• Sean Stephens

Fundraising Events: Is the potential for growth already exhausted?

In a tough fundraising environment, many charities are turning to challenges and events to shore up their falling income. Whether it’s running, baking or trekking across a mountain range, this type of event has seen rapid growth in recent years. So is there really room for much more? Nick Whillis, Planning Director at Arthur believes there is.

Giving is in decline, and competition is fierce, with the big charity brands increasing their investment to dominate the market. The upshot is that consumers are inundated with asks, exacerbating the fatigue that is causing the category decline in the first place. It’s a vicious circle.

More players on a smaller playing field

The media landscape is shifting too. Trusted direct marketing channels for individual giving are on the wane, due to burn out (out-of-home), distrust (face-to-face) or regulatory restrictions (direct mail). Fundraising is converging in to fewer channels most notably events as well as DRTV and digital. So an already competitive market is concentrating into a smaller playing field.

The data suggests that the market for mass events is saturated and that growth must mainly come from taking share. For every winner there will be losers. Circa 8-10m people (CAF) participate in events annually. But the top 25 UK charity events already have over 10m participants, and raise over £154m between them.

Why cancer charities are winning

Cancer fundraising events dominate the market. Whilst it’s true that this could be put down to the prevalence of cancer itself (approaching one in three people are closely affected by it), that fact alone does not account for the popularity of these events.

For over a decade the big cancer causes have delivered consistent brand stories that have made it Britain’s most supported health category. Cancer charities also make sure they give event participants a clear and palpable role to play. With their Race for Life, CRUK encourage people to take the fight to Cancer. Whilst the Moonwalk and Macmillan’s Coffee Morning, invite supporters to express solidarity.

The cancer charities teach us a good lesson; namely that putting the cause at the heart of the event is what works. Simply creating an event that is ‘fun to do’ will not guarantee that people will want to take part – and even less that they will actually raise any money.

Events that exploit an existing trend, such as Movember, may seem to be the exception that proves the rule (launched at a time when growing a moustache seemed somehow ironically ‘cool’ again). Yet, a closer look at the figures suggests that this type of event, is, by its very nature only going to last as long as the ‘trend’ it is based on remains a ‘cool’ thing to do.

Events that are either too generic, or too focused on the participant’s experience appear to have in-built expiry dates. But linking the event closely to the cause can not only give it longevity, but allow for diversification too. For example, in recent years we have seen brand new events, such as Pretty Muddy, launched under the banner of the Race for Life brand.

How a long-term approach can level the playing field

As the big events grow so the mid-size events are feeling the squeeze. Over half of the top 25 large events are in growth, meaning that building-up a small or medium sized event is tougher than it has ever been. Breakeven takes longer and ROIs are lower, scaling up is risky and expensive. Commitment and persistence are required.

So is there scope for more growth in fundraising events? Yes.

There is room for growth in the category. And there is room to drive more ROI out of existing programmes.

The opportunity for a smart practitioner is sizeable. But charities looking to grow income from their events portfolio will need to take a more planned and strategic approach in future and to do this they’ll need a planning framework.

6 steps to driving income from fundraising events

1. Audience, Insight and Portfolio Strategy Planning: to better define and identify eventer audiences, align product offerings, identify headroom and product gaps, plan product lifecycle, set a mid-to-long-term audience and portfolio strategy.

2. Platform Creative Idea: to unify the events portfolio with a consistent creative expression that motivates participation. The market is competitive so this needs to attribute strongly to the brand and make a compelling cause-led case for fundraising support.

3. New Product Development: where portfolio gaps and audience opportunities are identified to design compelling new event products. Establishing a new event takes time so it’s important to use a proven and objective innovation process to ensure the best chance of success.

4. Channel Planning: optimising acquisition channel planning, taking an audience led and multi-channel approach to acquisition with an increasing emphasis on a smart, content led approach in social media.

5. In-Event Journey Planning: using smart CRM to maximise participation, conversion and overall ROI of events.

6. Stewardship: bringing participants into the cause, maximising loyalty, advocacy and re-participation in events. And enabling cross-sell to other forms of support.

Arthur has a long history of helping Clients with their event marketing. If any of the challenges outlined here affect your programme and you’d like to know more about our approach then please contact