That is the question I get asked a lot working with clients on their strategic fundraising plan. And a good question it is. Especially because fundraising events and in particular sports events have become so popular in Europe. So this question deserves some kind of answer.
So, If you are considering to set up your own fundraising event or if you are wondering if you are making enough money from your own event, please bare with me in my search for an answer.
To be frank, it is extremely hard to predict exactly how much will be raised with your event this year or the next, but there are crucial factors that influence your success. Depending on how many ‘karma-points’ you score on each of these factors will give you some feeling of the potential success. (see a calculation below)
What factors influence the results?
1) The cause does matter, but it is no excuse that you do not work ‘over there’. It is a fact that cancer or child related causes appeal more to people than the protection of street cats for example. But it is no excuse not to grow your fundraising result. Please look at the other factors that influence the potential.
2) It is all about the commitment of the organizers. Basically, that’s where it starts and ends. If your organizers are able to bring their energy across to the participants, they will bring in more money and will come back for more. And, they will recruit more participants. A nice example is Duchenne Heroes in The Netherlands that started in 2006 and now raises over one million euro per event (and still growing). Although Duchenne disease is not a well know illness, it has a loyal group of people riding their mountainbike, raising money to find the cure. Most successful events started with ‘begeistered’ people outside the organisation, the charities followed (or not). But a professional agency can also do a good job (but nothing beats the fanatism of initiators).
3) Find you own target audience. Find the people with a logical (be it emotional) fit with your cause. But, another possibility is to find a specific target audience that are relatively easy to pinpoint (like mountain bikers, rowers). These groups should share the same passion or in some other way be homogenous. Please be sure to aim for a target audience that is big enough and is not already claimed by somebody else.
One newcomer that raised my interest is Row4rights, where rowers in The Netherlands (and next year in more countries) are invited to row a long distance (500 kilometers) along the Donau. Do rowers have anything special with Human Rights or Poverty, the causes connected to this event? Not in particular. But in this case the event was aiming for a group of people that share the same passion (there are around 130.000 people rowing in The Netherlands and the community is close). This is a smart move, because in it’s first year it raised 133,000 euro.
4) Be the first to claim a domain and/or do something remarkable. A nice example is www.movember.com, where November is transformed into grow-a-mo-for-a-brother, Movember. Guys (generally) ask their friends to be sponsored and grow a moustache during the entire month of November. The money goes to finding a cure for Prostate Cancer and other men related cancers. At first, growing a moustache seems a bit silly (for more than one reason), but believe it or not, in the USA alone it raised 80 million dollars in 2010 (almost doubling the amount of 2009). More than 400.000 people registered, worldwide.
But it does not have to be very new or exiting. A golf tournament that becomes a tradition (because your participants look forward to meet the same likeminded people again next year) for a specific audience might also work for you. If you do something remarkable, make sure you are the first.
5) It is all about ‘being there’. People want to be part of something they feel good about. Dance4Life, is about being together for a charity, but most of all it’s about enjoying the same taste in music. Alpe d’HuZes is about Cancer, but it is just as much about “being there and experiencing it”. And do not forget about Serious request, where 3 DJ’s lock themselves in a Glass Box for one week to raise funds (for the Red Cross). In 2010, it raised 7 million euro. But the funny thing is: The charity itself only plays a modest part in this event. It is all about being there.
6) Organize an event that fits your target audience. What I noticed is that it doesn’t really matter what you organize as long as it fits within the acceptability range of your target audience and creates more point on the other factors. The focus now is on extreme challenges (Riding 1.000 km on a bike, Climbing Alpe d’Huez, skating 100 km). But my statement is that this focus on extreme sports may not work for you. In stead, look at what is acceptable for your target audience and organize around that. For instance the American Cancer Society organizes a Relay (where teams run around a track for 24 hours, one teammember should be on the track at all time.) and raised over 400 million dollars (That was in one year)! The good thing here is: anybody can be part of it. Your grandmother can do a lap (a slow one) and after that, your super-fit brother can do a number of laps.
7) Become a tradition. If you have had a positive first year (measured first by the excitement of your participants and second by the amount raised), do it again. And then again and again. Each time should be a little bit better than the previous one, with a little more participants and more income. A fundraising event is something that needs to develop. Have a look at the top 30 of fundraising events in the USA, they (almost) all have a long history (some started in the ’70s). Combined, they now raise over 1.6 billion dollars per year in the USA alone.
BONUS. Multiply. Try to multiply your event, so the limits of one physical location do not apply. That’s one of the reasons why AlpeD’huZes is now looking for different events in the coming years (the mountain is full). The same for Serious Request and RoPaRun. Make sure your event can do the same if you reach your physical boundaries. Think big and think long term.
So how big can my event be?
Let’s do a thought experiment. We give each of the seven factors 1, 2 or 3 points, where 3 points is the highest score. And if it is the first time you organize the event, give factor 7 (about the history) only a modest score: lets say 0,25.
Now, multiply all the points. This gives you the total score. Now multiply this score by 25.000 euro. This gives you a rough estimate on how big the event could be or should be.
See some examples in the table. Here I calculated the potential in the current situation for some events. You can also use this calculation to see what happens with your potential revenue if you improve one factor. But be careful: it is still a tool to estimate, so do not blame me if the board gets upset for not reaching your target 🙂
If you reach the limit of your growth, think of multiplying the event to different locations. This will also multiply your income (but only do this when the event in one location is working well!).
Should you have any questions, remarks (or if you simply do not agree), let me know!