millennial fundraising Q&A

How to Attract and Retain Millennial Donors: A Q&A Session

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A while back, we wrote a post focusing on four ways to acquire and retain millennial donors. In order to provide the best advice we could on millennial fundraising, we drew from many of the best practices we had learned over the past two years, organizing our annual fundraising event in Boston, the Boston Fall Formal.Our fundraiser is geared almost completely toward millennial donors, and in our first year, we attracted over 840 guests and raised more than $67,000 for the prestigious Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.In our second year, we raised $108,000 from over 1,000 Boston-area millennials and young professionals.To help you and your team with your next fundraising endeavor, we thought we’d expand a bit on our fundraising experience, and provide you with detailed information on how we improved our contribution each year, while still keeping our millennials donors engaged. To help guide our conversation, we’ve answered questions from a fellow millennial fundraising host (thanks, Elsa!).

Q: How much of your total proceeds from the two years (about $175,000) came from ticket sales versus pure donations versus opportunity drawing proceeds?

A: This is a great question, and brings up an important point to keep in mind as you plan your next fundraising event. While most vendors will provide your event with some type of discount to support your charitable event, you must factor in the cost of running a fundraising event. Depending on the type of event you hold, different cost components could include:

  • Venue Cost
  • Food / Drink Cost (higher cost for open bar)
  • Entertainment (band, DJ, photographer, photobooth, etc.)
  • Décor
  • Ticketing Processing Fees

When planning your event, it’s always good to have a detailed estimate of the costs you will incur. This level of detail will give you a better idea of what your final contribution to your charity will be and will also help you understand what you can afford for your event.Specifically for our event, our revenue broke down as follows:

Doing some quick math here, you’ll see that our revenue was well over our total proceeds of $175,000, meaning we incurred about $117,000 in costs over the past two years of our event!Keeping accurate records of your costs will be hugely important in maintaining a strong ratio of revenue to cost while planning your event.

Q: What was the breakdown among corporate sponsorship and pure donations?

A: Another great question! As with costs, we find it to be extremely beneficial to track all of your sponsorship and donation amounts, in order to track any patterns and see where your donation outreach may be more successful.Surprisingly, we did not solicit sponsors in the first year of our event, meaning all of our proceeds from donations were from individuals, not corporate sponsors. While we considered the inaugural event to be a success, we clearly had a lot to learn.Using this lesson from our first event, we put a lot more effort into attracting and winning amazing sponsors. (You can download our Ultimate Guide to Sponsorship at the end of this post!)Shifting our efforts resulted in a much different breakdown than in our first year, and as a result, sponsorship and individual donations were at about a 50:50 split – these additional sponsorship dollars were the major contributor to our increased proceeds in year two!

Q: What was your retention rate from year one to year two?

A: Our high retention rate played a significant role in the growth of our event. While we were very happy with the new attendees we attracted in year two, the return attendees helped spread the word on the event, and continue to drive awareness up until the night of the event.Comparing year two to year one, we retained about 58% of our initial attendees! More to come on our tips for engaging these attendees, further down in this post.

Q: Did your dollars-to-people ratio change year over year?

A: Yes! Increasing the dollars raised per person also helped our team increase our donation amount in the second year of our event. For those of you who do not know, dollars-to-people ratio is the ratio of proceeds donated to donors at your event. There are two ways to improve your dollars per person number:

  • Increase your overall revenue
  • Decrease your costs

Obviously, a combination of both would be best. For our event, our costs remained pretty flat from year one to year two. As mentioned before, the major difference in our higher dollars per person and donation amount was most significantly related to our increased revenue resulting from the sponsors that we attracted for the event.As we move forward into year three of our event, we will be leaning even harder toward attracting a higher volume of sponsors.

Q: Do you have any thoughts on engaging millennials as straight donors instead of as event attendees? Fundraising events can be expensive – are they truly necessary to engage millennials in order to garner donations from them?

A: While it is definitely possible to generate straight donations from millennials, we’ve found that the key to acquiring and retaining millennial donors is to provide engaging and unique experiences. Millennials constantly seek connections to the causes they support, and one of the best ways to create this connection is by building a relationship / experience through a special event.Some of our additional thoughts on engaging and retaining millennial donors include:

  • Get Personal – Tell the story of your cause, and how it has personally affected yourself and your committee.
  • Utilize Technology – Millennials are very connected. In order to gain their donations, you must be, too! For your next fundraiser, be sure to embrace mobile technology through donation pages, mobile silent auctions and raffles, and even email campaigns.
  • Embrace FOMO – Play into millennials’ fear of missing a great time. Promoting your event through social media, videos, and other digital media will cause those in your audience to fear that they will be missing a great time, further convincing them to engage with your event and support your cause.
  • Show Your Appreciation – This is a staple for all nonprofits and fundraising events. Don’t forget to thank your attendees and donors for their contributions – this is their hard-earned money that you are asking for, after all!

Finally, while we do think that fundraising events are one of the best ways to engage millennial donors, this does not mean that you need each attendee to join your event each year. By putting together thoughtful email campaigns, social media updates, and utilizing mobile technology, you can keep your initial attendees engaged, even if they may not attend your event, or if you’re not planning on holding one each year.

  • Email Campaigns & Social Media Updates – Both of these tools are great ways to update your audience. We use these mostly to:
  • Update donors on progress made from our fundraising event.
  • Provide any updates that the organization or cause you support has made.
  • Thank your donors and attendees for their support.
  • Mobile Technology – Mobile technology allows you to reach your donors throughout the year, regardless of their geographic location or the timing of your event. With tools such as donation pages and mobile silent auctions and raffles, you can promote your cause or organization anytime throughout the year, and can reach a large potential donor base of people who may not be able to attend your physical event.

These elements combine to create a connected approach to fundraising that will keep your donors in the loop and donating year after year.


After reading this post, we hope you have a more detailed view into the numbers behind running a fundraising event. For more information on millennial fundraising, you can read a case study we created here! We’d love to answer some more questions, so ask yours in the comments section below!

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