A fundraising event is an opportunity to achieve a set of specific goals for a nonprofit organization. It is important for organizations to plan events as a part of a broader strategy as well as to set event-specific goals and implement a plan to achieve those.
After a review of the organization’s annual budget and funding needs, as well as assessing readiness including staffing time and resources, the first step to a successful fundraising event is to set qualitative and quantitative goals. Examples of event goals might be:
The dollar amount that the organization would like to raise at the event (and as a % of your annual fundraising)
How the event can be leveraged to raise awareness about the nonprofit's cause
How to use the event to recruit new donors and volunteers as well as increase individual commitment
Additional goals of the event (celebrate your launch, honor a specific donor, etc.)
Is this event the first in a series, a first annual event or a stand-alone opportunity?
Determine event audience based on the goals: Depending on what an organization wants to achieve through an event, it's important to establish a target audience. For example, is it an event for large donors (four or five figure gifts) in order to raise 100% of the annual costs or is this an opportunity to engage the community to learn about the organization through a small annual contribution?
Choose an event type that suits the target audience: Depending on the desired audience, be sure to choose an event type that is fitting for that crowd. In addition, remember that a large event is not always the one to do first. Sometimes doing a few smaller events to solidify a community of supporters can be beneficial leading up to a larger gala.
Sample event types include:
Formal galas, dinners, speaker series, run walks, conferences, etc.
Choose an event date:
Give the organization and attendees enough time to plan and execute the event
Consider the day of week and the time to schedule the event. For example, Mondays and right after work hours can be tricky for attendees. However, venues are typically more expensive on weekends.
Work out an event budget:
It’s important to assess the event cost before determining ticket prices and sponsorship levels. Consider these items against the established budget:
Refreshments, including whether alcohol will be served and how that will be managed
Printing, mailing and postage
Also, think about what you may be able to get donated! Restaurants and venues may provide discounts or in-kind donations.
Promoting the event and finding attendees:
Engage existing donors and volunteers to commit to selling a certain number of tickets or promoting the event through their channels
Post the event to the organization's website and make it easy to purchase a ticket
Share the event on social media
Consider honoring a specific donor or group of donors as they’ll likely bring their colleagues and friends to share in their evening
Don’t forget about the little things. Some small things that are common to forget include:
Event safety measures
Access for individuals with disabilities
Parking or other venue directions
Having petty cash on hand for unexpected expenses like running out of ice or tipping
Day-Of Plan & Execution
It's essential to create a detailed itinerary for your event including everyone’s roles as volunteers, staff etc. Have volunteers assigned to tasks and provide directions ahead of time. Having a plan scheduled down to the minute will ensure everything runs smoothly, and that guests are entertained the whole time.
This is a fundraising event which means including a pro-active ask and relationship building with donors at the event. The work is not just about putting the event together or selling tickets. The more an organization can highlight their work and build personal relationships with supporters the more successful it will be. Key hints:
Assign staff, volunteers or ambassadors to thank and greet specific donors
Include signs, reminders, slides and announcements making the request for support and giving clear directions on how to donate now
Keep a running tally where guests can see how much has been raised during the event perhaps on a screen or through announcements
Make a clear case for specific programs or initiative support. For example, “We are fundraising tonight to launch our new after-school program”
Thank current donors publicly in printed materials & announcements so that appreciation is a part of the event
Thank You & Final Call to Action: The night of or the morning after your event send a thank you email to all attendees. This email should include a thank you for attending, as well as a final call to action, giving people who felt inspired by the event one last chance to donate. Tell them how their funds have had or will have an impact. Remember to thank donors three time for each gift!
Personal Follow-Up: Have someone from the organization call, email or send a thank-you card to any key donors that attended. For prospective donors, schedule a meeting, call or tour of your next program so they can learn more about the mission. The event is ALSO is about identifying and cultivating new donors and partnerships to lead to future giving. This is proactive and requires which requires adequate follow up towards continued donor and partner relationships.
Evaluate and plan for the future
Taking a moment to assess this fundraising event is the first step in planning the next one. Run through each of the goals and determine what went well, what didn’t go well, and what could be done differently next time. Include staff, volunteers and participants in the debrief as everyone’s feedback is important to improving on future events.
Lastly, relate results back to the overarching event strategy (how all fundraising events and efforts come together to meet the established budgetary needs) as well as the fundraising goals for the fiscal year. No fundraising event stands alone - it’s a part of the overall approach to delivering the funds needed to have a lasting impact on delivery of mission.