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The Pre-Commitment Revolution: Boosting Live Appeals



"When the pressure is on, you don't rise to the occasion—

you fall to your highest level of preparation.” -Chris Voss


The number one objective for non-profit organizations who host fundraising events is to raise as much money as possible. Their events are full of risk, and securing success depends on getting a number of variables right. Will big time donors even attend? How can a development team raise more, stress less, and ensure their event goes well?


Unlocking Success


In the spring of 2017, HUNT conducted a study. That season, we consulted and hosted fundraising for 40 events. 37 of them exceeded goal in the live appeal, a success rate of 92.5%. Upon examination of multiple variables like donor attendance, program run of show, and auction performance; we identified a common denominator in the 3 events that did not meet goal. The organizations hosting those few events failed to pre-secure donors at the highest levels of the live appeal. All of the 37 successful events pre-secured donors. Organizations that did not pre-commit donors made a preventable mistake, and unnecessarily put their goals at risk.


For a more recent perspective on the subject, we turned to our longterm client of 7 years in Camden, New Jersey. UrbanPromise (UP) provides a supportive and educational community for youth in a variety of ways. For just one example, they offer boat building courses to students in summer, some of whom become tour guides on local waterways (pictured).


UP’s Director of Individual Giving is the insightful Brent Schroeder. We spoke last fall as guests came streaming in to their event. “We’ve done pre-commitments based on your 2017 study, and keep setting records. I did my own study and found a key variable to the increases. Our live appeal fundraising increases THREEFOLD (3X) in direct proportion to the amount of donations we pre-secure prior to the event.” Schroeder said. Come again?


Maximizing Impact


Schroeder conducted a case study of 5 separate fundraising events with HUNT over the course of 2022-23. First, he performed a sensitivity analysis to identify and measure which data affects UP’s fundraising the most. The analysis looked at major revenue sources for events such as sponsorships and tickets, auction lots, and the live appeal. The numbers showed UP’s most sensitive fundraising variable was the live appeal, which drove event revenue more than any other source, far outpacing sponsorships, ticket sales, and auction lots.


Schroeder and the UP development team sought a strategy that would give them an edge, to better control the outcome of their event fundraising. Donor attendance was increasingly unpredictable. The ability to depend on donors who gave in the past to give again was uncertain. Even the size of a donor’s gift could not be counted on from year to year. How could UP use their fundraising data to better predicate success? They chose to focus on raising more money in their live appeal.


Combing through the numbers, Schroeder discovered that the amount of pre-secured donor commitments directly correlated to higher amounts raised in the live appeal. The effect was exponential; the more donations their team took the time to pre-confirm, the more money they raised in the appeal at their event. The numbers speak to the power of preparation:


5 Fundraising Events 2022-23:

Pre-secured 35k = Raised 93k

Pre-secured 37k = Raised 103k

Pre-secured 60k = Raised 187k

Pre-secured 45k = Raised 144k

Pre-secured 37k = Raised 93k

Average Multiplier = 2.85 (3X)


The multiplying effect elevates fundraising all around. “Donors are ready to pre-commit gifts because they know it will inspire others to be generous. It’s also a way to make a meaningful contribution even if they can’t attend. We have donors who pre-commit support every year yet rarely attend the event. It’s a powerful way to leverage their gift. Tell a donor that giving $5,000 is more like giving $15,000—who wouldn’t be interested in that? Afterward, when you share about their impact, it creates an even stronger bond with the donor and your organization,” Schroeder said.


Proactive Fundraising


UrbanPromise now focuses on pre-commitments as the single most important way to prepare to meet their event fundraising goals. This strategy coincides with HUNT’s own research and observations hosting hundreds of appeals over the last 12 years. As much as we consult with organizations on their program run of show and live auction lots, pre-securing donors for the highest levels the live appeal is the most valuable advice we share with our clients. And UP’s data backs it up!


If pre-committed donations lead to greater success during the live appeal, then organizations that communicate with donors ahead of time to secure gifts at the highest levels put themselves in a position to raise more money at their events.







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