Nonprofit organizations of all sizes rely on fundraising events to keep their supporters engaged with their work during and between major fundraising campaigns. While nonprofit events come in all shapes and sizes, from formal galas and auctions to casual lunches and street fairs, the importance of smart planning strategies is a constant.
Today, boosting engagement with your events depends more than ever on the tech infrastructure and digital tactics that you build into your event planning process. Let’s walk through a few of the most reliable web-based strategies for boosting event engagement:
- Create unique event websites
- Focus on smarter platform integrations
- Provide intuitive digital features
- Create gamification elements and contests
- Conduct social media campaigns
- Look to your partner and sponsor networks
As a crucial element of donor engagement and retention, nonprofit events are more important than ever. Changing economic and philanthropic trends have resulted in declining numbers of low- and mid-level donors across the board. While major gifts may be growing, retaining a broad base of support is still essential for the health of any nonprofit.
At DNL OmniMedia we specialize in Blackbaud consulting services, but a large part of our work involves custom web development. We’ve seen firsthand the huge impact that smarter web-based strategies can have for organizations looking to boost donor engagement.
As the most direct form of donor and community engagement, nonprofit events are a crucial part of the retention equation. By implementing a few new digital strategies into your event planning, or even revamping your entire digital approach for events, you can start to see improvements in how your organization engages donors and attendees.
Let’s dive in:
1. Create unique websites or pages for your events
By now, every nonprofit understands the value of promoting their events online. Announcements on their main websites, in their email newsletters, and on their social media pages are an essential way to get the word out. Major events like galas, auctions, festivals, and ceremonies, however, require more promotion than just a few mentions and invitations. Instead, create a dedicated mini-website or section within your main site for events such as these.
Any event that requires considerable investment of time or resources to plan warrants its own site or page, especially if that event is part of a larger campaign.
The site should serve as a central resource leading up to the event. Donors and attendees should be able to learn more and register online, and your team should be able to harness all the data the site generates to make smarter planning decisions in real time.
For an idea of the level of utility and variety of features you should aim to include, explore our showcase of some of the top nonprofit websites that make use of smart design strategies.
2. Focus on integrating your digital platforms
This tip relates directly to the first about creating a dedicated event website or page, but it’s also a general nonprofit tech best practice. For organizations looking to shift away from traditional marketing strategies toward more digital techniques, it’s an essential.
Integrating the most important digital platforms that you use on daily basis will ensure that all your data can flow seamlessly from one task to the next. For projects with many moving parts (like fundraising events), this ability is invaluable. Consider any frustrations or pain points your team has experienced when working between these common types of software:
- CRM or donor database
- Digital marketing platform
- Event planning software
- Email management tools
Integrating these tools and platforms whenever possible can streamline your processes, freeing up your team to find and focus on new engagement opportunities.
For instance, if you create a dedicated event mini-site, make sure that any data it collects or generates gets reported directly to your CRM platform. Use this data to track engagement and gauge the success of your digital marketing efforts. Identify web traffic issues and areas for improvement to better engage your donors and prospective attendees.
3. Provide intuitive digital features when promoting your event
Providing useful features on your event site or page is an essential step in boosting engagement. Consider these examples:
- Easy registration tools with custom fields for food, seating, or other options
- Event-specific features like auction catalogs and text-to-give instructions
- Donation tools for those who can’t attend
- Photo galleries and videos of past events
Taking the time to consider what tools your donors might find useful and then providing them can dramatically improve the user experience and shows that you’re interested in innovation and improvement. Plus, when they’re configured to communicate directly with your CRM or marketing platforms, you can more efficiently prepare for the big day.
For example, one of the most popular online fundraising and digital marketing tools for nonprofits is the Luminate Online suite. Providing smarter tools like customized forms and peer-to-peer fundraising options on your website and then connecting them with the Luminate platform can significantly boost engagement and your ability to track it. Explore the case studies in our DNL Luminate Online consulting guide for more context.
Even if you don’t use a platform like Luminate Online, though, always consider how your event website’s features can offer more value for both your donors and your organization.
4. Create engaging gamification elements and contests
Online gamification elements and contests are a perfect way to boost engagement leading up to your event. When done well, this strategy can seriously strengthen your fundraising cycle by building deeper relationships with participants beyond just the feeling of having contributed to a good cause.
If your organization conducts peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns, games, contests, and interactive graphics are the perfect way to maintain engagement all the way to the grand finale event. One very straightforward (and extremely effective) example is the classic fundraising thermometer.
Even when not in the context of an organized peer-to-peer campaign, large scale, community-oriented fundraising events like these lend themselves easily to gamification techniques:
- Walkathons and 5Ks
- Large festivals or block parties
- Team sports or game tournaments
Fundraising contests with leaderboards and campaign trackers go a long way to keep up the energy, and incorporating bonus challenges, awards ceremonies, and special prizes into your events will get more of your supporters excited to attend.
5. Conduct engaging social media campaigns
Social media is an indispensable part of the nonprofit marketing landscape. You already take the time to maintain an active presence on a few platforms and promote your events to followers, but are you conducting effective promotional campaigns?
Consider the following strategies for boosting your social media efforts around upcoming events:
- Unique hashtags. Create a memorable tag for your event, and include it in all of your promotional posts. Ask followers to share your posts, and encourage guests to post their own pictures using the hashtag on the big day.
- User generated content. Build a social media campaign around asking for donor selfies, letting followers design and vote on your next Tt-shirt, or sharing touching stories about your mission’s impact.
- Develop a posting schedule. Using your marketing software, determine which days and times see the highest engagement with your social media posts. Build a post schedule that maximizes the visibility of your event promotions.
- Behind the scenes looks. Post pictures and stories to give followers a glimpse into your event planning process. Consider hosting a livestream of your team setting up for the big event.
Developing a highly engaging social media campaign can be particularly effective for promoting large-scale or heavily themed events. It’s also a smart way to tap into the energy around your end of the year giving campaigns.
6. Look to your online partner and sponsor networks
Very few nonprofit fundraising events are planned in a vacuum. You certainly rely on the support of your community and donors, but what about the vendors, in-kind donors, corporate sponsors, local governments, and grantmaking institutions that make your events possible?
You probably already take the time to thank them at your events, in your publications, and on your website. However, don’t miss the opportunity to leverage their support for greater visibility and promotion.
Remember that partnership or sponsorship provides benefits to the sponsoring party, as well! With the rise of corporate social responsibility, a positive image of caring about and supporting organizations in the community is invaluable for for-profit businesses.
Ask your sponsors to help with promoting your event. For instance, they might make a few posts on their own social media pages to promote your event. You might even partner to develop a small incentive program to encourage more members of your sponsor’s community to attend. Discounted tickets or a free T-shirt with a digital promo code are good examples.
Don’t forget the power of corporate matching gift programs to boost engagement, too. If your sponsor or partner offers matches, don’t forget to remind your attendees. According to Double the Donation’s matching gift statistics, one in three donors are willing to increase their gift when they know it’ll be matched.
Boosting engagement with your nonprofit’s fundraising events is an important goal, and your digital tools and platforms should support you along the way.
It’s more crucial than ever that organizations retain the support of a broad donor base, so look to your website, integrated systems, and online marketing strategies to keep your donors engaged and interested in supporting your mission.
Carl Diesing co-founded DNL OmniMedia in 2006 and has grown the team to accommodate clients with on-going web development projects. Together DNL OmniMedia has worked with over 100 organizations to assist them with accomplishing their online goals. As managing director of DNL OmniMedia, Carl works with nonprofits and their technology to foster fundraising, create awareness, cure disease, and solve social issues. Carl lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife, Sarah, and their two children, Charlie and Evelyn.