Helping ensure that as many actual fundraisers as possible come back the following year needs to be a key goal of your event. They are more familiar with the organization, with fundraising, and will almost always outperform someone who is new. So what are the common reasons why people fail to return the next year?
Why Participants May Not Come Back
- They moved to another city (especially common with college students and young adults)
- Event day doesn’t fit their calendar (firm or potential conflict)
- They are just generally too busy (prefer to help on their own schedule)
- They’re no longer physically able to participate (people age, get sick, or get injured)
- They’ve lost touch with the friend who got them involved (and no other tie to cause)
- The event has lost its cool factor (what once worked, may not appeal to younger crowd)
- The cause is not trending anymore (out of sight, out of mind)
So what can you do to help combat these reasons and minimize the number of lapsed participants?
Nine Tips for Creating a Retention Strategy
- Start your retention plan the moment you meet a participant
- Prioritize participants and really give them priority
- Connect those who are not closely connected
- Make event day unforgettable
- Document the event in photographs and video
- Let them know they’ve made a difference
- “Thanks” should be a constant conversation starter
- Make being an alum cool
- Take your event year round
#1: Start your retention plan the moment you meet a participant
When supporters register to walk this year, it plays into retention for next year. Based on their complete experience with registration, fundraising and participation on event day, they’ll decide if they’ll be back. Getting them back successfully can depend on how you communicate with them, how you encourage them, how you help them be successful and how you make them feel successful. If they come away with the feeling that they made a difference, they’re more likely to come back next year.
#2: Prioritize participants and really give them priority
A good place to start is to segment top fundraisers, team captains and those connected to the cause:
Treat them like major donors. Make sure you’re not mass marketing to them the way that you would someone who raises $10. Get to know them by name and recognize their extra effort.
Losing a captain from your event can mean losing a dozen participants and thousands of dollars. Talk to team captains and have what they need to keep their team motivated.
This is another important segment. Thank them appropriately, recognize that they have a personal connection, and feel free to cover topics that might not interest casual participants.
#3: Connect those who are not closely connected
Many participants have no connection with your cause or organization but signed up because a friend asked. To get them back to your event, you have to connect them to the mission. Thank them and inform them about your organization’s progress. Let them know you’re aware of their efforts, no matter how small. Lastly, make sure you can show them how the organization has impacted one person so that they can connect with the mission and better understand the good they’ve done.
#4: Make event day unforgettable
Every detail you get right on event day contributes to a better experience and makes participants more likely to come back. It’s not just the expected things like having a motivating speaker on stage, it’s having a good PA system so everyone can hear them. You have their attention with what you do on stage. If all you’re doing is having your executives come up or talk about the logistics of the run, you’re not really helping yourself retain those participants. But if you introduce them all to someone who was helped by your organization, you’re more likely to get your participants to feel emotionally attached and to understand the importance of what they’re doing.
Beyond making sure the basics go smoothly at your event, you must create a moment. Something should happen on event day that takes your participants’ breath away: A surprise, an emotional moment, a burst of fireworks, a collective feeling of joy, the realization that they are a part of something special and powerful. That’s where you should set the bar.
#5: Document the event in photographs and video
Good event documentation really pays off. If you don’t have a volunteer who’s a good photographer, hire one. Also, ask your supporters to share the video they’ve recorded at the event. Tease these out throughout the year to help participants relive the experience. People love looking at pictures of themselves and people they know. That’s going to give them a warm feeling about the event they experienced, which is important as you get closer to next year’s registration. Put those photos and videos in the context of “Look at what we did together.”
#6: Let them know they’ve made a difference
Participants want to know that their efforts paid off, that they did something worthwhile. Tell them how important they are. If they didn’t go out and raise that money, your nonprofit wouldn’t be able to run their programs and help as many people as you do. If you make them feel successful and feel that they made a difference in the mission, that’s going to affect whether they come back next year.
#7: “Thanks” should be the constant conversation starter
“Thanks” is a great introduction to further conversation with a participant. After you thank them, you should be telling them what you’re doing with the money they raised. If you don’t, you’re not connecting them with the mission and there’s a bigger likelihood they won’t come back. Noting their personal impact should accompany the thanks, take those opportunities to remind people about the difference their involvement made: Here’s how you moved the needle, here’s what you did to help the mission as a result of your involvement. “Thanks” makes a nice icebreaker for next year’s event.
#8: Make being an alum cool
One thing that encourages participants to return is to make your alumni feel like an elite group that others will aspire to join. Giving them something they can be proud of encourages retention, as well as encourages better fundraising from them next year.
For a real-world example: DonorDrive’s Chief Strategy Officer Ed Lord created a participant’s club when he was with the American Cancer Society: “We had special shirts for anyone that raised over a thousand dollars. So they were recognized in the crowd as frequent fundraisers and everyone at the event knew it by that shirt. We did a different color shirt each year with a date on it. People started collecting these and became determined to earn their shirt again next year.”
Making your alums feel special gives them something they’ll attach value to. This could be simple recognition of those who hit milestones in participation and fundraising, like a Five Year Club or noting on stage the people who’ve each raised more than $10,000 over the years.
#9: Take your event year round
Though your event is only one day out of the year, you can keep it top-of-mind all year long. Do something six months away from your event, maybe a gathering in a casual setting. A participant reunion in the middle of the year is great to get people back together just to have some fun. All these people shared in doing your event, so they have a common connection when they meet. It’s also useful to ask them to bring a friend to this event, since it can bring new members into the family.
Another aspect of making your event resonate year round is regular communication. A monthly update email with news about what the event money funded, “thank you” discounts from sponsors and revealing next year’s celebrity chairperson—will all help keep participants connected.
The continued success of your event depends on a sound retention strategy. While many organizations are struggling with retention, those that have a well-established strategy in place have been able to maintain and grow their events—despite the odds.
How to Create A Campaign to Get Lapsed Participants Back
Lapsed participants, those who participated last year but haven’t yet this year, require special attention. It’s much easier to get these supporters back than to recruit people who don’t know you. As we’ve seen, there are many reasons a participant may not be back, but don’t assume you’ve lost them. A well-formulated campaign to get them back can be a successful part of your retention strategy.
First, you must find out who your lapsed participants are. Shortly after you start the registration process, run a report to see who hasn’t registered yet. Make sure you include how much they fundraised last year in your numbers so you can rank their value to your organization.
Once you know who they are, address them with a targeted email campaign:
Email 1: Ask them back. Start with a friendly reminder noting you haven’t seen them sign up yet. Tell them there’s still time to register, fundraise and make a difference toward the mission. Include evocative images from last year’s event. End with a call-to-action that steers them to your registration page.
Email 2: Ask them why. For those who haven’t replied to Email 1, send out a survey and ask them why they’re not back.
Email 3: Create a set of emails based on answers from the survey. If they’ve moved out of the area or can’t make it on that date, encourage them to register and fundraise as a virtual participant. If their team captain left, encourage them to start their own team. If they had an issue with your event last year or just don’t seem enthused, let them know how you’ve addressed concerns and improved this year’s event. When you target your reply to their answer, you’re more likely to eliminate their reason for not participating this year.
Email 4: Ask them again. For those who still haven’t registered after Email 3, send one final message letting them know they’ll be missed. Again, images or a link to an emotional video might encourage them to register. You might also make the email dynamic and include data specific to them, like how much they raised last year. Reminding them of the impact they had may bring them back.
Some organizations factor in the fundraising value of lapsed participants, for example scratching last year’s zero-dollar fundraisers off the list of participants to try to re-engage. It’s also useful to personally address the biggest fundraisers on your lapsed-participant list personally in an email or phone call.
There’s no reason why you can’t encourage your participants from two or three years ago to register through a similar campaign. But note there can be diminishing returns in that: There will be more bad email addresses, more who have moved and more who are no longer connected with someone close to your organization.
The value of lapsed participants can’t be emphasized enough. Stats from DonorDrive show that a returning participant raises 2.5 times as much than a new participant.
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