NEWS: Most successful fundraising events fulfil participants’ psychological needs

  • New research from Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy
  • 10 key factors that contribute to “outstanding success” in events fundraising
  • Focus on fulfilling participants’’ psychological needs is key.

The most successful fundraising events focus on providing psychological benefits to their organisers and participants, not just on ‘superficial’ benefits such as winning an auction prize, new research from Plymouth University’s Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy (HCSP) has concluded.

Sponsored by American organisations Boomerang, QGiv, and GiveSmart, the report ­– Great fundraising events: from experience to transformation – explores several questions:

  • What makes a fundraising event successful?
  • Where do successful ideas come from and why do some events succeed and others fail?
  • What issues must be considered in design and implementation to boost popularity and deliver supporter value?

The HCSP team conducted a series of 30 interviews with individuals leading successful event initiatives in both the UK and the USA, mapping out 10 key factors that charities should address to ensure success.

A notable finding was the need for charities to focus on the fundamental human needs of participants.

HCSP’s director, and report co-author, Professor Adrian Sargeant says:

“A focus on surface level motives is not enough. For sure, individuals may participate in an event because they want the challenge, the social interaction or to make a difference to in the lives of a beneficiary group that is important to them. But all events can supply these benefits.

“We found that outstanding fundraising events are those that offer outstanding psychological benefits to their participants. In simple terms, this shift can be thought of as a move from reflecting on what supporters might want, to a reflection on how the fulfilment of those wants could make them feel – their human wellbeing.

“To enhance wellbeing, charities need to focus on the needs people have to make a difference, to experience a degree of autonomy in making that difference, to experience a genuine and warm connection with others, to experience growth and to be able to identify and clarify meaning in their life.”

The research identifies 10 key factors that contribute to outstanding success in events fundraising:

  1. A high degree of donorcentricity
  2. A focus on fundamental human needs
  3. A high level of investment in the team
  4. Selection of an appropriate mindset
  5. Focus on transformations not experiences
  6. Driving emotions with effective storytelling
  7. Constantly drive innovation
  8. Innovation focused on human needs
  9. Technology focused on human needs
  10. The creation of board champions

Co-author Harriet Day – a research associate at HCSP – says:

“A successful fundraising event can heighten participants’ sense in any of these dimensions. But to be effective fundraisers need to ask themselves what combination of these fundamental human needs they can best meet given the supporter group that they will attract to any given event.

“Once these needs are specified, fundraisers can then explore how they might be able to meet these needs through the design of their events AND their associated communications. This does not happen by default it needs to be actively planned for.”

The results confirm the theoretical intuitions in Rogare’s recent review of relationship fundraising where the team identified that higher order needs had the potential to be fulfilled through fundraising.

Fundraising events are an increasingly important tool for charities, given the difficulty in recruiting and engaging donors through other channels. Events can be valuable in driving awareness of the cause and/or its associated service provision and they can also be used to great effect in the context of stewardship, helping build long-term relationships with supporters and acknowledging/rewarding them for the contribution they have made to the organization.

They can be particularly effective in the major gift context, where they can assist in the identification of new and potentially high-value supporters and add an enjoyable social dimension to supporter relationships as individuals participate in activities such as networking events, dances, dinners, galas and auctions.

A copy of the report can be downloaded for free at:

The research was sponsored by sector suppliers Bloomerang, QGiv and GiveSmart.

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