How to capitalise on trends in the events market

How to capitalise on trends in the events market

John in our team recently wrote a piece for Fundrasing Magazine, so just in case you missed it, its reproduced here in full.


Over the last year, we have seen increases in the number of people fundraising from events, the number of events being held and the average amount being raised.

While the overall number of people giving to charity in the UK has showed signs of slowing over the last five years, this isn’t the case for events. Income from the 25 most successful charity events in the UK grew last year, as it had for four of the last five years, and funds raised from the biggest third-party sports events also grew. The top 25 biggest charity-owned events now deliver an income of almost £140m.

Whatever the size of your organisation, with the right ambition and insight there is an opportunity to enhance your event fundraising. Although previously the events fundraising market has been dominated by a few well-established events, we have seen in the last three years a range of new events that have demonstrated that this is no longer the case. With the right approach and investment, there is the opportunity for new events and smaller organisations to capitalise on this exciting area of fundraising.

Why are events growing?

Events have the power to motivate, engage and inspire fundraisers like few other activities. The most successful can recruit hundreds of thousands of people, while even niche causes can reach and engage hundreds of potential supporters through each participant’s networks and fundraising activity.

When people come together with others who share the same desire to make a difference and proactively do something that supports an organisation they all believe in, it is a powerful experience. As society continues to value experience above ownership, it is these “experiential” activities that are likely to be prioritised and valued most highly. Across third party events, we are seeing growth in almost every activity outside cycling. We have seen fastest growth in fundraising from half marathon (18 per cent) and walking or trekking events (21 per cent). If you are looking to invest in third-party event fundraising, these seem like areas to explore.

While no longer the fastest growing activity, MOB events such as mud runs, obstacle courses or adventure races continue to grow, though average fundraising value per participant is on the decline.

For charity-owned events, one constant has been the dominance of running and walking as the basis for most fundraising events. Despite growing sophistication of delivery more than half of all the biggest events are still based around running and walking and participation continues to grow. For those markets where we have similar insight, it is also the same in the USA, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands.

What are the challenges?

We are seeing more organisations launch new events and try to grow existing ones. The effect of this is to make the market more competitive. Now the biggest challenge is not only to come up with the right event concept, but also how to cut through the clutter and get noticed.

We are seeing several trends in how the most successful events are approaching this:

Innovating around events

Wearable tech has been driving the “wellness” market for years and its impact is likely to increase.

All but unheard of two years ago, last year saw the establishment of range of virtual events using technology to bring a new twist to traditional fundraising events. CRUK’s Walk All Over Cancer, BHF’s MyMarathon and Macmillan’s Outrun all delivered over £1m. All three innovated around the traditional walk or run model and we have seen a range of other charities launching similar events. Whilst the lower overheads and flexibility of virtual events is attractive, tracking technology alone will not deliver scale or longevity unless it is linked to the right activity.

Making it worthy of sharing

As the cost of marketing rises, the value of word-of-mouth promotion becomes ever more important. As people hear about new events through their social networks and other communities, some events are now able to “sell out” with little or no paid-for promotion.

Events that generate shareable content and are out of the ordinary will benefit most from this. Macmillan’s Brave the Shave delivers on both of these trends and that is one reason why it is one of the fastest growing events.

Staying close to the cause

Alzheimer’s Society’s Memory Walk and Tommy’s Swimathon are great examples of events that are clearly focused on their markets and both have delivered incredible growth.

Marrying activities that fit with their audience’s existing behaviours and dialling up the cause, these campaigns are able to appeal directly to those closest to aims of the charity. They recruit a strong base of new supporters through those who are already aware of the charity’s work. These advocates can enhance and amplify each event’s marketing activity.

Focus on the experience

At the core of events is the promised experience, so merging different elements to create new experiences is a great way to achieve stand out.

The market leader, Race for Life, provides a good example, stretching the non-competitive, friendly experience of their 5k events to mud runs, marathons and hiking events.

Similarly, the NSPCC recently launched its Messathon series, bringing the Tough Mudder experience to a family audience.

In the commercial events space, Virgin Sport has repositioned its running events as fitness festivals to broaden their appeal and the Ragnar Relay brings together the road trip and trail running into a single event.

Learnings from these trends

Whatever the scale of your ambition for events fundraising you can learn from what others in the market are doing. We recently undertook a project to mystery shop the experience for own place runners for a range of charities for this year’s London Marathon. We saw great examples of simple and cheap ideas such as handwritten notes and personalisation that created stand out, brought home the cause and improved the overall experience.

Whether you are looking to build your existing events, grow participation in third party events or develop a new event, getting the experience right can drive recruitment, build loyalty and deliver high lifetime value.

Tips for developing a new mass participation event
Develop a new event

1. Be honest with yourself: Successful ideas work because they fit the audience and the organisation they fundraise for, so be honest about what your charity has to offer. What resources are available? What is your budget? Who does your cause appeal to? How is your brand perceived by existing and potential supporters?

2. Understand the market: Once you know who you are targeting, get to grips with the market. Consumer insight and focus groups have a place, but it is faster and cheaper to look at what your audience actually do rather than try and find out what they think. Look at the type of activities that currently appeal to them. Ask why they appeal. What is your audience doing for your cause in other countries? What trends can you see? What innovations are already out there and being used by your audience?

3. Don’t be afraid to steal ideas: Build up a long list of ideas, taking them from other industries, other charities and most importantly those that know your audience. Speak to subject matter experts where you work and outside your organisation. Whether they are competitors or in unconnected areas, if they know your audience, you can borrow and build on what works for them.

4. Focus on the best idea for where you are now: Your radical digital platform concept may be the greatest idea the world has ever known, but does it meet your brief? If a less sexy idea appeals more to your audience and better fits the brief then focus on getting it out there.

5. Accept the risks: The 20th iteration of your business plan or PowerPoint deck won’t make launching your idea any less risky. Using experts and prospective participants along the way to test your ideas will. Ultimately, the only test that counts is when you launch an idea, so get there as fast and as cheaply as you can, learn, and then scale up.

6. Stay grounded: Delivery is everything. It requires as much if not more creative energy as idea generation. No matter how great your idea, the research or the insight, it all comes down to delivery. Keep this in mind at each stage of your project.