What's Really Going on with Events this Season?

Mark Davis - 05.18.2009

A recent article in the Boston Globe, entitled “Downturn slows elite charity events” has been widely circulated around the event fundraising circles. The article reports that “popular fund-raising events like walkathons are having a harder time attracting participants this year as walkers, runners, and bikers fear they won’t be able to meet pledge-collection commitments.” The article quotes registration results from the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, a two-day bike trip that requires a $4,200 fund-raising commitment, showing a drop by 10 percent from the same time last year.

Having read a variety of evidence on blogs and discussion groups both supportive and contrarian, I wanted to run a quick study on a subset of events to sample year-over-year results to really see what is happening.  I decided to test the observations set forth in the article by reviewing the online results from a number of fundraising events from 2008 to 2009. The study reviews data from 26 large challenge-based events (i.e., think marathon, triathlon, and bike-a-thon) which typically have large fundraising commitment levels from its participants.


The Study

We selected 26 events using Blackbaud Sphere, featuring Friends Asking Friends®, for our study. These events averaged $175,833 raised online from 334 participants. The data compared mid-event fundraising totals on May 1, 2008 to those same event totals on May 1, 2009. The study incorporates online activities only, as data for offline activity was not readily available. The study determined the following key trends:


  • Of the 26 events in the study, 14 experienced increased online revenues, while 12 experienced decreased online revenues from 2008 to 2009.
  • The events collectively increased overall online revenue by only 4.4 percent from 2008.
    • Online donations increased 2.1 percent.
    • Registrations fees increased 24.2 percent.
  • The number of online donors was up an impressive 26.9 percent, while the average gift was down a disappointing 19.6 percent - a decrease from $105.50 to $84.87.
  • The percentage of participants who actually were fundraising (i.e., collected at least one online gift) decreased from 41 to 37 percent.


Conclusions and Next Steps

At a high level, this information helped me draw a few conclusions on what is going on in the event fundraising marketplace so far this year:

  • On a bad note, it appears that online event revenue growth in 2009 will in fact be much lower than in previous years. Blackbaud Sphere natioanl event customers have averaged 18% growth in the previous three years.
  • On a good note, more participants appear to be signing up for these same events, resulting in more donors.
  • Participants are being faced with lower average gift amounts, as donors reduce their giving levels.
  • Our event customers continue to successfully shift more of their registration and fundraising activities online, resulting in reduced fundraising costs.


As an event fundraiser, I would be looking to further adopt the following key strategies:

  • An increase in number of participants and donors makes communication and stewardship programs more important. It is very important that you take the opportunity to educate your event supporters about other aspects about your organization. This task begins in earnest after your event is completed and continues right up and beyond the next year’s event.
  • Email becomes an even more important tool to deliver timely, segmented messages to motivate your participants and team captains to become more important fundraisers. This will help accelerate your event’s transition to more online revenue.
  • If you haven’t already started, you should enable your participants to use external Social Networking sites to promote their fundraising personal pages. I would suggest:


I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts on what else you are doing this year to support your events and counter the recession?


Read more about challenge events at:

Forbes Extreme Fundraising Article 3/25/2009

The Run Walk Ride Fundraising Council


Interested in challenging yourself?

Janus Charity Challenge

Challenged Athletes Foundation

Lance Armstrong Foundation LiveStrong Challenge

Team Fox

Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation


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