Getting attendees engaged in event activities is the key to increasing contributions and securing commitments that will support your nonprofit’s work over the long term.
Creating an event that delivers your fundraising message while emerging your guests in an all-encompassing experience will develop a deeper level of engagement that encourages giving long after the event concludes.
Inspiring your attendees to fully immerse themselves in the guest experience happens before, during, and even after the event. Theme, activities, speakers, catering, and every aspect of your planning can take them further into a sensory experience that will leave them moved to throw their support behind your work. Working towards that goal will not only improve the event and increase your return on investment, you will also generate a shared ambition of turning goals into reality. To stay on track we suggest a holistic view of event planning that leverages every advantage, from start to finish, to engage with potential donors.
Generating awareness and beginning the experience potential begins with succinct and compelling pre-event messaging. Regular communications conveying an effective message can increase excitement and visibility long before the day of the event.
- Create a list of benefits that will connect with potential attendees, providing them with the shared goal they can get behind and the reasons why it’s is an event they should participate in. Pull from this list to come up with enticements for your traditional and digital marketing campaigns.
- They say it takes five to seven marketing pieces to get the attention of the public. Have a discussion with your team about which of the many promotional channels could be most effective in gaining an audience’s attention. A traditional mailing campaign, plus advertising in a local newspaper or on television would be effective if your audience is less active on the internet. If you want to reach a younger demographic you may choose a social media campaign combined with an email drip campaign. Combining a few of these tactics will help you reach different groups more effectively.
- Social media and email drip campaigns provide a second opportunity to get an early start on giving. Provide a call-to-action and a direct link to your website or funding page so recipients need only to click over to make their pre-event donation. This is particularly necessary if they are unable to attend but still have a desire to contribute.
- Always provide a link to your website, whether in traditional media pieces, digital communications, or through one-on-one conversation. Providing a way for potential attendees to find more information will move them a step forward toward registration.
- Phone trees can be a very effective way to present your organization’s needs and initiatives, and establish a personal connection with high-level contributors. Recruit board members to contact people within their circles who would be interested in attending or contributing and keep track of all the contact information for future use when those board members move on.
Implementing a cross-media approach, both print, and digital communications will ensure that your message reaches further and more often well in advance of your registration deadlines.
At the Event
According to research, engaging more than one sensory experience will create a deeper impression and clearer understanding of any information taken in, making it up to five times more memorable than through words alone. A fundraising event is the perfect setting to leverage this innate behavior through the creative, immersive experience you and your team have planned.
- Your choice of event theme of the event plays a significant role in almost everything else you will plan. Its significant role affects all other areas of planning and dictates the effectiveness of the immersive experience. Pick one that is complementary of your core message and versatile enough to be interpreted through the sights, sounds, and tastes you plan for the night.
- The look of your venue will have the first and perhaps largest impact on your guests. Create an atmosphere that exudes the type of evening you have planned. Pull from your theme, incorporate special features, such as lighting, statement walls, or water features, and reinforce your theme in multiple ways. Think outside the box to create out of the ordinary spaces within your venue. On-site branding can include signs, wall coverings, and projected images repeated around the venue.
- If you are hosting a catered event discuss your plans for the event with the chef as you choose your food and drink menu. Whether you are planning a casual buffet-style event or a formal dining experience, their expertise will help you choose dishes that will enhance the theme of the night with a table that is beautiful and delicious.
- Music is a powerful tool that can be used as a memory trigger and can induce an emotional response long after the event concludes. Implementing music as either a background feature for ambiance or up front as the main event, as in a concert or dance performance, will add another memorable layer to the experience.
- Activities can range from serious to fun at a fundraising event. If your desire is to provide a fully immersive experience choose activities that will encourage audience participation. You can do that by hosting a speaker or presentation that dives deeper into topics related to your work or finding interactive activities. This can be done through games, raffles, and silent auctions. If you are hosting a speaker encourage them to include visuals, quizzes, music, and activities that require audience participation, perhaps through an app. Not only will it be a better experience for your attendees, it may also give you better insight into what type of person is most engaged with the message.
- Connect with your guests virtually through event apps to ensure participation and pave the way for easy communication. There are many tools your guests will enjoy, including agendas and maps, messaging and response tools, surveys and polling, networking, and social media sharing.
Keep in mind that what you do at your event will influence whether or not people want to continue their support of your goals.
Engagement doesn’t end at the event’s conclusion. Use the data collected through the registration process and continue the conversation with a thank you email that includes an invitation to volunteer or to give through an automatically recurring donation. Include images from the night in the emails, printed materials, your website, newsletters, and on your social media accounts throughout the year.
On a final note, keeping detailed records compiled in meaningful reports will help you discover what worked best throughout the event. Just as important, they will also tell you what aspects were not as effective. When next year’s planning begins you’ll be one step closer to maximizing attendee participation.