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What to Keep in Mind When Considering On-line Tools for Your Event

Organizations holding fundraising events such as walks, auctions, and golf tournaments are using on-line tools to lower costs and minimize time spent tracking the details of attendance.

Are e-mail invitations and on-line registration right for your event? What is involved? Here are some things to consider:

E-mail Invitations

E-mail management programs are easy to use and are more flexible for bulk e-mail distribution than a standard Outlook or AOL program for mass e-mail communication.

The cost of an e-mail save-the-date and invitation to your donors is small compared to the cost of production, printing, and postage for a direct-mail invite. Mailed invitations also lack the response-tracking capability of e-mail campaigns, in which you can learn immediately how many e-mails bounced, how many people opened the message, and which links they visited. With this knowledge, it is easy to set benchmarks for improvement and target specific invitees for follow-up. As a best practice, consider cutting postage costs by sending an e-mail invite to all of your donors first and then following up with a printed invite to those who have not already submitted an RSVP.

Consider giving donors the option to receive information via e-mail or regular mail. Explain to donors that e-mail reduces overhead costs. Your donors will appreciate your effort to maximize the value of the money they contribute.

E-mail campaigns can generate buzz and awareness for your event and can be used to reach out to donors who cannot attend but would still like to donate on-line. You may be surprised by the dollars you raise from people who cannot attend your event. State your mission and always give your donors another option to help. Use verbiage like "Can't attend the event? Click here to donate."

Promoting Your Event

If you have an e-newsletter, mention your event and provide a link to your Web site for donors to purchase tickets or learn more. Also, remember to test your message. The key to a successful e-mail campaign is preparation and refinement. Your presentation and message will help determine the response rate for your e-mail. If you have time, develop several options and poll a few people as to which message is most appropriate. Ignoring this step may lead to fewer attendees and less revenue.

Send invitations early. Always include the basic event details at the top of your message and remember to notify donors in the subject line that the e-mail is an official invitation. Include your mission statement and a link to your privacy policy to assure recipients that the e-mail is a legitimate broadcast from your organization.

Plan on sending out follow-up e-mails—one customized to those who have responded and one customized for those who have not. Consider rewarding those who RSVP early. The sooner you know how many people will attend your event, the easier it will be for event night planners and the more control you will have over your costs.

After Your Event

Always survey your donors about your event. Simple questions can be asked, such as "How can we make next year's event better?" or "How well did we express our organization's mission during the event?" It is difficult to conduct a survey during the event. A better approach is to e-mail guests a survey after the event in conjunction with a thank you and summary of the event's success. Emphasize to guests the value of their feedback.

On-line Registration

In your e-mail and regular invitations provide the option to register for the event on-line. You will eliminate the cost of including a pre-printed RSVP card and envelope as well as provide registration information quickly.

If your site already is equipped to process donations, the addition of a registration page should be relatively straightforward. If you are not currently accepting donations on-line, this may be the right opportunity to implement an Internet strategy that covers year-round giving capabilities as well as registration for events.

Set a goal to register a percentage of your invitees on-line. The target number of on-line registrations will be related to event size, donor habits, and how well you communicate your message. By setting registration benchmarks specific to your event and making increased on-line registration a goal, you should have no trouble increasing the on-line volume from one event to the next.

If you are looking for a vendor to help you implement on-line registration, consider asking the following questions:

  • What is included with the service? One page or multiple pages?
  • Can the pages be customized? For example, if you are holding a benefit golf tournament, can you request shirt size information on the registration page?
  • How are the transactions deposited into your account? How often?
  • What reporting functionality is included? For example, will you be able to access daily reports on the number of registrants?
Your donors' comfort level with on-line transactions has probably been growing over the past few years. The use of the Internet for donating to tsunami relief demonstrated that donors expect nonprofit organizations to offer the convenience of on-line giving. You will need to consider the profile of your guests and gauge their willingness to register on-line. If you already direct donors and interested parties to your Web site for information and if you already offer an on-line donation capability, registering on-line makes sense for you.

Five Tips to Using On-line Tools for Special Events

  1. Always collect donor data and update your records. Ask for e-mail addresses and permission to use them.
  2. Promote your Web site with every form of communication, including your direct mail, phone conversations, and e-mail messages. Make it the place to go for the latest information about events, fundraising campaigns, and organization news.
  3. Create a standard e-mail signature template for you, your colleagues, and volunteers; include general contact information and a follow-up teaser. For the teaser, you can say, "Click here to sign up for our e-mail newsletter" or "Click here to register on-line for our Annual Dinner Auction on May 22."
  4. Train staff and volunteers to conclude phone conversations by reminding people of the event and pointing them to your Web site for more information.
  5. Get others to spread the word for you. Ask partners, peers, colleagues, etc. to reach out to everyone in their core groups and plug your event via their own e-mail list or bulletin board service. To do this effectively, you may want to write a short description about the event with the usual who, what, when, where, and why. Remember to include your Web site URL for further information about the event.


Many nonprofit organizations are enjoying the benefits of using the Internet to supplement or replace traditional methods of inviting and registering guests and donors to fundraising events. When assessing the relative merits of these tools for your organization, remember that it is okay to start small and build over time.

Lisa Hannah and Max Arbow, Auctionpay, April 2005
© 2005, Auctionpay

Lisa Hannah is director of marketing and Max Arbow is a product specialist for Auctionpay. Auctionpay streamlines benefit events and on-line fundraising for nonprofits. Auctionpay works with nonprofits to create a better experience at charity auctions and other fundraising events by automating and improving key processes before, during, and after events. Its services include on-line registration and donation, event management software, and on-site payment processing. Auctionpay serves more than 2,500 clients in all 50 states and is headquartered in Portland, Oregon, with offices in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Dallas, Austin, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, and San Diego. For more information, call (800) 276-5992 or visit
Topics: Fundraising