5 steps to keep your challenge event participants running back for more...
by Amy Appleton
The reasons a person signs up to a charity sponsor event can vary greatly. Whether they are an enthusiastic, loyal champion of your cause or a new supporter enticed by the event, it is vital to the growth of your events programme that your supporter journey keeps them running, cycling and skydiving back for more.

Whilst challenge events can be a logistical nightmare for the charity, it is the participant that is taking on the challenge. They are giving up their time and training hard. They’ll be nervous, anxious and canvasing the support of anyone they know. This level of dedication deserves to be celebrated and as fundraiser, it is your job to make sure that every participant gets the level of support they need throughout the entire process.

It is widely accepted that a blanket email, running vest and occasional case study is no longer enough (was it ever?!), but what steps can you take to improve your supporter journey without breaking the time and resource banks?
1. Make it personal!

You are going to need to tailor your approach to suit your supporter. To do this effectively, you need to understand why they are supporting you. When someone signs up to your event, chances are they receive a confirmation email – don’t let this be the only initial contact they receive! Within the first week of a new participant signing up, you should call them personally. The purpose of which is to say thank you, build the relationship and for you to fact-find:

- Why they are taking part?

- Do they have any personal connection to the cause?

- Is this the first time they have done this kind of event?

- How are they planning to fundraise?

- What support would they find helpful?

If the participant is a regular supporter and you know them well, it is still good practice to call them too. You can chat about whether they are going for a personal best, ask how you can improve their experience this year and maybe even ask them for a veteran tip to share with the newer participants.

Now that you know your participants and understand why they are supporting your charity, it is really important that you make sure every communication is personalised. The number of participants that you have will affect how much time you can spend on each communication, but even if you have large numbers, you can create a template with space to add a personal introductory line.
2. Let them set the bar

We have all been there, two weeks before the event and no matter how many times you refresh their online giving page, you have participants who just don’t seem to be fundraising. It can be tricky, you don’t want to pile on the pressure, but you also don’t want the places to cost more than they raise. Many have tried to combat this by setting high minimum sponsorship or targets to only attract those who are ‘really serious’. Ultimately, these high goals can actually have the opposite effect. If the participant isn’t invested in the goal or thinks it is just out of their reach, they may feel defeated from the outset.

Alternatively, you should encourage each participant to set their own target. They will have a good idea of how much they can raise and once they set the target it will make them more accountable to achieving it. Plus, it means that you will have a more realistic predicted income from the beginning – brownie points from the finance department!

Top Tip: If they set a target that is too low, it gives you the opportunity to explain the cost of the place to the charity and offer helpful ways you can support them to boost the target.

3. Support their fundraising

Actively create opportunities to boost your participants’ targets. Arrange a few bag-packs or bucket collections and invite your participants along, whatever they have in their bucket will be added to their target.

Don’t just send a link to an online giving page or a few ideas of how they can fundraise. Instead, tell your participants what worked really well last year for your most successful fundraisers. Even better, ask your best fundraiser to share their top tips.

Be creative with your online giving support. Maybe ask a digital marketing person to put together a guide to success. Pre-set your online giving pages so that they are automatically branded on set up and have a motivational body of text that each participant can personalise. Emphasise the importance of making their pages personal, offer links to really great examples and ensure that you explain that direct asks will always do better than just sharing a page on social media.

Be clear on the difference that your participants are making. Set price points of what their fundraising can buy - how many people will their money help? Not only will this motivate the participant, it can help to package up donation points for their sponsors.
4. Make them feel special

Be creative! Ask your beneficiaries to paint pictures, write cards, do a little thank you letter or video. Make sure they are personal and then post them out to each participant. If possible, arrange an open morning or afternoon for your participants to come in and see your work first hand and meet your beneficiaries (where appropriate). If it isn’t possible, ask your operational team to do videos, letters and meetings – anything that you can do to make your event participants know that they are a valued member of the team.

Bonus – if you have charity ambassadors, ask them to do a shout out video!

Involve your participant stories in your charity comms. Do celebratory social media posts to highlight how great your supporters are. Share their personal stories and links to their fundraising pages to make them special and shout about their success. Schedule one story a week in the run up to the event and ensure that you have the permissions that you need.

Also, focus on the little things, you could include an energy bar when you post their running vest. Just think of the things that you can do to show your appreciation.
5. Don't end there!

You spend months building a relationship with this person, having regular communications and they’re invested in your charity, then BOOM(!) the event ends, you say thank you and never speak to them again. Definite anti-climax!

In fact, the 2015 Institute Of Fundraising (IOF) Closing the Loop research project found that whilst 92% of fundraising event participants would consider supporting the charity again, only 44% were asked to take part in another event and a whopping 23% never heard from the charity again!

After the event, make sure that you get in touch with each participant to let them know the difference they have made. This is another good point to send those thank you messages from beneficiaries and your charity team. You could suggest they get involved again next year or promote a new challenge that they may be up for. If they loved the beneficiary involvement or have a skill that would be of value, you could recommend that they volunteer. Or maybe they can nominate you as their employers’ charity of the year.

Whatever reason that you get in touch, just make sure you keep the relationship ticking over. As seen earlier, support from previous event participants can actually add value for new participants and an invested challenge event team means you can grow your events fundraising.

Have you had a stand-out challenge event experience? Whether it was great, bad or ugly, get in touch and tell me all about it at amy.appleton@kedaconsulting.co.uk or get in touch on Twitter.

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