In fact, the number of charity and fundraising events have been growing rapidly over the last few decades. Successful fundraising events can be tremendous in terms of generating donations for nonprofits with some relying almost solely on events as their preferred method of fundraising.
Beyond the ability to collect funds, fundraising events also impact the organization’s public awareness and bring nonprofit workers closer together through team building and bonding. However, fundraising events can go utterly wrong without knowing how to plan an event — so here are seven steps you can take to ensure your next fundraising event goes smoothly.
1. Establishing Goals
Setting goals may seem to be a “no-brainer,” but you’d be surprised at how some nonprofit organizations become complacent after running their fundraisers for so many years. Without establishing a clear set of goals, nonprofits have no way to effectively plan or judge their relative success after an event has concluded.
In some cases, not every fundraising event happens only to collect donations since these events can accomplish much more. Perhaps your organization may be hoping to raise money at the event, but the main goal is to spread awareness. Nonprofits shouldn’t feel restricted to measuring the success of the event based on dollars raised alone.
Here are a few of the basics you should be covering when crafting goals:
- How much in donations to collect
- Minimum # of business and partner organization sponsorships
- # of attendees
- # of media mentions/publicity generated
- # of new contacts for potential new donors
Having noted the importance of having multiple goals, it’s still important to have straightforward goals regarding how much an event intends to raise. Working together with the event host committee, organization staff, and key fundraisers, you must decide what amount of money you plan to raise.
2. Planning as Early as Possible
One of the top problems nonprofits reference when putting together a fundraising event is not allowing enough time for planning. Ideally, the planning phase for any nonprofit event should happen at least six months in advance.
Without planning, event teams can often stress about minor details or miss huge deadlines which can negatively impact the entire timeline of an event. Planning is critical in that it will consider all of the major details such as:
- Event specifics including dates, times, venues
- Promotional and other marketing efforts
- Team and committee member involvement
- Fully fleshed out event timeline(s)
During the planning phase, you should also figure out how you’ll be engaging your most substantial donors. Your fundraiser will probably have a host committee with multiple individuals acting as chairpersons. Host committees include wealthy or influential members and they will often contribute the largest percent of your donations. The host committee should be included throughout the planning process because of their level of giving.
A thorough plan will account for major deadlines at each phase leading up to the event. You must also have backup plans to account for the reality that everything won’t go according to your original timeline. Giving you and your team several months for planning will help you anticipate and deal with problems if and as they arise.
3. Budgeting & Figuring Costs
Another crux of event planning for a fundraiser is the problem of underestimating costs. In some cases, nonprofit organizations grossly underestimate their costs to the point that their budgets quickly spiral out of control. Because your costs cut into the money collected during the event, minimizing them is something that is essential, although it can be tricky.
Your budget should include:
- Space rental
Budgeting is even more important for smaller nonprofits since the upfront investments can be pretty steep. Sometimes these costs can be such a strain on resources that the possibility of having the event is unrealistic. Some event types have fewer costs associated with them, so it may be worth considering altering the type of fundraising event you want to have.
Here are couple free tools you can use to help calculate costs related to your fundraising event:
- Free cost calculating templates & spreadsheets
- Informational resource from Google on calculating costs [Video]
- This resource from the Event Manager Blog [Blog Post]
With a realistic and careful approach, crafting a budget and adding up your anticipated costs beforehand can help you anticipate your event’s actual fundraising profit.
4. Booking Venues, Entertainment & Catering
Leading up to the event, you’ll have to schedule the necessary vendors that will make the event noteworthy.
For venues, you will have to remember to consider details pertaining to occupancy limits, accommodations for handicapped and special needs individuals, WiFi and cell service, parking availability, seating, and the overall layout.
In most cases, you may want to leverage catering companies for providing food and beverages, but your event may be one where these are provided by volunteer efforts and charitable donations. In any case, it’s important to consider your audience when selecting food, as well as food allergies and sensitivities. If you plan on providing alcohol, make sure you have all the licensing necessary to legally sell or distribute these beverages.
Booking entertainment is all about logistics planning once they’ve been selected, which includes:
- Transportation and travel plans
- Set list or synopsis of entertainment
- Speaker agenda and topics
- Bios for entertainers
- Renting equipment such as sound, lighting
Again, this is going to be one of those areas where everything may not go according to plan, so have contingencies prepared in case something goes south.
5. Defining Roles & Key Team Members
Part of running a successful fundraising event requires leaning on the support of a strong, hard-working team. This means delegating every task away from event leadership to ensure all necessary tasks are completed.
The first step is to define roles for nearly everyone involved, addressing responsibilities and decision-making powers given to them. This usually involves internal staff within the nonprofit organization, host committee members, and volunteers.
There will often be times that certain team members show their value in their abilities to lead other team members and effectively troubleshoot issues on the fly. By identifying these important team members and staff, you can also leverage them to anticipate and handle new problems that arise before or during a given fundraising event.
Leaders typically share several traits in common; the most important being honesty, decisiveness, and diplomacy. Strong leaders are confident in their abilities and their decisions, but they must be able to communicate with the utmost efficiency.
Once you have clearly established roles and have identified your best leaders at all levels of the team, you can then launch your event with a sense of faith that all will go right.
6. Emphasizing Action vs. Awareness
Awareness does not necessarily always generate support for a nonprofit, but emphasizing action over awareness can have a great impact. By leveraging the goals for the fundraising event, attendees can act on the awareness that they’ve gained.
One example of this is the legendary “Ice Bucket Challenge,” a cultural phenomenon that spread like wildfire on social media a few years back and helped raise over $50 million for ALS charities. The idea involved taking one of two actions, either dumping an ice cold bucket of water over your head or donating a dollar amount for ALS research. This program included clearly defined actions participants could take which had very real impacts on ALS organizations and those that benefit from them.
7. The Importance of Saying “Thank You”
Fundraising events can either be a major win or fall short of your overall goals. It can’t be said enough that planning is the ultimate way to ensure your fundraising event goes well. No matter if your goal is obtaining donations or building overall awareness, preparation is the key to successful execution.
But before the event concludes, don’t forget one of the most important aspects of any fundraising event — gratitude and saying thanks. If you make donors and attendees feel appreciated, then you will always have the makings of a successful event on your hands.
Ready to Launch!
Fundraising events have a lot of moving pieces and it’s incredibly easy to worry about whether or not it will be a success. When attempting to have an event that has the desired impact for your nonprofit organization, here are seven of the most important steps or phases which will give you the best chances:
- Have a clear vision with your goals (and make sure everyone shares that vision)
- Give yourself enough time to plan, prepare for the potential obstacles
- If possible, overestimate your costs
- Book everything with efficiency
- Define team roles and identify your strongest leaders
- Clearly define how attendees can contribute to your goals
- No matter what happens, gratitude is key
Once you’ve completed each of the above seven steps, your fundraising event is ready to launch!