A nonprofit’s guide to using incentives to engage zero-dollar fundraisers

on September 12, 2018

It’s an all too common problem. You’re hosting an event and have fundraisers signed up to raise money on your behalf. Everything is going smoothly, until you realize many of the supporters who signed up to fundraise... aren’t actually doing anything.

These zero-dollar fundraisers are taking up your time and energy, and aren’t activating.

We’ve found that one way to better engage the zero-dollar fundraiser is to offer incentives in order to kick-start their campaigning and encourage them to raise money throughout the process. It not only helps to convert potentially zero-dollar fundraisers into full-fledged fundraisers, but it also encourages your donors to give more, and give more often.

What’s an incentive?

An incentive is basically a catch-all term to describe anything you’d give away as a prize in exchange for a donation or money raised for your campaign. You could give away a physical prize like a signed autograph, an experiential prize like a trip, or even a virtual prize like points to a rewards program or a coupon.

How your supporters enter and engage with incentive campaigns can happen in a couple of different ways:


A sweepstakes is when you offer up an incentive as a chance to win. For example, ‘The next 50 people to raise $100 will be entered to win an annual membership to the museum.’ Or, ‘Donate at least $50 to our animal shelter and you’ll be entered to win a pampered pets gift package.’inBlog_1_3EntriesOften times with sweepstakes, you can also offer up multiple chances to win. Say you have a $50 threshold to enter to win a sweepstakes, you can craft it so if someone gives or raises $150, they’re entered to win three times. If the prize is desirable enough, you’ll see a boost in entrants trying to get better odds at winning by entering multiple times.


A contest is a method of entry where you get something in exchange for taking an action that meets a requirement or requires a skill. Unlike a sweepstakes where everyone who takes an action (donating to enter the contest) has a chance to win, with a contest, not everyone is guaranteed a prize.

Examples of a contest could be ‘Raise at least $500 and get two tickets to our carbo-load dinner before the big race,’ or ‘Donate at least $40 and get a [Your Nonprofit] tee shirt.’ Contests can even give away virtual prizes such as points or coupons. For example, ‘Donate at least $50 and we’ll add 5,000 rewards points to your account.’inBlog_2_TshirtContests offer instant gratification meaning that when you give or raise, you know you’re entitled to the prize at stake. And, studies have even shown that getting something for free or at a discount can actually cause your brain to perceive the benefits of the product as higher than they actually are.

Benefits and challenges

Incorporating incentives into your fundraising campaigns can be a great way to foster excitement, and get supporters involved and invested in your fundraising efforts. But, making sure you know the pros and cons will help make everything run that much smoother:

The benefits

Like we said above, contests and sweepstakes can help inject some energy into your campaigns. They can help nudge that zero-dollar fundraiser to take that leap, or can give an extra boost to some of your best fundraisers and keep the momentum going.inBlog_3_WinaTripThey can help create some excitement during the middle or end of the campaign when you need a little extra love. And they can also help encourage donors to not only give, but to give more than they were maybe originally intending to.

Using some simple phrasing and strategy can also help boost the success of your incentives. For example, when you phrase your incentive with an ‘at least’ clause like ‘Donate at least $50,’ you’re not limiting the amount given or raised by the supporter.

Also, placing time limits on certain incentives can help create needed urgency during critical moments in your campaign. Say you’re organizing an endurance event and have a lengthy pre-race fundraising period, launch a contest or sweeps at the beginning, middle, and end of the fundraising period so that momentum is strong throughout the entire campaign. This has the potential to turn a one-time donor into a multi donor, or a lightweight fundraiser into a heavyweight.

The challenges

Cons may not be the right word. It’s more that you want to make sure you have all of your t’s crossed and i’s dotted.

For example, you’ve got to be ready for the fulfillment of the prizes you’re giving away. If you’re running a sweepstakes, that means handling choosing the winner, contacting them for their shipping information or other details, and getting them the prize or necessary instructions to redeem their prize. You’ll want to make sure you have someone dedicated to do the reach out and manage communication from the winner and those inquiring about the incentive and entry details.


You also want to make sure you have messaging ready to go that announces the incentive and method of entry via all of your channels including social media, email, live events, etc. If your fundraisers, donors, and supporters don’t learn and get excited about the opportunity, the point of the incentive is lost. So, make sure to leverage these opportunities in the right way to create a sense of excitement and encourage both fundraising and giving.

Legal (you know the fun stuff)

Contests and sweepstakes are subject to regulation to ensure that they are conducted fairly, and these regulations can vary from state to state. So, be sure your contest or sweepstakes rules meet the all the legal requirements in your area. 

In addition, if you are hosting your incentives online through a platform or website that you don't control, it's important to double-check the platform's terms of use to make sure your contest or promotion plays by the rules and is permitted.

For example, on CrowdRise, our terms of use prohibit 3rd party contests and sweepstakes for liability reasons, which is why we created a featured product add-on that helps with all of the administrative aspects, including drafting legal rules, and doing everything that's needed to make sure that your contest or sweepstakes is legal and your organization is protected.

Incentives can work with all campaign types

Many different types of campaigns can benefit from using incentives. Endurance events such as runs, walks and cycles are often the examples that come to mind when we think about successful incentives. You can give away access to the VIP tent, corral spots, pre-race dinner or breakfast, a hotel stay for race weekend, etc. Many of these incentives don’t have to cost money and the ones that do, can often be covered by a generous sponsor. Similar types of prizes can also be given away for walks, bowl-a-thons, or golf outings.

Single charity events such as annual holiday fundraising events or galas can also benefit tremendously from adding incentives. Movie premieres, concert or sporting event tickets, and VIP tables at a dinner benefit are just some examples of how live or virtual fundraising events can use incentives.


With a well thought out messaging plan, sought after prizes, and a community ready to fundraise and give, using incentives can be a successful tool for engaging and empowering your supporters to do more.

Want to learn more about how CrowdRise can help power your sweepstakes and contests?nonprofit-stickers-talk-to-expert

Gary Wohlfeill

Gary Wohlfeill is the Director of Marketing at CrowdRise. He works with partners to develop highly engaging fundraising campaigns, and leads the marketing team in developing the CrowdRise brand. Gary has been named as having the “3rd best haircut of people under 6 feet tall at CrowdRise" and hopes one day to slip to 4th.