For the past two years, my group of friends and I have been able to engage and retain young professionals in Boston, transforming them into valuable donors for a cause that we are passionate about.
In our first year, we sold 850 tickets and raised over $67,000. The next year, we nearly doubled this amount, raising $108,000 from over 1,000 donors - and I’m going to tell you exactly how.
But first, let me give you a little backstory.
I live in Boston, where our summers are short, so we make the most of them. My friends and I had spent the past few summers throwing weekend beach parties to bring everyone together, catch some rays, and celebrate the beautiful weather.
After a great summer two years ago, my friends and I decided that we wanted to continue bringing people together throughout the year.
But instead of just throwing beach parties, we decided that we wanted to bring people together to support a worthy cause.
A recent family experience had highlighted the passion, skill, and innovation at Boston’s own Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Without any debate, we quickly selected this organization as the one we wanted to support.
We set out to create an experience.
As young professionals ourselves, we knew that we had a unique opportunity to engage a large audience of twenty-somethings while supporting an amazing cause - the fight against cancer.
Those familiar with millennials and young professionals know that this group is more likely to spend their disposable income on experiences over material goods. But at the same time, millennials are consciously aware and demanding with regard to the restaurants, stores, and even the charitable organizations that they support.
This same characteristic presents a challenge - in order to captivate millennials and young professionals, you must present them with an unforgettable experience.
Considering the tastes of our target audience, we determined that our best path to success would be to engage our guests with a unique and memorable experience, while still tying this experience to a worthy cause.
In the end, our group cracked the code and began an amazing fundraising journey. Our first fundraiser brought over 850 young professionals to an event that donated over $65,000 to Dana-Farber. Just 12 months later, we nearly DOUBLED our donation, engaging over 1,000 young professionals - and donating $108,000!
So, how exactly did we build such a loyal following out of an audience that is historically hard to engage?
We started with a great fundraiser committee.
In order to connect with a large group of young professionals, we first needed to build a team that was in touch with their inner millennial - it takes one to know one.
We built our committee with the intention of amplifying our individual networks, in order to reach a much wider potential guestlist.
Even more important, however, was the mindset of our committee - as members of the very target we were trying to reach, our team had valuable insight and ideas on how to get through to this group.
Finally, having a group of twenty-somethings on our committee also proved to be instrumental when it came time to promote our event. As a group of 24-year-olds, we were all well-connected on social networks.
Themes are Fun.
With a committee in place, we moved on to developing a theme that would be unique and exciting for our audience.
We were lucky to secure a cool (no pun intended) venue with the New England Aquarium in Boston. What’s not to like about an open bar, dancing, and penguins?
While we were on the topic of penguins, we figured we would have everyone dress up like penguins, too! Not actual penguins - but tuxedos aren't far off.
The key here was realizing that a formal event would be a perfect experience for our demographic. At our age, people get tired of going out to the same old bars over and over. At the same time, they’re looking to break out of their shell and dress up every now and then.
By making our event formal attire, we presented a refreshing setting for our audience.
Now, a fun venue and formal attire are a great start to a successful fundraiser, but we still had our work cut out for us.
In order to give our event a more professional look, we contacted a good friend working in graphic design. She put together an amazing logo and flyer for our event. These graphics enhanced our overall Fall Formal theme, tied into our venue selection, and added credibility to our cause.
It was time to get the word out!
Sidebar: Quality graphic design is essential
Professional-quality graphic design makes your event look much more credible. For a first-time event without an established track record, this simple task will more than pay for itself.
Spread the word.
To get the word out effectively, we had to spread our message where our target demographic hung out.
And as we all know, young professionals check their Facebook accounts multiple times a day. This was a great place to start for us.
After writing a fun description and adding a link to purchase tickets on our event page, we were ready to spread the word.
Now, a few tips for your outreach approach on Facebook. When it comes to launching your event, you usually only get one chance. Our approach relies on word of mouth (whether digital or in person).
We encourage you to refrain from blasting off an invite to all 1,132 people on your Facebook friends list (minus your exes, of course). It is CRITICAL that you invite your closest friends first. These people will be your early adopters and best supporters / advocates for your cause.
Start with your inner circle, and ask that group to invite their close friends as well. For nonprofits, the same idea holds true, but rather than inviting close friends, you will first be inviting your strongest supporters and fans.
The major benefits here are:
- People are more likely to accept an invite from a close friend.
- People trust their friends. They assume that their friend has already vetted the event and thinks it will be worth attending.
- It also keeps your ‘ratio’ low. The ‘ratio’ I’m referring to is that of attendees to invitees. Keeping your ratio low creates a sense of exclusivity and intent to attend, helping to justify the ticket price.
Stay active but not spammy.
To stay on the radar of our attendees and those getting ready to purchase tickets, we periodically created fun posts on Facebook.
Many of the posts were about our 50+ item raffle, with cool prizes ranging from restaurant gift certificates to our grand prize week-long beach house getaway.
We also created a couple of fun memes to keep the mood light, and get people excited about the big event.
Adding some suspense to your event is always a great way to inspire return visits to your Facebook event page, or your fundraiser’s website.
In the months leading to our fundraiser, we alluded to different surprises that would be announced as the big night approached.
By doing so, we kept our audience on its toes, and built additional hype for our announcements and event.
In our case, we dropped a few hints at dancing with penguins on the night of our event, but didn’t fully explain what exactly we were talking about. We knew we had generated some buzz when we began receiving Eventbrite messages, asking what people could do to ensure a spot dancing with the penguins - no joke.
Our big reveal occurred the night of our event, when we bought a penguin costume and hired a ballroom dancer (off Craigslist) to wear it and dance with the crowd.
Buyer beware: Craigslist can be risky - our penguin man disappeared with the costume after a few hours.
Build a website.
Seriously, build a website. You can do it yourself in less than an hour. It’s not hard. Just use a tool like Squarespace or Weebly. Our site was 5 simple pages:
- Landing page with event details
- Ticket purchase
- Link to the charity
- Link to the venue
- Raffle items
This quick site made the event look more legit, and also gave people an easy way to find our event when their friends told them about it.
Now for actually selling the tickets...
When considering ticket cost and young professionals, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.
First, there is an invisible threshold with any price that breaks into triple digits ($100 and over). This is especially true for young professionals who are balancing everything from student loans to buying furniture.
Falling into that bucket ourselves, we knew that starting ticket sales below $100 would get the ball rolling. Our fundraiser had a full open bar, so $85 a ticket seemed reasonable, given that our audience would be spending nearly that amount to go out on a typical Saturday night (again, it’s always great to think like your target audience!).
The ‘early bird’ tickets selling at $85 brought in an initial wave of attendees, who then began spreading the word and Peer Pressuring their friends to buy tickets.
As the $85 tickets sold out, the initial purchasers continued to encourage their friends to buy tickets. This put us on a quick trajectory towards selling out.
Naturally, our margins increased as ticket prices increased, so we took advantage of our generation’s massive Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) to raise even more for Dana-Farber with our final ticket threshold at $115.
As our event approached, tickets were selling three times as fast as in the previous weeks.
With that, let’s recap how we got over 850 young professionals to give up a Saturday night and shell out $100 for a ticket to a museum.
- Make the event something to look forward to
- Amplify your social reach through your peers
- Use early bird ticket purchasers as your advocates
- Create an Experience
- Build a strong fundraising team
- Create an engaging theme
- Spread the word effectively
- Be strategic about your ticket sales strategy
We hope you find this post to be a useful guide when creating your next fundraising event, especially if one of your goals is to target millennials!
|Jon Kazarian is the co-founder and CEO of Accelevents, a mobile fundraising platform that enhances silent auctions and raffles through online and text message bidding. An active member in the Boston fundraising scene and co-founder of the Boston Fall Formal, Jon focuses on improving traditional fundraising methods and increasing fundraiser proceeds.|