Paul Ghiz leads one of the nonprofit industry’s most successful enterprise fundraising software and services companies, Global Cloud, makers of DonorDrive Social Fundraising . Paul has been serving and growing nonprofit organizations since 1997. He enjoys accelerating not-for-profit revenue through progressive peer-to-peer fundraising strategies and solutions. His thought leadership in digital marketing and the user experience has been recognized by various industry publications and conferences. Paul resides outside of NYC.
What’s shocking to most nonprofits in the peer-to-peer fundraising space is how many event participants they have registered who don’t raise a penny. These are usually people who signed up (probably because someone asked them to) but didn’t get around to fundraising until they felt it was too late. Maybe they walked in your event, or maybe they quietly (with guilt or embarrassment) bowed out, hoping you wouldn’t notice.
We tend to write off the zero-dollar fundraiser as just part of doing business. But have you looked at how many you really have? If it’s less than 20% you’re in the minority. Causes that hold fundraising events, but don’t require fundraising can find that over 80% of those who register don’t raise a dime. If your fundraising software is one that charges you by the record, you’re losing money on all those zero-dollar fundraisers loitering in your system.
16 ways to eliminate the zero-dollar fundraiser.
We asked DonorDrive staff members Ed Lord, Mike Malekoff, Geraldine Carter and Amy Fecker for their expertise. From their time recently at the American Cancer Society, JDRF, Climate Ride and Alzheimer’s Association, they developed many techniques to minimize and eliminate zero-dollar fundraisers.
- Make the mission obvious. We assume that everyone knows exactly why they’re fundraising, but that’s not always the case. Geraldine feels that stating what the money buys should be your mantra: “People want to fundraise because they care. If you don’t let people know what that dollar does and how important it is, they’re probably not going to fundraise.”
- Use “fundraiser” in your event title. Ed says: “Make sure everyone knows it’s a fundraiser. If it’s in the name of your event, you can’t make it any more obvious.” That sets an expectation for participants and potential donors.
- Ask them to fundraise. While this seems obvious, Mike points out: “Surveys show that over half of zero-dollar fundraisers are never asked to fundraise. Sometimes organizations have this idea that once a participant is registered, the staff has done their part.” Continued encouragement, even when it’s subtle, is often all the encouragement a zero-dollar fundraiser needs to get that first donation.
- Ask them to donate themselves. Geraldine feels this is a necessity: “Participants absolutely should self-pledge. You have to put your money where your mouth is to honestly make the ask.” Giving a $10 donation themselves often helps fundraisers feel less guilty about asking others. Encourage them to post about their donation over their social channels. This gives fundraisers that are shy about asking a way to start the conversation.
- Set a registration fee. While this seems a simple and easy way to get donations, it’s not without it’s drawbacks. Mike points out that: “Registration fees only deliver small dollars per participant and some supporters think it exempts them from fundraising.” Again, you have to be clear that there’s the expectation that they’ll fundraise.
- Set a fundraising minimum. Geraldine thinks this should be reasonable, but respectable: “Make your walk a minimum of $50: $10 for registration and $40 in fundraising. It doesn’t make sense that people would send out emails to all their friends if they only have a $20 fundraising minimum and they’ve already paid $10 of that themselves.”
- Set up fundraising incentives. Some of your fundraisers will respond well to prizes. Others will respond well to classy-looking pins they can wear that show their commitment. Or ask them to get five people to donate and make them eligible for a drawing. When Geraldine founded Climate Ride, they required a $2250 fundraising minimum for their five-day ride: “We offered some nice bikes as grand prizes and other cool swag.” This quickly pushed their top fundraisers to the $5,000-$8,000 level.
- Use your shirts as a fundraising incentive rather than giving them away. Ed has found this very effective: “Make it simple: Raise $100 and get a shirt. Print on the shirt that those who wear them are members of your Frequent Fundraiser Club. Note the levels they’ve fundraised with different color shirts.” Since they’ve had to earn it, the shirt is something to covet rather than something to stuff in the back of a drawer.
- Be diligent with your emails. Emails that encourage fundraising can easily be overlooked or go unopened. Weekly emails during the months before your event may be necessary to get the point across. Mike has seen the value of this himself: “The stewardship of your participants is the most important thing and the more communication and interaction with them, the higher donor percentage you’ll get.”
- Encourage them to join a team. Amy has helped shy participants join up with great success: “The individual donor can feel neglected, but as a team member they know others are depending on them. A good team captain can motivate a zero-dollar fundraiser to really perform. Once a participant sees other team members fundraising, it helps set the expectation.”
- Make a personal call or send a personal email and give them some quick fundraising tips. Amy sees this helps those new to fundraising: “Zero-dollar fundraisers don’t know where to start. Suggest a few of your proven tricks to get that first donation and it can get things moving for them.”
- Make fundraising a sport. Geraldine watched the magic effect of this when she managed Climate Ride: “Success breeds success. If someone sees that someone else raised six grand they think ‘I can raise six grand’. So they raise eight. And somebody else says ‘I can beat that’. So it starts to be a competition. But once they know what’s possible, it’s easier for everyone to believe they can do it.”
- Publicize the leaders. Geraldine found this to be very motivational: “One sure way you get people to raise money is to highlight people who are raising money. We recognized fundraising leaders as much as possible in eNewsletters and on the web site. This really encouraged others.”
- Ask for a donation at event-day signup. Mike suggests an easy way to minimize zero-dollar fundraisers: “Run a report to identify your zero-dollar fundraisers and encourage a credit card donation on the spot when they sign in.”
- Offer event premiums to fundraisers. Mike feels if you give something extra to fundraisers, everybody wants to be one: “As people check in, everyone that has donated gets a bracelet and that gives access to the services offered that day. It may be breakfast, lunch or admission to activities, prizes, etc. Everyone wants to be included and this will encourage day-of-event donations.”
- Ask them for a donation after the fact. Amy notes that it’s still fine to send a post-event email to zero-dollar fundraisers and ask for a donation in a positive way: “This actually gives them an out they can feel comfortable about. Try: ‘We’re under our goal. If everyone who hasn’t raised money for the event donated $10, we’ll be there.’ When they realize they’re not the only one, it can relieve their guilt and get them to give.”
Many nonprofits believe that if a participant shows up and doesn’t raise a dime, there’s still a benefit in having them there to make the crowd and event a little bigger. That may be true, but if only half of those zero-dollar fundraisers that are registered showed up and each one generated $10 or $50, how much more would that benefit your cause?