The current state of the world has turned so many aspects of events on their head. We’ve all been challenged. We’ve been forced to cancel or postpone or virtualize (that’s a word now, right?) events. We’ve had to pivot and figure out how to safely do the work we all love doing. Because never has it been more important for our clients to raise the lifesaving funds their participants bring into their organization.

There have been equal ways in which this “special time” has been frustrating and encouraging. The anxiety of so many unknowns has been hard to stomach. But the ways in which our industry has collaborated has been incredibly motivating. Most of all, seeing the commitment our participants make towards their individual fundraising and showing up for their event communities has been nothing short of inspiring.

Last month I wrote a blog post about fundraising in the time of COVID-19. In it I shared that we’ve witnessed firsthand how people’s mindset around fundraising shifted a few months into the pandemic. “We were encouraged that people had room in their heads and hearts for both the immediate needs of COVID-19 and the various causes that we work to support.”

In our work with Susan G. Komen, as we looked to support and encourage all Komen 3-Day participants with their fundraising efforts, we took a step back to figure out the best way to give them the motivation they needed to start or continue their fundraising. We knew we couldn’t rely only on tactics we’ve used in the past, even if we were planning on using the same format (a webinar) to get information out to them.

As a fundraising professional who walks the walk/rides the ride (which you can read about here and here), I knew it wasn’t going to be a winning strategy to talk at the participants about how they could and should devise their own fundraising plans. As much as we at Event 360 have learned as fundraisers and event professionals over the years, we felt strongly that the best way to convey successful fundraising strategies to 3-Day participants was to let them learn from their fellow participants. As event professionals, we needed to spotlight those most critical to the lifeblood of the event – our participants.

We are in unchartered territory here and fundraisers need to hear firsthand accounts from fellow participants who are actively fundraising to know that they too can do this. To achieve this, we designed this fundraising webinar: “How to Fundraise During a Global Pandemic​, With a Little Help From Your Friends”:

The focus of this webinar was:

  • We identified four participants who have been actively fundraising since we announced the events were going to be postponed until 2021. They’ve successfully raised money when both they and their donors know that the event is more than a year out. The timing of their fundraising success matters so we can illustrate just how possible it is to fundraise in the current climate and not wait until next year.
  • We chose participants whose fundraising strategies would inspire other participants to try what they’ve put into practice. We steered away from run-of-the-mill fundraising strategies like a simple but effective Facebook Fundraiser campaign because we wanted attendees to have some new fundraising tactics to consider. Diversity in fundraising strategy is key. You want to give people something to try even if they’ve been doing this for a long time. So find participants with varied and unique fundraising methods.
  • There was a wide range of experience within those four speakers. We had a first-time walker and a participant who has raised more than any other in the history of the 3-Day series. It’s important to appeal to all participants by making sure they can recognize themselves in the people presenting to them. This makes it more possible that they’ll be willing to try what they’re hearing from people who are in a similar position.

Having participants who are actively fundraising take the lead means we can take a little bit of time to listen to what they’re saying and use it as an opportunity to remind everyone of the fundraising tools available to them and, of course, of the basics of fundraising. As a reminder, these basics are: Ask, don’t make assumptions, be willing to step outside of your comfort zone, follow-up, acknowledge and thank right away.

Right now, it’s important that the successes you share with your participants are ones that other participants are currently experiencing. Event fundraisers need to know how to be successful by picking up tips and tricks from their event peers who are actively raising money right now. And it’s best to provide the platform to have them hear directly from those participants.

Apart from doing this via hosting a participant-led fundraising webinar, we’ve also featured successful fundraising stories via the 3-Day blog and by giving participants the spotlight during our monthly social hours which take place via Zoom. All of this is then shared on social media as well. Having a few ways of turning the mic over to your participants across several platforms ensures more people are seeing and hearing this important message and, hopefully, are putting it into action by actively fundraising.

At the end of the day, events remain a driver for fundraising. While the execution of the event looks very different for most of us, we still have a responsibility to support people as they actively fundraise for the causes that are important to them. We need to be creative, sensitive, and proactive while getting participants on track. And I hope this simple suggestion of turning the spotlight onto your participants helps you make an even bigger impact during these uncertain times.

Molly Fast leads the company’s local operations for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day series and is privileged to work with Event 360’s participant-facing team. For over 15 years, Molly has been fortunate enough to combine her love of fundraising with the ability to make a difference in the work she does focusing on exceeding expectations and delighting participants along the way. When not roaming around Ireland, Molly can be found taking photos, exploring hidden stair cases or talking to strangers in Santa Monica where she lives with her husband. You can find Molly on  TwitterLinkedIn and her favorite social media tool, Instagram.

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