How to make a Prize Promotion a “Win Win” for Membership Enrollment & Donor Engagement

Guess who may have conducted the very first raffle ever? Believe it or not… Moses of Old Testament fame.  And fundraisers, with biblical ties or not have been doing so ever since.

Running a true raffle though is legally quite complicated. Registrations for charitable gaming licenses are cumbersome, time consuming and—if you cover a large geography—potentially more costly than the money you could raise. Instead we operate these types of promotions under the sweepstakes laws. They look virtually the same, but with the caveat that consumers can enter without a donation if they wish.

Here are the keys to success:

Reinforce your organization’s mission and appeal to your target audience. Select prizes that remind donors what you stand for and attract the type of member you seek. Let’s look at the perfect example: With 20 years of success in sweepstakes, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) consistently offers an aircraft grand prize for its all-pilot target audience. Michelle Peterson, AOPA’s VP of Membership, cites this promotion as a proven strategy for growth, generating new memberships, increasing re-enrollments and elevating membership levels. She noted, “The airplane sweepstakes affords multiple levels of membership engagement. For some sweepstakes, we have involved members by asking them to choose a paint scheme or even inviting member input on what aircraft we should offer. Editorially, it’s a win/win because our members enjoy reading about the plane and the winner. The aircraft sweepstakes has also shown up as a highlight in membership satisfaction surveys.”

Incorporate multiple entry venues: Traditionally sweepstakes solicitations were delivered almost exclusively by direct mail, but no more. Now with a donor’s limited attention span we need to add to the mix.

Many fundraisers are now supplementing traditional direct mail packages with email campaigns, banner ads, phone entry and Facebook announcements. Making it easy for a donor to react quickly within that first few seconds has been very rewarding for these non-profits.

To illustrate, a wildlife-focused non-profit expanded its direct-mail-only sweepstakes to include phone entry, while another added an enter/donate button to its website. A politically oriented membership organization now includes a URL in each of its direct mail sweeps and sends email reminders for online entry closer to the deadline.  These embellishments add marginally to a marketing budget but can generate substantial increases in the amount raised by any given sweepstakes.

Make it social! You can’t ignore the proliferation of social media these days. And if you want to reach millennials—the up and coming givers—that is where you need to be.

Why not make your own spin on what the Grammy Foundation did? An online and social media electronic mosaic was created. If you wanted to show your support, you donated only $1.00 to upload your photo or phrase to become part of the mosaic. Then you could easily share it with your friends via Facebook. All those who participated were entered into a sweepstakes for a chance to win a trip to the Grammy Awards. (You could also enter the drawing off line for free.)  This ran for an entire year with thousands participating in the mosaic.

Watch out for the “watch dogs”….Even though you have a good cause and the best of intentions, aggressive regulators and politicians remain who can’t wait to see their names in the paper. Make sure any accidental non-compliance on your part does not give them good reason. Sweepstakes and contests are regulated; various legal disclosures apply that vary by medium. Large prize structures must be bonded. Winners must sign releases and are subject to taxes on prizes.  To be safe—not sorry—make sure to work with legal or administration specialists in this area.

Follow the above tips and take the time needed to make promotions a winner for your non-profit.


Contact: Marla Altberg, Non-Profit Engagement Solutions Division of Ventura Associates International LLC

(212-302-8277 X 3003) or


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