Our focus at DonorDrive is making fundraising through our peer-to-peer software easy for participants. However, many of our nonprofit clients are having success with creating a meaningful challenge for their participants by adding a level of difficulty to their event itself.
The value of a hard time
You want your event participants to have a compelling story to share. Extreme events, like mudders and triathlons, have that built in. People want to hear about what their friend did because they did something remarkable. As a peer-to-peer donor to that person, they may want to experience that as well, so it helps with recruitment. The magic that keeps people coming back is the entirety of the experience. That’s from hearing about your event, registering, fundraising, what happens at the event itself, and what happens afterward with you sharing their impact. The whole event experience needs to create a powerful memory. It needs to be a capstone for that experience.
Easy can make events uneventful
This experience is much more intense than events, like walks, which are easy to do. Some nonprofits have been making their events even easier by adding options for walking shorter distances. This can attract more supporters, but when you make it that easy on the participant, it’s challenging to create an impression. Your participants should come away from your event feeling like something meaningful happened to them. I’ve been to walks and afterwards, all I could say:
I went there and I had a nice day and that’s about all I can share. That’s not worth tweeting.
The spectrum of the difficulty
The harder something gets, the smaller the audience that’s up for it. At one end you have the very easy, like charitable giving: I buy a box of thin mints from my daughter. At the extreme end, you have the lady who jumps out of a hot air balloon and skis down Mount Everest in a bunny suit (I’m betting that will happen one day.) That’s an audience of one person. The advantage to that extreme level of difficulty is the bigger challenges and the more difficult the events become, the more each participant tends to raise.
What our clients are finding is that there’s a sweet spot in the middle. The intensity is there, but it’s not so difficult that only extreme athletes are able to do it. By the nature of the participant doing something extraordinary, they have an amazing story to share. That can show in their fundraising.
What you need to make easy
While you want to add this level of difficulty, everything else about fundraising and participating in your peer-to-peer event should be smooth. So registration, online fundraising and sign-in should be frictionless. Trying to find a port-a-potty is not the hardship or challenge you want to put your participant through or have them talk about on social media. Your participants should come away from your event feeling like something meaningful happened to them.
Example: World Vision’s 6K for Water
DonorDrive client, Team World Vision, established themselves with half marathons, full marathons and ultra marathons around the world. So they fully understand that type of event. But they’ve also made a much more family-friendly, community event that still retains some of that intensity with their 6K for Water. Six kilometers is the average distance someone in the developing world has to go to get water every day. Typically that’s a child and that water is likely diseased or dangerous. So when you do their 6K for water, you’re building wells and taking that burden off of someone else. They’re no longer having to do the 6K trek every day. You’re doing it for them. So it’s a really great way to bring the cause back to the reality of what you’re doing.
You can do the 6K for Water however you like: walk or run, with your kids, a stroller, even pets. If you want it to be easy, it can be. They also have a track called the Jerry Can Challenge. You can live the experience and carry a full jerry can of water. At a separate start point, they fill up a Jerry can and and you carry 40 pounds of water for the 6K, which is hard. No fancy backpack, no wheels, you’re just carrying it yourself. This challenge doesn't make the event less accessible. It provides these participant and everyone who sees them do it with a better story to tell.
Example: Covenant House’s Sleep Out
Another example of something that’s not physically challenging is DonorDrive client Covent House’s Sleep Out program. They raise funds to help teenagers who are homeless. You do something easy, which is sleep. But you get out of your ordinary comfort zone by sleeping outside, as many of these kids have had to do. It brings participants closer to the mission. It’s not a very comfortable experience, but anyone can do it and everyone talks about it.
Example: Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Extra Life
Extra Life is a virtual event, a 24-hour gaming marathon. You’re doing something that’s fun and easy, but you’re doing it for 24 hours. This is near to our hearts at DonorDrive. In addition to creating the peer-to-peer software used for Extra Life, about half of our staff has participated in Extra Life every year since 2011.
I can attest to the difficulty of trying to keep going at three or four in the morning. I can speak with experience as a fundraiser that part of the story is about how you fundraised along the way. The experience of doing Extra Life gives me a story to tell. The story is instantly compelling:
Hey I’m doing this weird thing playing video games all day and night and into the morning with my co-workers.
The challenge gets participants over the stigma of fundraising
You run into participants who still think it’s rude to ask for money. We all have this vague feeling that it’s impolite to ask. We know intellectually it’s for a good cause. We’re not asking them to give their money to us, but there’s this lingering societal thing that makes the ask difficult to do.
What we see with these events that give participants a hard time is that having a story to tell really helps them get over that hump. Instead of leading with an apology of:
Hey I’m sorry about this, and it’s no big deal if you can’t, but..., you’re more inclined to lead with the story of what you’re going to do and why. In addition to telling that story to everyone they know about what they accomplished, they also feel much more comfortable with fundraising for your nonprofit. So by making participating hard, you’re helping to make fundraising easy.