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Fundraising events: 10 factors that contribute to outstanding success

Fundraising events: 10 factors that contribute to outstanding success

Success in fundraising requires a focus on the psychological benefits both to participants and organisers, according to research from Plymouth University’s Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy.

Researchers conducted 30 interviews with individuals who are leading successful event initiatives in Canada, the UK and the USA. From this they were able to produce 10 key factors that charities should address to ensure outstanding success.

The research explored issues such as:

• What makes a fundraising event successful?

• Where do successful ideas come from and why do some events succeed and others fail?

• What issues must be considered in design and implementation to boost popularity and deliver supporter value?

One of the key findings was that successful fundraising events succeeded in fulfilling participants’ psychological needs. Of course, almost any fundraising event will bring enjoyment, satisfaction or challenge to participants. But the research suggests that success requires more than that.

“A focus on surface level motives is not enough”

HCSP’s director, and report co-author, Professor Adrian Sargeant explained:

“A focus on surface level motives is not enough. For sure, individuals may participate in an event because they want the challenge, the social interaction or to make a difference to in the lives of a beneficiary group that is important to them. But all events can supply these benefits.

“We found that outstanding fundraising events are those that offer outstanding psychological benefits to their participants. In simple terms, this shift can be thought of as a move from reflecting on what supporters might want, to a reflection on how the fulfilment of those wants could make them feel – their human wellbeing.

“To enhance wellbeing, charities need to focus on the needs people have to make a difference, to experience a degree of autonomy in making that difference, to experience a genuine and warm connection with others, to experience growth and to be able to identify and clarify meaning in their life.”

Santa run - Skyline events

Santa run – Skyline events

10 key factors that contribute to outstanding success in events fundraising

1. A high degree of donorcentricity

2. A focus on fundamental human needs

3. A high level of investment in the team

4. Selection of an appropriate mindset

5. Focus on transformations not experiences

6. Driving emotions with effective storytelling

7. Constantly drive innovation

8. Innovation focused on human needs

9. Technology focused on human needs

10. The creation of board champions


Scale of fundraising events

In the UK the top 25 fundraising events now raise over £136 million for good causes, according to the research. Indeed, Macmillan and Cancer Research UK now account for 75% of that total and run ten of the biggest fundraising events in the country.

CRUK’s Race for Life is now the largest mass participation fundraising event outside the USA and the largest women-only event in the world. It attracts around 500,000 participants raising £50m each year.

Bike Events Blackpool

Bike Event’s Blackpool fundraising event

“It needs to be actively planned for”

The report, Great fundraising events: from experience to transformation, is sponsored by American organisations Boomerang, QGiv, and GiveSmart. It can be downloaded at no charge.

Although focused on mass participation events, the findings could also inform events for major donors, legacy pledgers and other kinds of donors.

Co-author Harriet Day – a Research Associate at HCSP – confirmed the need for active planning to meet participants’ needs. She said: “A successful fundraising event can heighten participants’ sense in any of these dimensions. But to be effective fundraisers need to ask themselves what combination of these fundamental human needs they can best meet given the supporter group that they will attract to any given event.

“Once these needs are specified, fundraisers can then explore how they might be able to meet these needs through the design of their events AND their associated communications. This does not happen by default it needs to be actively planned for.”

The results confirm the findings in Rogare’s recent review of relationship fundraising where the team identified that higher order needs had the potential to be fulfilled through fundraising. 




Howard Lake is a digital fundraising entrepreneur. Publisher of UK Fundraising, the world's first web resource for professional fundraisers, since 1994. Trainer and consultant in digital fundraising. Founder of Fundraising Camp.

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