Fundraising, Part 3: Focusing on growth from special events

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This article, the last of three, is from a report written for Blackbaud, which asked me to look at fundraising strategies that nonprofits have found to be effective.]

The American Diabetes Association decided in recent years that it wanted growth in revenue from special events to outpace growth in fundraising overall.

To make that happen, the Alexandria, Va.-based organization has invested heavily in new positions and tools to support online fundraising and engagement.

It also has focused on supporting individuals it identifies as having the greatest potential for giving or raising money, and it has worked to engage corporate sponsors.

“We did really take a very focused approach in terms of online fundraising, communications and tools,” says Shana Masterson, national associate director for interactive fundraising and engagement for the American Diabetes Association.

The investment has paid off: Last year, revenue from special events grew 16 percent, outpacing growth in its fundraising overall, with revenue from its two signature events growing at rates of 18 percent and 15 percent, respectively, and ranking second and third in the rate of growth among all events in the U.S. ranked by the Run Walk Ride Fundraising Council.

Online support for special events

In the year ended Dec. 31, 2011, the American Diabetes Association generated nearly $49 million combined from events, or nearly a fourth of the just over $208 million the organization received in contributed income.

In 2012, the Association raised just over $24 million from Step Out, holding 123 walks throughout the U.S. that attracted over 120,000 participants, and it raised $26.5 million from Tour de Cure, holding 88 cycling events that attracted 62,000 participants.

Helping to drive that revenue, says Masterson, has been TeamRaiser, a Blackbaud tool that supports peer-to-peer fundraising for events.

“A good amount of our revenue is sourced to participants who are asking friends and family to support their efforts for each event,” she says “We really do encourage participants to sign up for events online using the TeamRaiser system.”

The Association asks participants to use the tool to set a goal; create a personal or team webpage, or both; personalize the page with their reason for riding or walking; and reach out to their networks of family and friends, either through branded emails that include a button or link to their webpages, or through other social media applications they can access at “participant centers” that provide support for Step Out and Tour de Cure.

The Association also works with Charity Dynamics, using its Boundless Fundraising Facebook application that ties in with the TeamRaiser tools and centers, allowing participants to automatically post on Facebook information that links to their TeamRaiser donation form.

Customer support for online tools

To provide more support for participants in events, the Association has invested in staff, one-on-one trainings, documented instructions, webinars, videos and other ways to help people learn to make more productive use of its online tools and centers, Masterson says.

Her own position, for example, was created two years ago.

The Association also has created about 15 positions for online managers, some by reallocating existing positions, to provide online fundraising and communications support for event managers whose job is to build relationships with teams and participants in a number of local walks and tours and support their fundraising efforts.

“Our event managers are very focused on helping people not only use their tools but use them better, more frequently, to really get to know how to use their Step Out and Tour centers to raise more funds,” Masterson says.

The Association also worked with Charity Dynamics to develop mobile apps that let participants raise money using their phones.

“People are not 100 percent desktop anymore,” Masterson says. “We’re providing them with tools they can use on Facebook. They might use that more often then email. We’re expanding to where people are, being able to fundraise while standing in line in their grocery store.”

The Association also worked with Charity Dynamics to make its Step Out site “100 percent responsive,” featuring separate designs for optimal viewing on desktop computers, tablets and mobile devices, respectively.

“You make very distinct choices about what the design will look like for each of those platforms,” Masterson says.

After rolling out the redesigned platforms for its Step Out site in March, the Association plans to roll out redesigned platforms for its Tour sites this summer.

Customer support for VIP participants, corporate sponsors

Another key to the Association’s strategy for boosting revenue from events has been to identify “VIP” participants who are more likely to raise money, and to increase support for their fundraising work.

Those participants include team captains; “Champions to Stop Diabetes” or participants who raise $1,000 or more for a Step Out or Tour team; and “Red Riders” and “Red Striders,” or participants who have diabetes.

“We made a strategic decision to concentrate on these people in assisting them with their fundraising because they have more fundraising potential,” Masterson says.

Over the last few years, the Association has recruited thousands of “Champions to Stop Diabetes” and its VIP strategy overall has been a key factor in fundraising growth for its Step Out and Tour events, she says.

Also key has been a heightened effort to work with companies to form teams and sponsor events, including both national and particularly local sponsors, she says.

The Association also has offered employers its “Stop Diabetes @ Work” program, which includes a range of tools to complement their in-house wellness programs.

And it has stepped up its customer service to local companies to reinforce the value the Association adds to the companies in return for their investment in sponsoring its events.

The series:

Part 1: Revenue dips for healthcare, medical research

Part 2: Investment in capacity pays off

Part 3:  Focusing on growth from special events

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