If you told me four years ago that in 2013 Event 360 would be producing an event in 12 cities that required participants to run five miles across muddy and rocky terrain, through mud pits, over water obstacles, and up rope ladders, I would have laughed at you.

And I would have been wrong. Very wrong—I even participated in this event (MuckFest MS) last year and am planning on doing it again very soon.

Last week, I wrote about the rise of alternative event concepts. And as I prepare to head to Atlanta next week for the annual Run Walk Ride (RWR) Fundraising Conference, alternative events continue to capture my mind and my imagination.

There’s a simple reason mud runs, color runs, and other alternative events make great fundraising events: they allow participants to engage deeply with your mission through an experience.

Experience, mission, and impact also happen to be three points Event 360 CEO Jeff Shuck touched on during a recent event fundraising webinar.

1. Experience Matters

Depending on whom you talk with, technology can be a blessing or a curse. We are inundated with today’s digital noise — social media, email, RSS feeds, search engines, digital ads, texting and more. This overload is often impersonal, making people value human contact more than ever. That’s what we take away from the popularity of events like MuckFest MS, Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash, where participants find fulfillment by doing something experiential. And, often these events require human contact and teamwork as strangers help each other over walls and through water obstacles. Electronic communication is becoming tiresome and less fulfilling, so real, human, experience assumes greater value.

If you’re in event fundraising, you’ll be driving the growth of nonprofits for the next 10 years. And the experiences you help create will be the key to your success. Human contact will become an increasingly critical currency in our business.

Five or 10 years ago, people had to be convinced to get off the couch and do something. Today, with the influx of charity events —especially athletic ones —you have to give people something cool to do. This is demonstrated by the numbers: a simple walk program Jeff knows of is declining four percent a year, and the “mud space”, is growing 150 percent a year. People still want to do events, but they want to have fun and sometimes get dirty.

The lesson here? It’s becoming tougher to get people to do short walks, or at least to get them to raise significant sums of money doing short walks. Your job is to take smart risks, try new things and create desirable events for prospective participants. That’s where the action will be. (See this case study on how Cycle for Survival reinvented the charity ride.)

2. Mission Matters Even More

These days, charities aren’t the only ones looking to improve the greater good. Look at what many corporations and sports teams are doing now. They have massive foundations along with massive cause-marketing efforts. And they’re doing great things.

What does this mean for individuals at nonprofits? First of all, in order to be successful in your work, you have to believe in your mission and so does everyone else you work with. Does your cause keep you awake at night? Does thinking about solving it set your heart racing? If the answer is no, it’s going to be hard to fundraise.

Second, you must be able to articulate your mission – tell your story in a compelling and inspiring way. Unlike for-profits, after all, your ultimate goal isn’t making money or increasing brand share; it’s changing the world. That’s the key distinction between charities and corporations. So think: Can you clearly state your organization’s mission in your own sincere words? Can you tailor this message to individual contributors? You must, if you want to inspire people to support or volunteer for your cause.

3. Impact Trumps Both Experience and Mission

“Transparency” is more than just a buzz word – it’s a growing, necessary policy for both corporations and nonprofits. People already care less and less about how much money you’ve raised, and more and more about what great things you’re doing with the money. Donors want to know that their support truly makes a difference.

You used to be able to say that money will go to your “groundbreaking programs.” But that is no longer enough. What is the true impact of these programs and how does a donation assist in the execution of these programs? Whose lives did you touch or even save? Starbucks says 5% of every water bottle they sell goes toward building water wells. That’s really tangible.

Communicating impact is something all of us in event fundraising have to work on. Never mind segmentation, retention, attrition, concept development or social media. Being able to tell people what you’ll do with the money you’re asking them to give — that’s the silver bullet.

Going to be in Atlanta next week? Join Jeff Shuck and Jono Smith along with their Event 360 teammates Molly Fast, Tifani Geier, Suzanne Mooney, Kari Bodell, Laurie Schaecher, Katie Zupanic, Erin Fischer, and Susan Wynne for an evening of great conversation, food and drinks. RSVP here.


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