Events have been a mainstay in the nonprofit fundraising world for decades. If you’ve been in the nonprofit realm for a while (at least, the past two years or so), you’ve seen firsthand how these events have been shaken up, evolved, and adjusted due to the ongoing public health crisis. But even in the face of all of that adversity, they’ve still remained profitable for nonprofits!

Now that the mass “pivot” (everyone’s favorite word) of fundraising events has somewhat settled down, your team can begin creating plans for your fundraising strategy for the long run. If you want to continue growing your events to increase participation and raise more funds in 2022 and beyond, it’s time to introduce some forward-thinking fundraising event ideas into your strategy.

In this guide, we’re going to explore four innovative ideas through the following points:

  1. Modernize your events with the latest fundraising technologies.
  2. Meet guests where they are — on their phones.
  3. Use an event website to act as a one-stop shop.
  4. Think about your event in the long term.

Our team at Handbid specializes in helping nonprofits host stellar silent auctions, live auctions, and more. Because our expertise is in auctions— and because we think they’re a pretty awesome event type for nonprofits of all shapes and sizes— we’re going to explore today’s forward-thinking ideas from the auction lens.

However, if there’s not an auction on your nonprofit’s radar, don’t fret! Each of these tips can be applied to a wide range of unique fundraising ideas— really whatever event type suits your nonprofit’s fancy. So, in each tip, we’ll also cover ways that it can be used outside of the world of auction events.

With those disclosures out of the way, let’s dive into the first idea!

1. Focus first on planning an interesting event.

We can tell you all the tricks in the book, but the best way to keep supporters interested in your events is to simply plan interesting events. Think first about what type of event your guests want to attend; not what they will attend or what you can easily host on a quick timeline.

There’s nothing wrong with tried and true event strategies (after all, in the auction world, folks tend to love vacation packages and gift baskets), but think about how you can spice up your next event to add a little extra excitement.

For a fundraising auction, this could mean:

  • Thinking outside of the box with auction items. Think about ways that you can add in high-value items that drum up the excitement. Items should align with your guests’ interests and be hard for them to get elsewhere. Handbid’s guide to silent auction items provides examples that could work for various audiences. For example, it lists signed memorabilia and hard-to-get game tickets (a-la-Super Bowl) to engage sports fans!
  • Adding a creative spin to virtual events. We’ve all been hopping on Zoom links for at least two years now, for work, game nights, school recitals, and so on. Think about how you can switch up the virtual viewing experience, such as by mailing guests snacks or a meal to enjoy during the event. With a little preparation, a 2-D experience can be hands-on.

Now let’s think beyond the auction sphere. You could spice things up by combining two events (i.e. hosting a t-shirt fundraiser alongside a walk-a-thon) or taking an exciting variation on a classic (i.e. asking supporters to design the merch you’ll sell in your next product fundraiser).

And of course, don’t forget the fundamentals— as your event grows more complex, make sure it’s still easy for guests to join in on the fun. This might mean sharing instructions or having team members on hand, ready to help troubleshoot any issues. This could also mean having an easily accessible giving kiosk to allow for in-person credit card donations.

2. Meet guests where they are — on their phones.

Very little can come between some people and their phones, and you don’t want your event to struggle to compete for supporters’ attention.

The solution? Meet guests right where they are: on their phones.

You might already be using mobile technology to optimize your giving strategies in other areas, but did you know that there are mobile solutions that pair perfectly with your events? Here are just a couple of examples of how you can make your next fundraiser— auction or not— as mobile-friendly as possible:

  • Make the most of mobile bidding. Mobile bidding takes all the paperwork out of silent auctions by replacing pesky bid sheets with a fully mobile interface. Essentially, guests can place bids and counter bids, set max bids, and more all through their smartphones.
  • Accept text donations. Text messages are ubiquitous these days, and you could be missing out on a wealth of giving opportunities if you ignore this platform. By working with a secure text-to-give provider, you can make donating more convenient than ever by allowing supporters to give whatever they’d like directly on their smartphones.

While both of these services are designed to be simple for the user, make sure you fully explain the process to your donors before and during the event. You’ll want to let attendees know to bring their smartphones and have volunteers on hand to offer support if needed.

3. Use an event website to act as a one-stop shop.

Between social media, newsletters, direct mail, and your website, guests might get a little fuzzy on exactly what the details of your event are. Consider building a designated website for your fundraising event to create a one-stop shop for all of your attendees’ questions and needs.

For fundraising auctions, you can use a charity auction website to market and host your event. An auction website can improve the experience for your guests in a number of ways, including:

  • Allowing guests to browse auction items in advance. Have you ever looked online to find a restaurant’s menu before you went? When you see all of the yummy dishes, you probably pick one (or two, or three!) that you’ll have to ultimately decide between at the restaurant. It builds anticipation and makes you more excited for the experience. Your guests can experience the same excitement and start brainstorming their bidding strategy if your site has a preview of auction items!
  • Empowering guests to make bids and counter-bid online. Rather than pesky bid sheets (which can be easily stolen and tampered with— we’ve seen it happen!), auction guests can place digital bids through an auction website. They’ll even be notified when they’ve been outbid, increasing the competition!
  • Drastically simplifying the checkout process. No one— and we mean no one— wants to sit in line for 20+ minutes after an event to purchase their hard-won items. With a charity auction website, guests can check out right there on the site. Then, they bring their confirmation to your team and can pick up their item!

These benefits generally focus on how auction sites make the event better for guests in the moment. But, a fundraising website can be a really helpful tool for your team when it comes to marketing your event before it starts and growing your audience, as well. You should be able to brand the site to match your organization, including logos, images, and your carefully chosen color scheme. And, you can promote items — such as sharing links to particularly eye-catching items in your marketing communications.

Beyond auctions or fundraisers that involve the sale of something (i.e. t-shirts, popcorn, etc.), a website is valuable for communicating general participation information. Make sure your event website includes the time, date, location, and if applicable (such as if you’re hosting a fancy gala), the attire for your fundraiser. A place to register or purchase tickets is a must-have. And, if your event includes peer-to-peer fundraising, include a link to where supporters can set up their donation pages.

4. Think about your event in the long term.

So, let’s say you’re at the end of the event. Picture lots of smiling faces and an achieved fundraising goal (with some to spare!). Although your team is ready to close up shop, don’t kick your feet up just yet— successful fundraisers don’t end when the doors close.

Adjust your view of your event guests, viewing them as future long-term supporters rather than one-time event attendees. With this mindset, your event is just step one on a long road of support and engagement! And, what you do at the end of the event (or, right after it) is key to ensuring that the road is happy and metaphorical pothole-free.

Here are a few ways to use your fundraising event as a chance to steward your donors now and down the road:

  • Make commitment easy and accessible. Give event guests an opportunity to commit to ongoing support at the end of your event. This could mean having a recurring gift table or sharing resources about other upcoming events, volunteer opportunities, or matching gifts.
  • Follow up immediately and personally when the event ends. As a baseline, send thank-you notes to each and every event guest. Consider taking things a step further with hand-written notes and phone calls to guests who made particularly large contributions! Don’t forget to thank your volunteers for their hard work as well.

In the immediate sense, your event raises money that is needed to fund your organization’s current projects. But, if you consider it in the grand scheme of things, the relationships you build through events can have a greater impact on your organization over time— whether that’s through ongoing funding that insulates your organization in times of uncertainty or the power of happy supporters who recruit their friends and family to join in on your mission. That’s why it’s so crucial to not skimp on the follow-up!

Now that much of the uncertainty around nonprofit fundraising events has settled, it’s time to begin brainstorming ways to scale your strategy up to the next level. Whether injecting some excitement into your event, meeting guests where they are, using an event site, or thinking about your event in the bigger picture, these forward-thinking strategies can help you have a greater impact in 2022 and beyond.