Shared Experiences – More Art than Science

Shared experience event

One of the reasons we at ChallengeWorks love developing challenge events is the opportunities that they provide for diverse groups of people to form powerful and enduring connections with others, all centred around a social cause. I was recently fortunate enough to spend some time with Peter Baines chatting about the importance of these connections when it comes to building support for charitable causes, and importantly creating participant loyalty through shared experiences.

But first what do we mean by shared experiences? These could loosely be explained as events that create an experience that brings your supporters closer to your charitable mission (and often each other) and leave a lasting impression.

Peter spends a great deal of his time delivering keynote addresses on generating these experiences and the resulting connections. He is not however a theorist. His ideas are drawn from his own experience, having started Hands Across the Water, a charity that supports several hundred at risk Thai children by providing food, shelter, education, accommodation and opportunities. A major component of their funding is delivered through fundraising bike rides, many of which include a significant amount of interaction with the young people that are supported. This shared experience model sees over 70% of participants return for more than one ride. Clearly Peter has managed to master the art of connecting with people.

Our discussion reminded me of how dynamic the process of creating events with this experience is. At ChallengeWorks when we start to develop a concept for a new charity fundraising event we have a huge number of considerations to deal with. We know what a perfect charity event experience is. You simply include everything from the ‘Perfect Event List’.

Shared experience - perfect event listSimple isn’t it. Yes it is. In utopia that is exactly how they develop events.

In reality we have the irritation of the ‘It’s Not a Perfect World List’ that forces us to pick and choose, dial up and dial down all of ‘Perfect Event List’ items to get the best outcome we can.

Shared experience - Constraints listAt this point many event or fundraising managers respond by lowering their aspirations, getting rid of the 5 year event plan, or reducing entry or fundraising targets. The result is either another, yes another, 5km fun run that brings in $1,500 or another event idea consigned to the ‘too hard basket’. Others take on the challenge of balancing the lists and creating something memorable. A couple of our favourites are the Adventure Team Challenge and Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village project.

The art comes in knowing when an event idea has real potential for creating that experience, what trade-offs to make and what ‘Perfect Event List’ items are needed in year 1, versus year 3 or year 5 of the event. Sometimes this means building the connections and creating the shared experience platform in year 1 and ignoring fundraising targets to begin with. This can allow you to reap the rewards of loyal participants and a community of ambassadors in later years. Ask Peter, his first ride for Hands Across the Water included only a handful of riders and raised comparatively little money. This year there will be 10 rides, with several hundred riders, which will result in funding to support 300 children across 7 homes and community centres.

Clearly it is an art worth pursuing!