Meghan DankovichAre fundraising minimums a) unnecessary barriers to participation, or b) useful elements of an effective event fundraising strategy? I’ll go with Option B.

The primary argument against fundraising minimums — and registration fees as well — is that they scare off would-be participants. That’s true. And it’s a good thing.

When you set a fundraising minimum, you weed out the people who lack the commitment, time or network to make an impact through your event. Raising the minimum might not affect registration numbers much, but you might see more people dropping out once they register. You’re left with participants who are more likely to make a real difference for your cause by contributing to the success of your event.

In terms of separating the wheat from the chaff, registration fees serve a similar role as minimums. By setting a price floor, they send a message that the participant experience has value and is worth paying for — uncommitted people need not apply. As a result, you’re likely to see a drop in participation but an increase in overall dollars raised.

Sponsors and media may get caught up in high participant numbers. But your event can only succeed if you minimize the number of people making minimal contributions. I’ll take a smaller number of high-impact participants over the opposite scenario any day.

Arriving at the Right Numbers
There is longstanding research in the consumer space about how prices create perceived value. It’s the same with events. When we tell a participant they can come for free, how much do you think they value the experience? 

Once you’ve decided to have a fundraising minimum and/or registration fee, determining the figures is an art and a science. First of all, see what similar events in your area are doing. Second, compare your event with similar events and consider whether you offer any additional value that would justify higher numbers.

Finally, if yours is a well-established event, look at past performance. If participants generally reach the minimum with little trouble, maybe it’s time to up the ante. Perhaps you can raise the minimum across the board. Or, maybe there are certain obvious breakpoints where you can push the minimum higher and create communities of “super performers” within your event.

In some cases, conversely, you may want to drop the minimum to make it more attainable — e.g. if very few participants are activating. With the proper messaging, this can reset the participant mindset around the importance of raising funds and foster a fundraising culture.

One note of caution: Don’t adjust the minimum every year. Through strong execution of a recognition program around fundraising, you’ll make successful achievement of certain goals attractive to some participants. Constantly changing the goal minimizes its meaning and could be demotivating.

Regarding registration fees: We’ve used price elasticity models to help determine the figure at which we begin to lose too many participants to make it worthwhile. You, too, should use financial models in setting that price point.

It All Comes Back to the Mission
As you can probably guess by now, I’m a strong proponent of always having a registration fee and fundraising minimum (whether it’s required or strongly suggested).

It’s easy to justify a registration fee because it helps a worthwhile nonprofit like yours to cover the cost of holding the event. No one can argue with that logic.

A fundraising minimum, in contrast, is all about helping your organization meet its mission — and you should articulate this point to participants. For example, “By raising $750, you’ll fund six months of lifesaving medications needed by someone battling this disease.” That’s a tangible, mission-related outcome that participants can get their arms around.

At Event 360, we believe fundraising minimums and registration fees make good financial sense. In fact, every time we’ve seen a minimum and/or registration fee implemented, there’s been an improvement in overall event performance. Take the chance and see for yourself!

Vice president, fundraising strategy Meghan Dankovich serves as the lead for many of Event 360’s consulting engagements, striving to help nonprofits exceed their event fundraising goals. Her expertise includes strategic planning, implementation of qualitative fundraising work and developing successful quantitative approaches for collecting and analyzing event-related data.

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