Build it and we might come.

Make it extraordinary and we will come back.

For the past six years, I have been in the event fundraising world, working directly with thousands of participants in Susan G. Komen San Diego 3-Day for the Cure – a 60 mile fundraising event series.  I often hear from them in the weeks immediately following their life-changing 3-Day journey – still euphoric about their accomplishment, and ready to do it again next year!

I completely understand their enthusiasm – in November my husband and I will participate in our twelfth 3-Day event. We are the poster children for the loyal repeat participants that every non-profit dreams of. What brings us back year after year? Here is my formula for building a loyal repeat participant base for your event…

  1. Create favorable first impressions. My first year’s experience was extraordinarily emotional and engaging – from the moment I arrived at Opening Ceremonies, through Closing Ceremonies three days later. From well-placed signage to helpful staff and support services, plan your event with an eye focused on the participants’ perspective – exceed our expectations and we will be eager to relive the experience again – and again.
  2. Acknowledge why we participate. Your event is drawing participants with a variety of connections – their affinity – to your cause. Gather this data during the registration process and analyze your constituent base – then create your event programming accordingly.
  3. Address common misconceptions about repeat fundraising. Debunk the myths about repeat donors. The all too common misconception is that it is harder to ask your donors to support you over multiple years. Our data indicates that repeat donors on average give more over the years than less. Offer creative fundraising strategies for repeat participants and proactively address their “fundraising fatigue” myths.
  4. Keep us informed. Build a comprehensive – and segmented email communication plan that targets specific participant groups. We appreciate acknowledgement of our registration and an outline of our next steps, with easy instructions for accessing our online resources.  We are not pleased if we receive an email encouraging us to start our fundraising if we have, in fact, already met – or exceeded our fundraising goal. Don’t forget us after our event, either. A thank you email (and link to a post-event survey) gives us a sense of accomplishment for our fundraising and participation efforts.
  5. Ask our opinion – and plan future events with this feedback in mind. Post event surveys allow us to share our suggestions. While it is indeed unrealistic to implement every suggestion, look for constructive feedback and make smart changes.
  6. Encourage team building. Team affiliations create important support networks among participants and can lead to increased retention numbers. Offer short term team registration incentives and encourage repeat participants to “sell” your event to their friends and family.
  7. Incentivize registration fees. Let us register for the upcoming year while we are still basking in the warm afterglow of our most recent participant experience. Offer an early registration discount to capture repeat participants.

Repeat participants are among your strongest cause and event advocates.  Make our first event memorable and we will return. Nurture our loyalty and you will be rewarded in a strong repeat participant community.

Paula and her husband are pictured above.

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