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Nonprofits: Hold Creative Events to Engage Prospective Donors and Unlock More Giving

Nonprofits: Hold Creative Events to Engage Prospective Donors and Unlock More Giving

Lidan Xu, Ravi Mehta and Darren Dahl

charitable donations

How to organize the perfect fundraising event? Charitable organizations currently use a variety of strategies and tactics to engage potential donors, all with the goal of enhancing donation behaviors. It is not surprising to see that golf tournament, ice-cream social, or sip and paint events are organized by different charities representing different causes. One question that arises is what types of activities are more efficient and are more likely to help the organizations collect more donations. A new Journal of Marketing study aims to answer this important question and finds that engaging potential donors by increasing their participation in creative activities helps! 
Using different types of creative activities, such as designing a creative t-shirt or decorating cookies, we find that those who participate in such activities are more likely to donate than those who participate in similar, but non-creative, versions of the activities. For example, in one of our studies, we find that those who are asked to decorate a cookie as creatively as possible are more likely to donate to the charitable organization than those who are simply asked to copy a given cookie design.
Our findings show that incorporating creative activities in fundraising campaigns and charity events can be a viable marketing strategy for non-profit organizations to enhance donation behavior. Charitable organizations can organize such events in person or use their social media platforms. For example, they can invite potential donors to attend a painting event, organize a cookie decoration event, or participate in other activities that engage them, physically or mentally, to produce something novel and creative.
While offering potential donors creative outlets does not always yield creative outcomes, that does not matter. As long as donors participate in an activity to create something novel and creative, they demonstrate higher donation behavior. It is engaging in the creative process that matters! When the potential donors participate in creative activities, they feel a sense of freedom and autonomy, which makes them feel happier and more charitable.
One tip for charitable organizations that want to incorporate such activities in their fundraising event is to encourage participants to be as creative as possible, but not to emphasize outcomes or provide instructions for how they should complete the activity. For example, when organizing a painting event, some charities mention that step-by-step instructions will be provided and everyone will paint the same picture. We suggest that allowing the freedom to paint anything and to be creative in the process might be a better strategy.
Using the findings from our study, managers can think outside the box and come up with different types of creative activities to engage potential donors. While inviting potential donors to participate in any type of activity that requires creative engagement might make the potential donors feel more engaged, not all activities are created equal and some might be better than others. For example, organizing a fundraising gala or event can be costly, but using this type of activity may be more budget friendly. As an instance, one interesting idea we found online is a “tie-dye party” where organizations provide white T-shirts and tie-dye materials so that participants can create their own tie-dye T-shirts. These T-shirts can then be used for live auctions. In addition, participating in this activity makes an individual more likely to donate to the charity, creating multiple streams of donation contributions. We hope our findings can help non-profit organizations and their donors create a better world together.

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From: Lidan Xu, Ravi Mehta, and Darren Dahl, “Leveraging Creativity in Charity Marketing: The Impact of Engaging in Creative Activities on Subsequent Donation Behavior,” Journal of Marketing.

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Lidan Xu is Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of North Texas, USA.

Ravi Mehta is Associate Professor of Business Administration and Shebik Centennial Faculty Fellow, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA.

Darren W. Dahl is Senior Associate Dean of Faculty, Director of the Robert H. Lee Graduate School, BC Innovation Council Professor, and Professor of Marketing and Behavioural Science, University of British Columbia, Canada.