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The "80-20 rule" — a.k.a. the Pareto Principle — is evident in many lines of business, and event fundraising is no exception. Time after time, we see that most of the money raised comes from a small number of participants.
A majority of the lower-performing event participants consists of zero-balance performers. Most organizations vastly overestimate the number of fundraisers they have — and vastly underestimate their number of zeros. So knowing where you're at is the first step.
Some charities write off the cost of non-activators as education or raising awareness. But the fact is, each zero-balance participant is both:
Your organization can do better. But it takes planning and commitment.
What to Do Before the Event
Many organizations spend lots of time worrying about zero-dollar performers and less time figuring out how to get more money from people who've already bought into the mission. While we want to get non-performers off the dime, the best first step is usually to maximize fundraising of non-zeroes first. Then go after zeroes.
When you assess the size of this segment, a high percentage of zeroes might signal a few different things:
One way to minimize zero-dollar participants is to make sure you're speaking to each participant in a more personal way, meeting them where they're at, to try to encourage activation. Get a sense of what's motivating people to participate by including two simple questions on the registration form:
As Jeff Shuck explained in the past, we use a five-point model to describe why someone might participate (in ascending strength of affinity):
Segment registrants by their affinity driver and cause connection, then conditionalize messaging to them that acknowledges those motivations. A robust communication plan can follow their behavior leading up to the event and automate cultivation. This will leave time for staff to perhaps execute more high-touch support programs for those who are more deeply engaged and activating (e.g. team captains, past participants who were high performers, survivors and current top performers).
As you study your event data, you'll likely see your highly-engaged top performers are driven by an affinity to the cause or organization and have a direct connection to the cause. Consider creating a unique cultivation program for those registrants, and let the CRM system handle the no-to-low performers.
Don't, however, underestimate the need for strong messaging to that latter segment. It's always possible that through compelling language and a moving participant experience, they'll move up the affinity ladder.
What to Do After the Event
We strongly recommend surveying zero-balance participants post-event, with the goal of discovering how to activate such participants in the future. If not already known from the registration form, ask questions like these:
Based on what you learn, you can craft subsequent communications to encourage participating in and activating at next year's event. The key is to use strong messaging that conveys things like the importance of your cause, the impact of your organization and the fundraising efforts made by model participants.
Lastly, as I wrote about last month, be smart about how you use registration fees and fundraising minimums. Both can help weed out potential zero-balance performers or at least cover their cost of participation.
No event is fully immune to zero-balance participants. However, we can be smart about how much time we spend trying to activate them by recognizing their connection and gauging their interest in fundraising.
"Meghan's Strategy Lab" blog posts are featured monthly. Vice president, fundraising strategy Meghan Dankovich serves as the lead for many of Event 360's consulting engagements, striving to help nonprofits exceed their event fundraising goals. Her expertise includes strategic planning, implementation of qualitative fundraising work and developing successful quantitative approaches for collecting and analyzing event-related data.