Three ingredients for a successful outside events program

Collaboration, coordination and creativity

Third party events are events that your supporters create themselves. These include campaigns created around participation in endurance events (like marathons or walk-a-thons), celebrations (like weddings and birthdays), and memorials for loved ones, or just about anything your supporters think up to raise money for your cause.

Third party fundraisers are great but they need strict guidelines on everything from the event plan, promotion, to proper execution. It is a delicate balance but you can leverage your volunteer’s enthusiasm all while maintaining your organizational standards.

What you’ll need:

  • A clear vision for your program
  • Strong ties with the participants
  • Make your organizers autonomous
  • Promote the program and all outside events
  • Offer proper support
  • Create a recognition program

Why create a program for third party events?

Kevin Wolfe wrote a great article based on what he learned from Mike Malekoff (former Vice President at JDRF) and Todd Levy of DonorDrive when they presented a recent webinar on Third Party Events in partnership with the Run Walk Ride Fundraising Conference. Here are seven tips that stood out:

1. Engage new participants.

Many people may be put off by organized events, but would love the opportunity to contribute in their own way. A survey of third party participants shows that for most, their Personal Campaign was their first contact with the cause.

2. Increase geographical reach.

There are no event sites to manage so there are no geographic limitations. Potential supporters in a small market in a rural state can still engage your organization, even if your nonprofit can’t justify an office there.

3. Meet new donors.

Donors of third party campaigns are usually new to the cause as well. This is an easy way to build your database and cultivate donors who were brought to you through a personal connection.

4. Identify potential major donors.

When an individual organizes their own Personal Campaign or third party event then raises over $50,000, they probably have contacts who may be willing to give larger donations. Supporters that raise large sums can be immediately identified and segmented to receive additional stewardship.

5. Engage with minimal costs and better efficiency.

Engage these new supporters without additional hours or startup dollars. Once set up in your software, third party events are significantly more cost effective than traditional fundraising programs.

6. Fundraise during the off-season.

Between your signature events, you can encourage supporters to create third-party campaigns to balance out your fundraising year ’round.

7. Add flexibility to your fundraising.

Organizations no longer have to say “no” to supporters who want to create their own events, and they don’t have to create time-consuming work-arounds in their major event system to try and accommodate these requests.

Offer support

You’ll need a part-time or full-time employee who will provide personal customer service to the event organizers. Be sure to offer their name, number, and email on all outside events communications. Customer support is critical in providing proper assistance to these fundraisers.

Provide the following on the website for downloading by the registered participant:

• Fact Sheet
• Basics of Fundraising
• Basics of Hosting an Event
• Instructions on How to Use the Online Tools
• Approved Logos (“Proud Supporter Of”) and Letters of Support
• “Ask” and Press Release Templates

Don’t forget that an outside event leader may experience fundraising fatigue. Stay in touch with them to recognize this and suggest other ways they can have an impact, perhaps through other volunteer or advocacy work that does not require asking for funds until they are motivated again to do so.


Create a Recognition Program

According to Raising More Money Online with Third-Party Fundraising Events  by Meghan Dankovich and  Mark Davis, there are three primary reasons a volunteer, participant, or donor gives his time and talent: to belong, to feel good, and to be acknowledged. A comprehensive recognition program is critical to help motivate supporters.

  • Design a recognition program around the objectives of your outside event program.
  • Share the successes of top fundraisers and top teams with stories in e-newsletters and on the home page of the micro-site and main website of your organization.
  • Consider offering an “All Star” program for long-term and high-achieving participants with experiential rewards, such as a recognition lunch at the local affiliate in their area.
  • Include an “honor roll” on the website main page and on participant pages.
  • Use social media to celebrate their efforts, including blogging, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.
  • Include a message board on your website for others to comment and support their favorite participant.
  • Offer the ability to post tributes allowing participants to share who they are acting in memory of.

An outside event program offers an organization the opportunity to raise money at a relatively low cost of fundraising, while providing a deeper level of engagement with the organization’s strongest supporters. Independent fundraisers are able to reach donors otherwise unattainable by the organization through their personal social networks. These “super volunteers” also spread awareness beyond the reach of the organization through these activities. With online activity increasing as a whole, managing an outside event program primarily via a website with online tools is absolutely feasible, effective, and significantly reduces the cost of operation.

Again, because “the ask” is very personal from this type of supporter, it is also a more dependable source of income in tough economic times. Lastly, a third party program offers your target audience a very personal form of involvement at an emotional level, where the passion of their fundraising typically raises more than the traditional fundraising event participant. Should your organization lack the resources or confidence to put any or all of these best practices into effect, there are outside agencies available to help.


Events Ideas
Get creative! Here are a few ideas you can offer organizers:

Matching Gift • Holiday Party •  A-thons: Walk, skip, read, bike, dance, knit, swim, bowl, skate, aerobics •  Raffles • Auctions • Galas/Parties:  Black tie dinner, concert, garden tour, art show, performance of a play, BBQ beach party, boat cruise, theme party, dress rehearsal performance, food fair, gala premiere, dance, celebrity luncheon, talent show • Sporting Events and Tournaments: Baseball game, football game, golf tournament, tennis tournament, fishing derby, poker tournament, ping pong/pool/billiards/darts tournament, soccer tournament • Garage Sale • BBQ •  Bake Sale •  Head Shaving • Penny/Loonie/Twoonie Drive •  Car Wash/Pet Wash •  Arts and Crafts sale/show •  “Dress Down” Day • Automatic paycheck contributions

Don’t forget to promote your event and your fundraising goals! The more people you get involved the more money you can raise.


What to include in your Event Organizer Guidelines kit

  • Intro
  • Event Approval Form
  • Promotion and Logo Usage
  • Sponsorship info
  • Financial Guidelines
  • Tax Deduction / Donor Acknowledgement
  • Liability and Cancellation
  • What the Organization Can Do For You

What to include in your Third party fundraising agreement

  • Event information
  • Event contact information
  • Event details
  • Promotion / marketing
  • Help (how can we help support your event?)
  • Insurance
  • Budget expectations
  • Proposal understanding
  • Signatures

Also Include:

  • Organizations core values to be respected
  • Ethical fundraising & financial accountability code
  • AFP code of ethical principles and standards of professional practice

Your audience is caring, motivated, volunteering, and asking for guidance. Respond with a program that educates, empowers, and encourages them. They are not looking for the hand out or for you to run their event for them. They are looking for a “hand up”, assistance and guidance on how to make an impact by combining their passion with your mission.


Congratulations to our client Le Phare who launched their third party program in 2010: Unis pour le Phare. Unis pour le Phare is a program that, through various fundraising activities, aims to develop a feeling of solidarity toward the Lighthouse, Children and Families (Le Phare) among merchants, professionals, and businesses. Phil contributed to the development of an action plan to grow the initiative and created various tools to promote it. In 2010, 13 events were organized on their behalf raising $33,500; in 2011: 25 activities raised $55,000; and in 2012, 66 events raised a whopping $156,500! BRAVO!

Written by Kim Fuller