Later this week, event fundraisers from across North America will be gathering in Dallas, Texas for the 4th Annual Run Walk Ride Fundraising conference.  At last year’s conference, Event 360 and Convio unveiled five best practices that correlate to higher fundraising growth. We’ll be revisiting these five tips each day this week.

Today’s tip: Recruit participants effectively, because participants are fundamental to driving the overall number of gifts to an event.

Overall, better fundraising performance is highly correlated to growth in gift count. Simply put, more donations result in more money. Participants are a key part of that result, because in event fundraising, it is the participants, rather than the nonprofit, who solicit the donations. So driving participation is the basic building block of all fundraising events. However, as noted in the opening section, participation growth alone is not a guarantee of fundraising growth. Events are most effective when the participant base is highly likely to become fundraisers.

But how are organizations supposed to know which prospective participants will become fundraisers? Start by looking at what you know about your constituents already. Begin by reaching out to your team captains, past participants who were fundraisers, and constituents who have exhibited passion for your mission. Seek out people who have taken action in support of your mission, whether on your website or in other locations such as social networks. By targeting the people you know (or strongly suspect) will be naturally driven to take fundraising action for your particular mission can get the ball rolling quickly, and for organizations with limited funds for recruiting, this can make all the difference.

Also, a keen understanding of why people participate in your event can help you recruit more effectively.  Is it the cause (AIDS or breast cancer), the community (an understanding environment for autistic children), the activity (a marathon or stair climb), or the organization itself (World Wildlife Fund) that drive people to participate? One organization in the animal welfare space recognizes that their most passionate participants come to the event to show off their pet. They reorganized the rewards for fundraising to focus on highlighting the pet. They found the prospect of making their pet “famous” drove both new participation and more fundraising effort from existing participants. By understanding the primary reasons for participation, an organization can target each specific audience with language that speaks to their unique connection to the event, motivate them to be fundraisers and make “the ask,” and, ultimately, engage donors.

There is a caveat to this best practice, and it has to do with the event itself. Some events simply won’t get any bigger due to some external factor, like geography or the activity. For example, an event in a rural tri-county area may have already attracted the majority of the population. In these scenarios, the organization needs to focus their efforts on making the participants the best fundraisers they can be, and spend a little less time on attracting new participants.


Participants bring gifts, that much is clear from our findings. The key is recruiting the types of participants who will engage donors and therefore bring in gifts. What was identified in the research is that overall, the average number of gifts given is growing at 27%, but the 4th Quartile exceeded this rate by quite a bit, at 146% annual growth.

Considering average gifts per participant, we didn’t find a very wide range separating the quartiles.  The 1st Quartile has the highest average number of gifts per participant with four, while the 4th Quartile averages one gift per participant. Higher than average number of gifts per participant does not seem to correlate to higher growth in fundraising.

The average gift amount across the board is $62. Again, exceeding this average doesn’t correlate to higher fundraising growth. The 1st Quartile has an average gift amount of $79, while the 4th Quartile averages $55 per gift.

Accordingly, the average raised per participant is $127 overall. Again, it does not appear that exceeding this average necessarily leads to higher growth in fundraising. The 1st Quartile has the highest average amount raised with $352, compared to $82 for the 4th Quartile.

Many may see the fact that 1st Quartile organizations having higher average per participant statistics as illogical. Based on our experience, it is actually a common phenomenon. Because participation growth is so tightly linked with gift volume growth and thus fundraising growth, our 4th Quartile organizations typically have high participation growth rates. As overall participation grows so does the number of low or non-fundraising participants, which tends to drag down the average per participant figures, even though overall gift counts increase with event size.

Team gifts are growing as a percentage of the overall number of gifts given. In fact, the 4th Quartile is the only quartile to see a significant trend towards more team gifts, indicating at least some correlation between team gifts and faster fundraising growth.

All in all, the primary goal is connecting donors to the event through participants — increasing the number of participants will increase the number of gifts, which will lead to higher funds raised.

Adapted from Join the Race: A joint study by Convio and Event 360 with support from the Run Walk Ride Council, analyzing the best practices for increasing performance of nonprofit team fundraising events. Download the full white paper here.

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