Getting the Crowd Involved with Participatory Fundraising

Participatory fundraising is the strategy of using dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people, participating in a single even or campaign, to raise money for an organization. Things like walk-a-thons, collecting change (Operation Rice Bowl), and restaurant weeks where a number of eateries all donate a percentage of profits to a charity are all examples of participatory fundraising.

Many schools, churches, and other non-profits focus on trying to raise a small number of large gifts, but forget that raising a large number of small gifts can also help them meet their fundraising goals. Participatory fundraising is definitely hard work, and is always an organizational challenge. But getting 200 people to raise $50 each for your charity raises the same amount of money as getting one major donor to contribute $10,000 to your group. How can your non-profit benefit from participatory fundraising?

1. Be Creative!

There is any number of ways to set up a participatory fundraising campaign for your organization. Some common examples include:

  1. “A-Thons,” like walk-a-thons, read-a-thons, dance-a-thons, and bike-a-thons.
  2. Spare change collections
  3. Mass events – where dozens of supporters all hold small events for you in their homes on the same night or weekend
  4. Retail Fundraising – Where a chain of stores, or a number of independent stores, all collect money for you, or donate a percentage of sales to your non-profit

These are just a few examples… in reality, the opportunities are limited only by your imagination.

2. Set up a Program

Don’t approach your participatory fundraising efforts willy-nilly. Set up a real program that you want people, or companies, to be involved with. Create a list of benefits that participants will receive and recognition/awards that you will offer, professionally designed marketing materials, and a small booklet that tells interested prospects how to participate (where the walk-a-thon will be, how to run their own small event, etc.) The best participatory fundraising efforts are run as professionally as possible.

3. Market Your Opportunity

Once you have set up your program, you will need to aggressively market your fundraising opportunity to possible participants. The first year you run your program, it may be hard to find people or companies to be involved. Each succeeding year, it will become easier and easier.

For example, I know of one organization that decided to hold a walk-a-thon. The first year, they got 12 people to participate, mostly board members and friends of the staff. The second year, they asked the first-year participants to become a “walk-a-thon committee,” and nine of them agreed. That year, they had over 30 participants. Just five years later, the walk-a-thon had over 500 walkers. As you market your participatory fundraising event year after year, you will hopefully see similar growth.

The best ways to market your opportunity are by appealing to your current supporters, board, and staff, as well as past event participants, and to develop a prospect list of individuals and companies with whom your non-profit has a connection, and approach them and ask for their help for your mission.

Participatory fundraising events can be challenging to start and take lots of time to get rolling, but within a few years, many organizations have been able to make mass fundraising events an integral part of their fundraising plans.