The best recruiting strategy for your next event

Peer-to-Peer Event Planning May 12, 2017 By Kevin Wolfe, Michelle Steed, Ed Lord


We talked to DonorDrive’s Ed Lord and Michelle Steed about their years of experience in recruiting for events. And while we’d like to say there’s an easy solution for your recruitment problem, we can’t. As Michelle says: “I don’t want to understate just how hard it is to recruit. There’s no magic bullet for it.” That’s why in this article we’re not presenting you with a quick list of easy tips to solve your recruitment issues. This requires a much deeper conversation and a more complex strategy.

If you have a recruiting problem, then you definitely have a retention problem

Recruiting is the downside of retention: the participants you don’t retain, you must recruit. If you can get 80% of past participants back, great: You only have to come up with 20% new faces. But for many organizations an 80% retention rate is a distant dream. Having to recruit 50% (or more) of event participants is common. For Michelle, good data is a necessity in retaining: “In DonorDrive we have a report for lapsed participants that shows you who didn’t come back this year. That’s vital for our clients in finding who didn’t return so they can communicate with them directly. That’s your hotlist. Beat the heck out of it. It’s much easier to get somebody who participated before to participate again than to find someone you don’t know.” Our recent article on retention will help you with your retention issues (which will minimize the number you’ll need to recruit.)

Get the word out

Make sure you’re letting every supporter know about your event. Email everyone in your database, put it on your site and talk about it in social media. Unfortunately, paid advertising to recruit participants often has a poor ROI. If you have a small promotional budget you may be better off spending it to boost social media posts about your event. Boosting a post on Facebook or Twitter can give your event exposure beyond your followers. Facebook and Twitter both offer targeting based on demographics and geography to better get your message in the timelines of those most likely to participate.

Get your supporters to recruit for you with teams

Your supporters know all about your event and are participating in your event, but have you asked them to go the extra step by asking their friends and coworkers to participate? Multiply the number of supporters in your database by an average of 250 in each of their networks and you’ll be amazed at how many people you could be asking to participate. Teams are a great way to recruit and are especially valuable since one team raises 10 times as much as an individual participant

  • Push corporate teams. Both Ed and Michelle agree that corporate is a key piece of the recruiting puzzle for most organizations. Ed sees getting corporate involvement as substantially more valuable than recruiting individuals: “It’s very hard to have a successful run or walk if you’re getting one or two participants at a time to join. You really have to have corporate teams to achieve numbers quickly. And within a company you have to have one person that’s going to push your cause. The first step is to identify that person that’s going to be your advocate. They typically have a close connection with the cause or with your organization. They’ll go out and push for people to participate and fundraise.” For Michelle, companies are key: “It’s corporate that does it. If you have strong advocates at a company, they’ll build the corporate teams and recruit for you. But you can be a catalyst by doing things like creating a trophy for best corporate team that travels from office to office. It’s part of the experience that encourages ongoing corporate participation within a company.”
  • Push family teams. For some organizations, corporate involvement may not be considered appropriate. In this case, pushing more family teams could be the best way to recruit. Make sure you’re doing everything you can to make your event family-friendly. Michelle notes this is tough, but certainly doable: “You’d better have really great stuff if you’re relying on friends and families to spread the word. Invest heavily in video and content. That’s even more important for this group than for corporate. Gaining momentum will be much more word-of-mouth and through social media.”
  • Push captains to recruit bigger teams. Team members raise more than individual participants. If you can get each captain to add one more team member it can be a big boost to event revenue.
  • Ask participants to team up with friends. Every participant is a potential team captain. They may never think of being a team captain unless you ask. Don’t make the request overwhelming: Just encourage them to team up with a few friends.

Ed notes that it’s not just about promoting participation to these groups, but also making people feel a part of something: “People are social animals. They’re not going to come out to an event by themselves. They’re more likely to come with a group of people. So any strategy you have using Facebook or any social networking is to get one person that’s going to gather a group of people to come out to the event. That’s the first step. It’s not just advertising on Facebook, it’s getting these people together.” 

Get back lapsed participants

As Michelle mentioned earlier, it’s easier to get lapsed participants back than find new ones. Plus past participants are typically better fundraisers: “In my experience, people raise more money the second year. You want those people back. They learned all those things they’ll do differently to be more successful the second time around.” Communicate with them. Survey them and ask why they’re not back. If you’re seeing a pattern that’s causing people to not come back, what can you do to fix it? Past participants who may not be back because they’ve moved away or are not be available the day of the event can still sign up as virtual participants and fundraise for your event. Giving the option of virtual participation can mean keeping a participant and the dollars they bring in as opposed to losing them.

Nurture high-impact volunteers and have them do the recruiting

Michelle clarifies: “I’m not talking about volunteers who put tablecloths on tables, hang up banners and post route signs. Those are all really important people to have help. But I’m talking about volunteers who are going to be able to tap into large-team recruitment. I think recruitment absolutely relates to your volunteer structure and what your volunteer development looks like.” As Michelle sees it, developing an empowered volunteer structure like this is necessary to attract influencers: “Give your volunteers the power and the authority to do things. You’re only going to get high-impact volunteers if those people really feel they’re making a difference. Those are the people who are going to make recruitment work for you and it’s worth the time to invest in volunteer development. When you get the right volunteers in the right spots, they’ll help you grow exponentially. But it doesn’t happen with the snap of fingers. You have to work to recruit these productive volunteers, to get them in the right spots and to help them every step of the way.”

Ed also feels that growth will be based on high-impact volunteers, especially those who can fundraise for you: “You don’t want to just recruit bodies, you want to recruit fundraisers. Use your data to find the candidates in your event who are excellent fundraisers or have the potential to be. You’re probably already acquainted with these people, even if they haven’t been a part of your event before. Develop a strategy to encourage them so they’ll recruit and raise money. If appropriate, make them team captains.” Michelle concurs: “Whether your event relies on corporate or family support, it’s the charismatic individuals who are most successful.”

If you’re going to grow, you need growth goals

So far we’ve addressed recruitment from the aspect of fixing a numbers problem. But recruitment also plays an important role in growing your event. Michelle sees setting honest and realistic goals as the best way to start: “As an organization, people have to step back and ask what the goal is for your walk and be really specific about it. So if you want to grow in dollars, how do you get there? If you don’t want corporate involvement to be part of your event, then take that off the table and figure out how you can grow without it. But you can’t just say “we just want to grow.” Put a number to it. Ask: What are you looking to achieve? What does that incremental difference in revenue or attendance really do for you? Why do you want to do it? Then come up with a plan.”

In the face of so many organizations seeing their signature events sag in both participants and dollars, there really is hope. Our clients in DonorDrive have been seeing great growth in their events. Our stats show nonprofits that promote teams in their events grew 28% in 2016. It’s good to know that having a recruitment plan and recruitment goals in place can make a positive difference.