What do the most successful fundraising events have in common?

Next month, we’ll be speaking at NCTech4Good about one of our favorite topics: using video to captivate audiences and increase donations at a fundraising event. It’s no surprise, then, that I made it a point to attend one session in particular at last week’s Create Good conference.

Brooke Battle presents a slide at the Create Good conference

“Sold-Out Events that Deliver Long-Term Results” was the presentation given by Brooke Battle, founder of Swell. An ambitious title to be sure — but she did not disappoint. Here are a few important things I learned.

“Who else is going?”

Perhaps the most important factor that influences the size and caliber of your guest list is your confirmed attendees. Clearly, this is a potent type of social proof — if someone knows several people who are already going, she’s more likely to think the event is worthwhile. So how do you put that into action?

Brooke suggests creating an event committee that consists of influencers on social media. These people don’t plan anything; instead, their sole job is to come to your event (give them a comp ticket, of course) and share the event with their community.

If you’re going to be showing a video at your event, make sure to create and publish social media video teasers, and have your committee retweet, promote, and share them.

Keep it on-brand

When people talk about your event, you want them to use words associated with your brand. If possible, create an event that dovetails into what you’re all about. If your organization promotes health, try a walk event or bike race. If you’re an eco-friendly nonprofit, consider an auction for art made with recycled materials.

The Emily K Center, a Durham-based nonprofit that prepares low-income students for college, does just that. The center was named in honor of Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s mother, and their annual fundraiser is a Mother’s Day Ball in May “designed to honor the role of family and community in the development of today’s youth.”

Your video, clearly, should also embody your brand’s ethos.

No more tickets left? Perfect.

The event is a week away and you’ve already sold all your tickets? Fantastic. Resist the urge to free up more tickets, Brooke says, even if they’re available.

A hand reaches for a small cupcake

Your goal should be to sell out the event before it happens. Why?

  • When you have a sold-out event, you’re more likely to sell early next year. That makes it easier to plan in terms of food and other logistics.
  • It reinforces social proof (“So many people like this event that there are no more tickets left!”).
  • It creates a feeling of scarcity (or in Millennial parlance, FOMO), which is one of Robert Cialdini’s principles of persuasion.

Speaking of Cialdini…

Successful events meet certain criteria

Take a moment to review Cialdini’s principles of persuasion.

Got it? Now think of how your event may be able to put those in action.

  • Reciprocity: What can you give your attendees and donors?
  • Social proof/consensus: How can you involve influencers and connectors?
  • Scarcity: How can you show that this is a unique, rare, and limited-time opportunity?
  • Consistency: What can you do to encourage and reward repeat attendees?
  • Authority: Who can speak at (or otherwise be involved in) your event? Video can come in handy here: If your high-profile person is unable to attend your event, see if you can include him or her in your video.)

Woman presents a slide at the Create Good conference

This isn’t just a marketing exercise: In her work at Swell, Brooke has found that the most successful events consistently hit Cialdini’s persuasion principles.

Practice online cocktail party etiquette

Be strategic about promoting your event, Brooke says. That means not hitting people over the head with countless “buy your tickets now!” updates on Facebook.

  • A few months out: Build interest by posting relevant and high-value content. If you’re hosting a dinner, post a recipe. If your fundraiser is a road race, post running tips.
  • Two months out: Begin to integrate pictures or video from past events. Make announcements about this year’s guests, honorees, venue, or other related news as it comes out. You can also ask your event committee to add a badge to their social profile pictures to promote the event.
  • Month of event: With your goal to sell out, discuss what is unique about the event — again, go beyond “buy your tickets now!” to show why someone would want to attend. You can build anticipation by posting a shortened “teaser” of the longer video you’ll show at the event.

Engage attendees at the event

Getting them there is one thing — entertaining them is another. Add an element of interactivity by displaying a live stream of social media pictures and tweets at the event. (Swell offers an app that can integrate a social media wall with fundraising totals, leaderboards, and customizable content.)

This is also where video comes in. Sharing a story of your organization’s impact can help your attendees feel more invested in your mission. And in the world of scrolling feeds, limitless streaming media options, and shrinking watch times, you should seize the opportunity to speak to a captive audience.

Big thanks to Brooke for providing an informative, evidence-based talk. We’re looking forward to sharing and applying what we’ve learned!

Learn more about Swell fundraising event software.

Learn more about Create Good, a national conference on creative nonprofit communications.

Feature photo by Bohío Fine Art Photography 


Open Eye Creative is a small video production company with a huge vision: to use the power of story to strengthen and propel organizations that are changing the world. Read more.