11 Tips to Elevate Your Fundraising

Successful Fundraising Tips from Experts can help you Succeed

By Paul Tyler

Participating in sporting events for charitable organizations like World T.E.A.M. Sports has become increasingly popular in recent years. By doing so, it brings a sense of purpose to your athletic training and gives you the opportunity to run, ride, paddle or climb for the benefit of others. But what about the fundraising? It’s hard to ask people for money, particularly in a down economy, so I asked a group of highly successful fundraisers to share their best tips on raising money while training for events.

The New York City chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society graciously put me in touch with seven of their most successful Team in Training (TNT) fundraisers in the New York metro area. These individuals come from a wide variety of professions including attorneys, artists and construction managers. Some were raised in the city and others recently moved there for new jobs. All share a passion for adventure, triathlon, and supporting great causes.

Here are their tips in successful fundraising.

Paul Tyler

Paul Tyler is a successful fundraiser at non-profit sporting events.

#1) Start Your Fundraising Efforts Early
Veronica Perez, Senior Director for New York City’s Team in Training says timing is everything. “We never want people to procrastinate. We don’t want people to hit goals, we want them to exceed them.” Alejandro Moreno, a financial analyst and first-time fundraiser, raised close to $9,000 recently for the New York City Triathlon, echoed this recommendation. “Email people the minute you start…once you’re in training, you will lose a lot of free time and energy,” he advised.

Often, organizations will offer added benefits for reaching goals by a particular deadline prior to the event. These benefits may be special gift packets, free gear, even complimentary lodging and/or transportation. Why not take advantage of these special opportunities to make your World T.E.A.M. Sports event experience more memorable?

#2) Lose Your Inhibition to Ask People for Money
Most of the people consulted about successful fundraising are mentors for other Team in Training participants. All agreed that getting over the hurdle of asking other people for money is one of the most important steps to getting started. Doug Jossem says, “Get over any nervousness early in the process.” Jossem is an advertising executive who personally raised $39,000 for a recent NYC Triathlon and was captain of a corporate team that raised over $200,000 that same year. “Recognize that this is truly a selfless act that will benefit others,” he said. Jason Hare and his wife raised over $16,000 recently for the same event. He also emphasized the importance of a positive mindset. “Be proud of raising money for a cause.” Think that ‘I’m proud to raise it’ and that ‘you’ll be proud to donate’,” he said.

#3) Find Your Personal Connection to the Cause
To be an effective advocate for a particular charitable event and sponsoring organization, you must have conviction about the work it does and the people who benefit from it. Some participants have very direct links to the cause – Doug Jossem’s mother passed away from acute leukemia, and so he sought out the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and their fundraising events. Amy Abramson, who raised over $10,000 for the St. Anthony’s Triathlon in St. Petersburg, Florida recently, lost an aunt to lymphoma. Jason Hare and his wife built a connection to the cause by talking to people who had lost children to leukemia. Hare also started working for the Bone Marrow Foundation to provide more support. Consider how you relate to World T.E.A.M. Sports and our mission and events.

#4) Craft a Compelling Message
Your fundraising letter must have an impact on the recipient. It must clearly explain why you are raising money for the charity and why the charity deserves support. The first year that Doug Jossem raised money for TNT, he raised a remarkable $4,500 within 24 hours of sending his email solicitation. Laura Leitner said that if you’re raising money for an event for a second year in a row, tell people about your experience in the previous year and tie it to your motivation for the current year. Leitner has raised $12,000 for three different events. “Just before a race last year, I received a text from a friend who had recently been diagnosed with cancer. It said ‘thanks.’ I kept that in mind for the race the entire next day. I told people that story the following year.”

Include links in your message to supportive online photographs, videos, websites and downloadable applications that provide more information about the event and the sponsoring organization. Provide your audience with information as to why the event and the organization are worth supporting.

#5) Include an Effective Call to Action
Let people decide on their own how much to donate, based upon your story and their own tie to the World T.E.A.M. Sports event. “On the pledge page, don’t push people to specific amounts – high or low. Let the strength of your story draw the appropriate donations,” Doug Jossem advised. Encourage people to submit matching gift forms if their employers have an established program. Include ways in your email message for people to support you without sending money. Ask them to send you names to put on your jersey in their honor or memory. And remember to ask them to forward your request on to others who may also support your cause.

#6) Share Your Story With the World
All of the successful fundraisers stressed the importance of sending the message to everyone you possibly can. “Ask anyone and everyone…you never know who will give,” said Alejandro Moreno. For cancer-related causes, most people know someone who has suffered from the illness. For wounded warriors, everyone knows someone or is related to someone who has served in the military. It’s impossible to predict who will relate strongly to your cause. “People always surprise you,” says Laura Leitner, who has received significant contributions from her landlord and even ex-boyfriends. Use email as much as possible because it’s so easy to forward. However, don’t forget snail-mail appeals, particularly for your parents and people they may know who may not have email accounts or may not check email frequently. Also send your request to any association, network, or congregation to which you belong or used to belong. Frequently, they will forward your message to their entire membership list.

#7) Leverage Social Media
Tell your story on your Facebook and Google Plus pages and through Twitter. If you have photographs of your participation in an event, start a photo sharing site through Flickr, Shutterfly or another free online service. People will “like” and retweet your story to others who may donate. One friend of Laura Leitner made a very large donation without even being asked, just because of her Facebook post. You can also use these sites as ways to document your progress raising money and preparing for the event.

A QR code (“quick response”) is a new digital tool to use for supporting your cause. Organizations are beginning to create QR codes for events, allowing the use of free SmartPhone applications that read the code and automatically open a web browser to the event page. This eliminates the tedious task of correctly typing event web addresses, which can tend to be long and complex. Download and add the QR code to your email message or to personal appeal letters, or be creative and print a custom t-shirt or button with the code. By the way, QR codes are available for free downloading online – in minutes, anyone can create a code providing a direct link to their personal fundraising page.

#8) Keep People Updated in a Savvy Manner
Let people follow your progress. As Amy Abramson put it, “People want to live vicariously through you.” You should create an online blog or a Facebook page with lots of pictures that people can access when and how they want. Post photos on that page that show you training and participating in events. There was some disagreement among the fundraisers about how to encourage people to keep coming back to your page. Some, like Doug Jossem, advise against sending update emails beyond the original message that contained the link to your blog or event page. Abramson, however, sent two to three emails to her contacts over the course of a campaign. A few other fundraisers sent personal notes to their email list every other week. Everyone agreed that the frequency needs to be right for the targeted group and that you shouldn’t flood people with email messages.

#9) Create a Contributor Follow-Up System
“If someone promises to donate, put a reminder in your calendar and follow up within two weeks if they have not contributed,” Doug Jossem recommended. Alejandro Moreno concurred. He says, “Follow up with people who said they want to give, but don’t be too aggressive.” Again, learn to anticipate what the most effective communication strategy is within your own network.

#10) Consider Conducting a Fundraising Event
If you hit a wall in raising money, think of creative programs to build excitement among your donors. Given the effort this requires, first consider piggybacking off another similar event. Fabian Quesada, who raised $30,000 over four years for an event, suggested working with existing efforts. He talked to organizers of a business-related golf outing, built a program within their event and raised $10,000.

If you create do your own event, Laura Leitner stressed the importance of making the event fit your personality. “Think about your strengths and go from there,” she said. For instance, Jason Hare is an accomplished musician and arranged with his friends to do a benefit concert at a local bar. He raised $1,000 through the concert. Miriam Weiskind, in her fifth year of fundraising for TNT, specializes in creative events. One year, she took orders for home-baked brownies. One batch cost her $50 in materials. The same batch personally delivered by her in a wetsuit cost $100. She raised $1,000 through her effort. The next year, friends of the loquacious designer paid money to make her remain silent for an entire day. She raised $1,600 by saying nothing. The third year, she committed to running a race in a small bikini in the middle of February. Friends paid $10 a word to have messages written on her body. Certain areas of her body cost more than others. She raised a total of $3,000 for that single run. Bottom line, use your imagination and make your personalized fundraising event fun!

#11) Send a Personalized Thank You Note to Every Contributor
Last, but not least, make sure that everyone who makes a donation, whether large or small, receives a personal word of thanks from you. You might choose to send your thank you at the time of the donation, or immediately following the conclusion of the event. Some people send their thanks via email messages; others make a point of sending handwritten notes by mail. The style and format is ultimately up to you, but the core message must convey the gratitude for and the impact of their contribution.

Paul Tyler is a past President and CEO for World T.E.A.M. Sports, and a member of the organization’s board of directors. A version of this feature previously appeared online at Active.com.