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It’s time to rethink event donor conversion

Twelve years ago, I received a postcard from a nonprofit I recognized that suggested they could help me run a marathon.  

Two things immediately grabbed my attention.  

First, this nonprofit funded research for a disease that had affected my loved ones. Second, as a non-athlete training to run a 5K at the time, the idea of challenging myself with an even bigger running-related goal—and for a good cause—was exciting. 

Interest piqued, I attended an informational meeting and walked out the door fully recruited to run my first marathon with a huge fundraising goal.  

Over the course of the next decade, I ran seven marathons and raised more than $16,000 in support of that organization. I’ve made lifelong connections and witnessed firsthand the lifesaving treatments our support helped make possible. Despite my ongoing support, I still receive generic acquisition packages in the mail from the same cause each year, like a stranger. 

What’s my point here?  

As an event participant and P2P fundraiser, my experience isn’t unique. Many health and disease organizations struggle with unlocking the key to improved retention and cross-channel conversion of these supporters. 

Through the years, I’ve discovered the secret to better event donor experiences and conversion rates lies in the use of data and analytics. 

Understand your event donors through data and analytics 

Today’s donor expects the nonprofit they support to know who they are and to be on the same page as them in their relationship status.  

Your organization likely has a wealth of data available. To begin to understand event donors, consider combining your CRM data with additional first-party digital data or third-party appended data to: 

  • Differentiate between event fundraisers versus supporters. 
  • Identify the intersection between transactions and behaviors. 
  • Find common attributes between your event audiences and your core donor file. 
  • Segment donors based on their habits and preferences to create unique personas. 
  • Determine which segments are higher priority for conversion strategies. 

Once you have better insight into what kind of donors make up your event audience, you can begin to create segmented journeys with the goal of cross-channel conversion. 

Use your findings to build customized donor experiences 

There’s a common misconception that event donors should be suppressed from communication and calls to action through other channels for fear of cannibalizing event revenue. But RKD’s Listen Up research shows that donors who hold the strongest relationships with the nonprofits they support expect more frequent communication, through a variety of active (one-to-one, at events) and passive (website, video, social) methods.  

Today, event donors are largely acquired digitally—just think about the communication process: They sign up for an event online or give a gift in support of a participant through a link they see on social media. All communication leading up to the event is done primarily through emails or text messages. 

So, why is our go-to conversion strategy for past event donors to dump them into a one-size-fits-all acquisition package through the mail once or twice a year? Talk about a disconnect. 

Trends or patterns should start to emerge in your data allowing donors to be grouped together. For example, Persona Group A may be comprised mostly of donors over a certain age, with a history of direct mail responsiveness, interests in travel and leisure, and are followers of specific online media outlets. Persona Group B may consist of younger donors who make most purchases online, have children in their household, interests in health and wellness, and a history of visiting pages on your website related to volunteering or ways to get involved. 

Take advantage of your analysis to create more thoughtful experiences for each segment. Imagine tailoring messaging, creative and delivery tactics to each persona’s passions and interests in a way that makes them feel both valued and involved year-round.  

The key here is giving the donors opportunities to engage with your organization outside of the traditional event space—through brand partnerships, paid media, organic social and yes, sometimes even direct mail. 

By encouraging both direct engagement and passive interactions with your brand, you’re giving event donors an opportunity to get to know you as a whole organization, rather than one solely tied to your annual event, and in turn, you’ll get to know them better, too.   

Like many of your other donor segments, event donors are passionate about your cause—they just require a different approach than your standard audience. By leaning on data and building differential experiences, you can create a world where your event donors feel more deeply connected, instead of simply turning to them each time an event comes around. 

Lianne Raices

Lianne holds more than a decade of direct response fundraising experience. Known for her analytical approach and attention to detail, she is passionate about using data-driven strategies to help her clients achieve their goals. With a background in both direct mail and digital fundraising, Lianne enjoys collaborating with subject matter experts across the industry to explore and unlock technology’s full potential in accelerating growth for nonprofits.

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