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Nonprofit Marketing: A Quick Start Guide to Fundraising

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A recent Facebook post was my inspiration for preparing this guide. The poster mentioned his desire to assist nonprofits with their marketing once he retired. Although I admire his intentions, I would encourage him (and you) to act now – don't wait! In fact, I would argue that you have an obligation to use your marketing skills to make the world a better place.

There are dozens of great charities, in your own backyard, that are begging for the kind of help that a digital marketer can provide. Choosing a charity should be like choosing a line of work. Find something that you're passionate about.

connor-gradAs the parent of a type 1 diabetic, my organization of choice is the JDRF. They are funding a research project to create an artificial pancreas. As you might imagine, this is a monumental effort that requires gobs of money.

For me, passion alone isn't enough – I want to have "fun" while fundraising. So, I decided to weave a favorite hobby of mine (mopeds and scooters) into a fundraiser. The end result is the A-Town Rumble, an annual moped and scooter rally that raises money for the artificial pancreas project.

You want to pick a cause that you're genuinely interested in and then create a fun event to support it. To my knowledge, the Rumble is the only moped and scooter fundraiser in the U.S., so don't worry if it has never been done before. The combination of passion and fun will give you the energy needed to make your event a success.

Holding the line on expenses is a top consideration. You want the money raised to go to your charity – not to overhead expenses. This philosophy should be applied to every step along the way. This is where digital marketing really pays off.

Timing

Once you've established your event, it's time to come up with a date. In the summer, nearly every weekend is filled with activities.

Make sure that you aren't hosting your event on the same day as a similar event. For example, hosting your 5K run on the same day as an established one is not a good idea. You should leave yourself 60-90 days to market the event before hosting it.

Incentive

The primary motivation for most of your attendees is to have a good time. The fact that they are donating to a good cause will make them feel good, but it's secondary.

You need to provide a good value proposition to attract newcomers and to retain past attendees. That's how you grow an event. At the A-Town rumble, we bribe reward attendees by offering the following:

  • Rally T-shirt
  • Guided tour through the Capital District
  • Free bike pickup in the event of mechanical failure
  • Snacks upon return

In exchange for a sponsorship spot on the shirt sleeve, our T-shirt vendor sets up the artwork for free and cuts us a killer break on the shirt price.

Branding

Once you have your date, it's time to brand the event. A strong visual is helpful in connecting with participants. I've had good success in recruiting local artists on Craigslist in the art/media/design jobs section.

If you're looking for a donation, be up front and state the same in your job title, so you aren't wasting anyone's time. Since so many people are affected by diabetes, I've never had a problem finding someone willing to create a logo in exchange for recognition and a shirt with their design on it.

That said, there have been years when the designs submitted weren't up to standard and I had to look elsewhere. When I say elsewhere, I actually mean Odesk. You will find some really talented graphic designers who can produce a professional logo at a very reasonable price.

Spreading the Word

Start by leveraging any relevant assets that you may have. If you happen to be a scooter enthusiast, then you might have a scooter website where you could promote the event.

Keep in mind this is a fundraiser, so make the story personal. Let people know how you or someone close to you has been affected and how the money being raised will be spent.

Selling Tickets

I'm a huge fan of Eventbrite. Their user-friendly interface makes it very easy to create, promote, and manage an event. If you don't have an asset of your own to leverage, this is a good place to start.

Every event has the option of creating a custom URL that can be used around the web to promote the event. They also have a convenient Facebook widget.

In addition to selling regular tickets, I strongly encourage selling sponsorships on Eventbrite. By making sponsorship easy, we've converted several "attendees" into "sponsors."

There is a nominal fee associated with using Eventbrite, but this fee can be shifted to the attendees, along the lines of a Ticketmaster service charge. To put this in perspective, a $25 ticket has a $1.62 fee. The Rumble absorbs the fee for sponsors, but that's up to you.

Social Media

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  • Facebook: Create a Facebook Page for your cause. Set your logo as the cover. This is the perfect place to announce updates and count down to the event. It is also a great place to recognize sponsors and volunteers. You may not see a lot of activity on the page, but it's important to keep it fresh. A lack of activity on the page sends a bad message. One post a day shouldn't be too difficult to maintain.
  • Twitter: Set up an account for the event. Start following people that would be interested in the event as well as local news people. Ideally, your followers will spread the word via social media, forums and newsletters. Local news types may pick up on the story. Start the Twitter drumbeat 60 to 90 days before the event.
  • YouTube: Create a trailer (such as this one) for the event and encourage attendees to take and post videos. These videos become virtual commercials for the event. Many first time attendees come to the Rumble based solely on what they saw in a video.

Press Releases

In the case of your fundraiser, the best way to distribute a press release is to go to the website of each local news outlet and follow the protocol. If there is no established protocol, send out a press release 60 days, 30 days, 14 days, and 48 hours prior to the event.

Sponsorships

Getting lots of attendees to your event is great, but the value of good sponsors can't be over-stated. In the case of the A-town rumble, it takes 40 riders to generate the same funds as a single "Whole Hog" ($1,000) sponsor.

Attracting sponsors is a primarily a one on one and offline activity. Most of this work is performed via snail mail and phone calls. You may have a few close associates where an email would be considered appropriate.

Since the Rumble has strong roots in the community, I approach all of the local businesses for sponsorship. Being active in the community, I know most of the business owners. This personal touch goes a long way in securing donations.

I also approach everyone that I pay money to. My accountant, my insurance agent, my mechanic, my doctor, my dentist – no one that appears on my personal and professional accounts payable list is safe.

The Result

The A-town Rumble has raised over $15,000 since its inception and our goal is to raise $10,000 this year. If I had a guide like this when I first started, it would be considerably higher.

Hopefully you've found this guide useful and will use it to create your own fun and give back to your community at the same time.


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