising events that can be as small as a simple bake sale or a single runner training for a marathon?

While not as prominent as the better-known fundraising campaigns, these events have a distinct advantage in that they essentially cost nothing for the beneficiary organization, as the expenses are covered by the independent event organizer.

Blackbaud recently partnered with Event 360 on a research project to better understand the common denominators of a successful programmatic approach to third-party fundraising.

The analysis showed that online registrations, donations and fundraising-per-participant are increasing, and that independent fundraising events represent a growing revenue source, especially online, for many organizations.

Based on a Blackbaud assessment, there was an estimated $300 million raised in 2008 in the United States from these types of events, indicating that organizations should find better ways to cultivate these fundraisers and provide the support they need to succeed.

Here are five best practices for a successful program:

1. Ensure organization-wide support

Organizations with strong executive support for independent fundraising programs have more success. These organizations see the value in investing in these types of programs and in building partnerships with their “super volunteers.” They recognize that once engaged, fundraisers can become avid champions and long-term supporters of the organization.

2. Encourage online use and e-communications

Consistent data collection is imperative to having valid information from which to make important business decisions on the management of the independent fundraising program. Encouraging participants to register, communicate and fundraise online through the online tools allows your program to operate more efficiently. Participants can avoid writing receipts and tax exemption letters, your staff can spend less time processing manual offline donations, and the chance for human error can be significantly reduced.

3. Provide the “hand up”

Your audience is caring, motivated, volunteering and asking for guidance. Respond with a program that educates, empowers and encourages them. They are not looking for the hand out – i.e., for you to run their event for them. They are looking for a “hand up” – i.e., assistance and guidance on how to make an impact by marrying their passion with your mission.

4. Standardize tracking and reporting

One key observation from the study is that organizations need to provide for standardized reporting to help monitor the success of these campaigns. Due to the nature of these types of programs, many organizations do not follow through on these key aspects well enough.

5. Create a Recognition Program

Finally, there are three primary reasons a volunteer, participant or donor gives his time, talent and treasure – to belong, to feel good and to be acknowledged. A comprehensive recognition program is critical to helping motivate supporters.

By applying these basic principles and providing access to online tools, nonprofits of all sizes can not only greatly expand their reach with independent fundraising events, but also raise more money.


Mark Davis is director of Technical Solutions for Blackbaud Internet Solutions; Meghan Dankovich, is director of consulting for Event 360.

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