How to harness the feel-good factor and achieve fundraising success

Associate Professor Alexandra Coghlan, Department of Tourism, Sport and Hotel Management, Griffith University, explains how enhancing your supporters’ wellbeing can help them reach their fundraising goals and develop a deeper, more powerful connection with your cause.  We all recognise the buzz that comes with crossing the finishing line of a charity sport event. It’s part of the bond that makes everyone join together for a cause and complete the challenge. But where does that buzz come from? And how can we harness it to get the best outcomes from charity sport event participation?

The five key ingredients for wellbeing 

To harness the feel-good factor, we first need to understand what drives it.  The science of positive psychology can give us some answers. Psychologists in this field recognise five key ingredients that, when pursued together, lead to an individual flourishing and being the best person that they can be:
  1. Positive emotions
  2. A sense of engagement in what we do
  3. Caring relationships
  4. Undertaking meaningful activities
  5. A sense of accomplishment
It’s easy to see how these translate to the supporter’s journey:  fundraising activities for a good cause ticks the meaningful activities box, training for and completing the event helps develop a sense of accomplishment, taking part with hundreds of others all sharing a common goal helps to build caring relationships and the pleasure and euphoria experienced when the the finishing line is crossed are powerful positive emotions. Clearly, participating in charity events has the potential to significantly impact people’s wellbeing in a number of ways. But what else should charities be doing in order to enhance and leverage these positive psychological benefits?

How a wellbeing approach can lead to event success

A study of over 100 multi-charity sport event participants offers some compelling insights into how  a wellbeing approach can help supporters get more out of the event, succeed in their fundraising activities and build stronger ties to their chosen charity. The study was carried out in four stages.  Researchers took a pre-event and post-event measure of wellbeing, a pre-event measure of fundraising confidence and post-event measure of fundraising success, and finally a post-event measure of attachment to the charity. In addition, a sub-sample of respondents were interviewed before the event to better understand the issues, challenges and joys they faced leading up to the event. Pre-event wellbeing measures found that, despite slightly above average levels of anxiety and, to some extent, depression,  overall participants scored highly on mental health and far exceeded the average person on their levels of hope for the future. Interestingly, whilst pre-event mental health did not affect people’s fundraising confidence, it did affect their fundraising success. Those people with higher social wellbeing scores (i.e. who said they had close, supportive relationships), high hope scores and low anxiety scores were more likely to reach their fundraising targets. This suggests that charity sport events participants are “hope sponges” who respond best to messages of positivity and hope, but could also benefit from tips and tricks to reduce their levels of anxiety when it comes to event fundraising and training. Enter Stage 3 of the study – the coaching package.

Coaching: your secret weapon 

Using the pre-event and interview data, researchers designed a coaching package for the study’s participants before randomly assigning them to one of three experimental groups. One group used a signature strength approach in their coaching (more on that in a second), one used a “plain” coaching package, and the final group received no coaching whatsoever. The difference between the first and second groups was the use of signature strengths: a group of 24 personality traits or values of which we can identify 5-7 that each person not only excels at but also feels great when they apply them. Examples of strengths are humour, love, self-regulation, perspective, curiosity, hope, fairness, persistence, etc. Identifying and consciously applying these strengths is one of the most effective ways in which people can be encouraged to flourish. Signature strengths most commonly associated with charity event participants include hope, gratitude, kindness, perseverance and passion or zest for life. Group 1 was asked to identify their strengths, and these strengths were built into the coaching package along with fundraising ideas and tips for reducing people anxiety, affirmation statements targeting people’s sense of hope and tailor-made fundraising ideas built around specific signature strengths. The following is an example of a fundraising idea built around the strength of love: “Is love one of your strengths? Try this (or adapt it to make it your own): Organise a DIY pampering Spa evening at home with your girlfriends (or your partners’ girlfriends – she will love you for it!). You could even bring in a massage therapist (or see if any of your friends have a foot spa, facial spa, etc.). Ask for a set donation to cover your costs and raise funds, and enjoy a lovely evening in with your closest friends”.   Group 2 received exactly the same material but without any reference to strengths (nor did they identify their strengths as part of the study). Group 3 did not receive any coaching package at all.

What the researchers discovered 

The final stage of the study assessed how the three different experimental conditions affected participants’ wellbeing, fundraising success and attachment to the charity. Here’s a snapshot of the key findings:
  • Providing a coaching package had a strong impact on reducing measures of stress, anxiety, and depression compared to not providing a coaching package
  • Using strengths (Group 1 vs Group 2) substantially increased people’s wellbeing outcomes
  • Those who used their strengths to help them fundraise were not only confident about reaching their goals, but were also more likely to actually achieve it (81% of Group 1 reached their goal, vs 64% of Group 2 and 60% of Group 3)
  • Those who drew on their strengths to really think about what the cause means to them, and how they shared that meaning with others as part of their fundraising efforts, demonstrated greater attachment to the charity
Here are some examples which demonstrate this final point, based on people’s responses to the study questions: “CURIOSITY helped me come up with a Facebook page & made me look into what the organisation I’m fundraising for do” “BRAVERY lately has been a huge step for me. […]  One day last week I went around with freddo frogs and lollies and handed them out and told people there’s a donation tin, what it was for and my story. I was nervous but of course, there were very positive responses to me and my donation tin!” “HONESTY. Sharing with a few friends what the cause means to me”

Four ways to improve your supporters’ wellbeing

As this important study indicates, taking a wellbeing approach to fundraising has the potential to boost the feel-good factor surrounding your event, inspire your supporters to reach their fundraising goals, and maybe even turn them into ambassadors for your charity. Here are four simple ways you can begin enhancing your supporters’ wellbeing for your next event:
  1. Motivate. Provide supporters with a sense of hope through regular affirmations and motivational communications that tap into their naturally positive outlook. Remember the signature strengths associated with charity event participants: hope, gratitude, kindness, perseverance and passion or zest for life.
  2. Reassure and support.  Help to reduce supporters’ anxiety around reaching their targets by providing fundraising tips and tailored advice at various points along their journey.
  3. Encourage connections. Encourage your supporters to interact with others in an authentic, meaningful way by sharing what the cause means to them and why they are fundraising.
  4. Celebrate success. Generate those positive emotions and feel-good hormones by celebrating fundraising milestones, not just at the end of their journey but at every stage.