Your events are among the highlights of your fundraising campaigns. You and your team spend months developing the programming, finding the perfect venue, and planning what to do with the proceeds. Because of your dedication, your events get better every year.
But no matter how well-planned your events are, they are only successful if they are attended. You have to revisit your attendance strategy year after year just like you improve the other elements of your events.
Whether you’re organizing a multi-platform day of giving1 or a capital campaign kickoff gala, these five tips will help you bring more donors to your event than ever before:
- Choose the right software.
- Create an outreach plan.
- Steward high-value donors.
- Incentivize new donors.
- Follow up promptly.
Of course, there is no sure-fire way to improve your fundraising event attendance. But these strategies will help you reach more potential attendees with the right messages.
1. Choose the right software.
While it used to be enough to send out invitations through the mail and set up a registration booth at the front door, those days are long gone. The right event management software can make it easier to implement elements into your event that will draw more supporters through the door.
When planning a large fundraising event, look for these attendance-boosting features in any point solutions2 or integrated software solutions2 you consider:
- Ticket levels: To bring the most people to your event as possible, you need to start by giving as many people the opportunity to attend as you can. Implement event management software that can set a variety of ticketing levels at different price ranges, including special benefits like premium seating or a free drink ticket.
- Programmable capacity and waitlist: By showing your attendees when you’re about to run out of tickets, you incentivize procrastinators to go ahead and reserve their seats. Look for a software solution that can manage your waitlist, too, so you can automatically fill any vacated spots or manually override a waitlist for a VIP attendee.
- Discounts and promotions: Do students, members, or early registrants get discounts? What about attendees who buy tickets in bulk? Special promotions will always get more potential attendees interested, and sophisticated software will automatically apply these benefits at checkout so your staff doesn’t have to set aside time to process requests.
- Attendee communications: You need a way to share updates like parking information or venue regulations to ensure your registered attendees show up without mishap. Integrated software will allow you to share email or text updates with your attendees without exporting contact lists to a third-party communication system.
The benefits of the right software don’t stop at increased attendance. Integrated solutions produce more useful reports after your event because they can pull data from more than one area of your organization’s records.
Depending on the kind of event you’re hosting,3 you might also be looking for more specialized features. For example, a charity auction goes much more smoothly with mobile bidding software, while a crowdfunding kickoff event could benefit from live donation updates like a fundraising thermometer projected on a big screen.
2. Create an outreach plan.
It’s not enough just to sell tickets — you have to get your donors excited about attending your fundraising event. For that, you need a two-pronged communications plan: internal and external.
Look within your records. You need a list of everyone who’s ever donated to or volunteered with your organization, attended an event, or participated in your membership program.
Sending the same message to all of these individuals isn’t a great plan. You don’t want to waste your team’s time crafting individual emails for every single person who’s ever come in contact with your organization. But you also don’t want to send a generic invitation email that will be ignored or deleted.
Use your communication software to segment your database into groups with specific characteristics like those listed above. You’ll need software that can let you save these segments.
Then, send emails based that reference each segment’s past involvement and invite the recipient by name to your event. The right software can automate this process by filling designated information into templates you customize for each segment.
The most effective way to reach out to potential attendees outside our existing network is with a solid social media plan.4 Use the following steps as a template:
- Construct a branding package. Identify the colors, images, and taglines that will tie your updates to your event.
- Create an event page. Use a site like Facebook to host details of your event, and encourage attendees to RSVP, share the site with their friends, and post updates and pictures. You should also include a link to your event registration page.
- Choose a hashtag. Users across social media platforms can use the same hashtag to share updates and photos, which makes it easier for you to collect posts for a roundup after the event.
- Write post templates. Save templates in your drafts so any member of your team can update a few numbers or names and then post quickly. Messages like “One week to go before Family Fun Day kicks off, and XXX amazing families have already registered!” can spread the news of your event while also encouraging attendance.
- Share widely. Tag any sponsors, high-profile donors, or news organizations to make sure the news of your event spreads widely.
The trick with outreach to individuals not already in your network is to build up excitement for the event. While messages about the good work your nonprofit does in the community are important, what will draw attendees to your event instead of just your online donation page are specifics about the exciting event you’re hosting.
This combination of both direct and more general communication strategies will spread the word about your event to the people who are most likely to attend — those already in your network — as well as a more general audience, while making the most of your time on both fronts. We’ll get more into both these groups in the next few sections of this post.
3. Steward high-value donors.
As much as you want to get the word out to all kinds of potential attendees, you also want to make sure that enough of your high-value donors make it to your event. Chances are, these donors have busy schedules, so you want to make sure that your event gets priority on their calendar.
High-value donors fall into multiple categories, such as: major donors, members,5 recurring donors, and prospects identified through prospect research. When inviting these types of donors, your strategy needs to be a little more personal.
Consider these tips for inviting those important donors you really want to show up:
- Handwritten, phone, or in-person invitation: It’s easy to send an evite. It takes more effort to write out an invitation by hand, pick up the phone, or schedule a meetup over coffee. Show your donors you’re willing to put in the effort to invite them to attend.
- Previous engagement: A highly effective way to encourage previous major donors to consider another large donation is to emphasize the positive impact their past donations, event attendance, or leadership has had.
- Incentives: Offer special benefits to your most valuable attendees, such as the best seat in the house, special access to any performers or speakers, discounts on ticket price, or an extra members-only-discount ticket for a friend.
The last incentive also packs an additional punch: when a high-value attendee brings along a friend and gives them the VIP treatment, that friend will now be interested in getting more involved in this organization.
4. Incentivize new donors.
If you’re really looking to boost attendance to your next fundraising event, you’re going to need to reach outside of your existing network. That means casting a wide net and reaching out to some people who might not have thought of donating to your nonprofit before.
But you never know which future donors out there haven’t given to your organization yet because they just need a little push. A spectacular fundraising event is a great push for would-be donors who need to get excited about something specific before devoting time, energy, and money to your cause.
Some event elements are sure to attract anyone, like a celebrity appearance or a fantastic performance. But you don’t want to blow your budget just to tempt new attendees.
These event add-ons will entice new donors without costing you much at all or taking up too much of your time to arrance:
Priority registration or discounts.
- A free meal or drink ticket.
- Member benefits for nonmembers invited by friends.
- Special recognition at the event, such as a pin or a chance to stand up and be acknowledged.
- Special recognition on social media or your website.
Remember that before you can show them the benefits of attending your event, you have to get new donors interested. Social media is great, but you can’t rely just on those platforms to spread the word.
A great way to connect with potential new donors is through direct communication with the attendees you know will champion your cause and encourage their own social circles to attend your event.
Reach out to that group of attendees, whether that’s the first 100 to register or your membership pool, and provide them with promotional fundraising letter templates to share via email, text, or social media.6
There are new donors waiting to give to your organization, you just need to extend the right invitation to get them excited about your fundraising event!
5. Follow up promptly.
The end of your event isn’t the end of your work. You should always reach out again afterward to thank your donors for attending.7
Following up doesn’t just make your attendees feel good; it also encourages them to return next year and tell their friends to come, too.
Make sure you include the following in your post-event email to all attendees:
- Thank you: Always start by saying thank you, in generic terms for your general attendees and referencing specific gifts for major donors.
- Statistics from the event: Share how much you raised and the impact those funds will have on your cause. Post these numbers on social media, too!
- Perks: If you passed any milestones that came with a perk, like a corporate match or a gift for attendees, follow up about the delivery.
- Invitations to membership: If your nonmembers had a great time at your event, they might consider joining your membership program while the fun memories are fresh.
- Survey: Include a link to a survey to collect thoughts and suggestions before your attendees forget too much.8
The survey is one of the most important elements of your follow-up email. You want to show your attendees that you value their feedback, not just their donations. Plus, they might have suggestions for future events that you’d never thought of before or praise for your organization that you can use to promote next year’s event.
From invitations to follow-ups, your event attendance relies on the image you project to potential attendees. If you provide the right incentives and communicate them well, your next fundraising event is sure to exceed its goal!
And don’t forget to check out these additional resources before getting started planning your next event: