Laurie SchaecherMost event fundraising professionals believe past participants make for the best fundraisers. But it’s not that simple. Identifying those participants who are most likely to fundraise in the future requires a more nuanced analysis.

Our industry places past participants on a pedestal. The assumption is that these people have shown an interest in your cause and, with careful and continual nurturing, will consistently raise money for your organization in the years ahead.

Putting all past participants into one bucket, however, is a big mistake. In order to improve your fundraising results, you need to segment this group and target your efforts accordingly.

Segmentation Is the Key
Here’s what it comes down to: Someone is likely to be a good fundraiser not if she has just participated in your event before, but if she has participated and raised money.

As you segment past participants, that’s the first thing you should look for. Participants who have raised money before are mostly likely to do it again. These are the relationships you should be cultivating throughout the year, every year.

The second thing you should look for is connection to your organization and/or cause. (Check out my colleague Jeff Shuck’s post on the importance of affinity in event fundraising.) If a past fundraiser also scores well on this test, then you’ve struck gold.

Anyone who doesn’t meet either of these first two criteria is far less likely to fundraise moving forward. You should still invite these people back to your event and keep in touch — but don’t target them with your high-touch communications. It would be a waste of time and money, as someone who raised nothing for you last year will probably raise nothing for you this year.

Addressing a Major Misconception
Let’s look at another common assumption among event fundraisers: If you can only get someone to participate in year 1, he’ll fundraise in year 2. That is, experiencing the event for the first time will inspire the participant to take the leap and raise money the next year.

It isn’t so.

Getting a participant to fundraise the first time around is critical. If you take advantage of this opportunity, you establish a good model for his future involvement. If you don’t, he’s likely to be a lost cause.

So clearly communicate to all participants, new and old, that raising money is expected (assuming, of course, you don’t have a fundraising minimum). Emphasize that these funds allow your organization to achieve its mission — which, ultimately, is what the event is all about.

And to reiterate my point from earlier, focus your limited resources on past fundraisers, not simply past participants. By doing this — and properly laying the groundwork with first-time participants — you’ll use your organization’s limited resources more wisely and make your events more successful.

Laurie Schaecher provides data analysis and strategy to both consulting engagements and internal events, including Susan G. Komen’s 3-Day for the Cure. She has 15 years of event fundraising experience as both a practitioner and a consultant. Prior to joining Event 360, Laurie was Deputy Executive Director of the New York City Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, overseeing all fundraising events including Team in Training and Light the Night. She has also lead teams focused on recruitment, marketing, fundraising performance, customer service, and volunteer coordination for events. Laurie holds a Bachelor of Arts from Middlebury College, and currently lives in North Carolina with her husband and 3 children.

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