The 10 Steps to a Successful Fundraising Event

by The Fundraising Authority

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Charity events are a popular form of fundraising. While they can be great money makers for an organization, they can also be time consuming and expensive. The success of charity events depends on careful planning. To help you ensure that your fundraising event is a winner, here are ten major components that you must incorporate into your event plan, regardless of the specific fundraising event ideas you use:

1. Purpose of Your Fundraising Event:

Before doing anything else, you must decide what the purpose of your event is. Here are a few questions: Is this truly a fundraising event? Or does it have other goals? Perhaps your organization may be hoping to raise money at the charity event, but the main function of the event is to gain publicity, or reach out to a new network. Does this fit into a larger effort or campaign? Are you focused on a large crowd of friends who don’t know much about your cause or a smaller group of familiar supporters and likely donors? Many charitable events have more than one goal. Figuring out the details for your charity event will depend on knowing what goals you are trying to achieve.

2. Fundraising Goal:

In conjunction with the event host committee, organization staff, and key fundraisers, you must decide what amount of money you plan to raise at the event. If this is truly a fundraising event, then everything in the event plan will be geared to raising this specific amount of money. The amount you choose should be what you hope to net, that is, the amount you plan to raise after expenses are deducted. You should develop a goal based on the team members and tools available to you. Start with a humble goal and an aggressive plan. It is always better to adjust the goal higher than it is to lower it as the event moves closer.

3. Budget:

Every fundraising event plan should contain a complete budget listing all of the expenses that will be required to hold the event. The cost of an in-person event can increase steadily as the number of attendees goes up. Hosting a virtual event can help keep food, space, and materials costs from getting out of control and allows for a lower registration fee. Your budget should include staff, print materials, space rental, catering, entertainment, transportation, security, utilities, and anything else that will be required to make the event a success. Your budget should take into account your fundraising goal, ensuring that you raise an amount of funds above and beyond all expenses. Be sure to leave a little extra room in your budget for unforeseen costs.

4. Leadership:

As part of your fundraising efforts, your event will most likely have a “host committee” and one or more “host committee chairpersons.” These people are responsible for contributing substantial amounts to the event and encouraging other attendees to do the same. The host committee is generally composed of wealthy donors, leaders of local businesses, or local celebrities. The host committee and chairpersons are not responsible for actually running the event, but are integral to ensuring that you reach your guest and fundraising goals. The host committee helps with peer to peer fundraising and follow-up.

5. Target Audience for your Fundraising Event:

Who is the target attendee for your event? Is this a general fundraiser where everyone will be invited? Or is this event geared towards a specific group like the local businesses , parents, retirees or young professionals? In short, you must decide whom you will invite to your event. Question what type of event and elements are a good fit for the target attendees. While a black-tie gala looks nice in our heads, it can be hard to get the numbers you need for this kind of event. Develop a list of fundraising ideas that work well with your audience and your organization. Some popular ideas are holding a virtual event, in-person event, silent auction, raffle, concert, performance, raffle tickets, games, text-a-thon, speakers, the list goes on and on.

6. Set – Up:

Your event staff should plan the event set-up well in advance. The set-up includes all of the particulars of the actual event: Where will it be? Will food be served? Will there be entertainment? What kind of dress will be required? What is the itinerary for the event?

Virtual events have things to set up, too. The first decisions involve online services, what fundraising or streaming services do you plan to use. Do some supporters need special privleges on the day of the event? What graphics need to be prepared. Do auction items need to be photographed.

7. Marketing:

Just like a new product, your charity event needs to be aggressively marketed to your target attendee. You need to convince your supporters that your organization and event are worthy of their time and money. Make sure they know how the funds will improve someone’s world.

Draw up an entire marketing plan for the event. Traditional methods of “getting the word out” include: using your non-profit’s network of frends and supporters, mailed invitations, direct mail, phone banks, word of mouth and the event host committee. Today, most succesful event marketing includes a facebook page and  peer-to-peer social media outreach by the host committee, staff and volunteers in the networks they are active, whether it be twitter, instagram, tiktok, or simple email. Wherever they put the word out, try to do it a multiple times in the lead up to the event. Get the word out early so and follow-up to find out if people plan to attend. It keeps your event efficient and reduces stress.

8. Sales:

Once you market your event, there must be a procedure in place for making the actual ticket sales, or accepting donations for the event. You must decide whether there will be different contribution levels for the event (such as a flat registration fee, an extra charge to be invited to a V.I.P. reception in addition to the event, etc.). You must decide who will sell the tickets, how they will be shipped or delivered, and who will be responsible for organizing the incoming information.

9. Practice the Fundraising Event:

While you probably won’t need a full run-through of your event, it is essential that everyone who is working the event know, ahead of time, what their responsibilities are, where they should be during the event, and how the event is going to “flow.” If you are having a large or unusual event, the key event staff may want to have a practice run to make sure that your operation is running smoothly.

If you are hosting a virual event you need to do a dry run with the key people on the equipment they will be using during the event. If you are using any special tools to auction items, count donations as they come in, use a chat feature, you will need to have a few people participate as guests will from different types of devices. If you run into any problems, document the solutions ahead of time and post a troubleshooting link for guests.

10. Thank You:

One of the most oft heard complaints from contributors to charitable fundraising events is, “They never even said ‘thank you.’” Ditto for your event volunteers. Make sure that the organization takes the time to send thank-you notes to everyone who is involved in your event, including contributors, volunteers, staff and vendors. Keep your friends and donors happy… you’re probably going to be asking them for another donation sometime down the road.

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Donna February 13, 2011 at 3:31 am

I love this article! I recomend it to EVERYONE! It has helped so much in all of my event planning! You can’t go wrong following this easy guide!

Shelly September 12, 2011 at 1:00 pm

What a time-saver! Thank you for all of your helpful tips. You did the ground work for me. It’s as though we’ve had several meetings together muddling through the “how to’s”, and you put it all down in writing for me. Thank you for saving me HOURS of research.

Becky Willis January 27, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Don’t you have to get a license to do a large fund raiser? We are putting one together now for a man who is very ill and they can not find out what is making him so ill. He cant work and has been in UOFM hospital for over a month. His insurance does not want to pay for him to be in for much longer. So we need to do a large fund raiser. We have a hall, food and a band, we are going to sell tickets and have local businesses donate baskets to raffle off. We are going to see if they will put posters up for us. Do we just go to the City that the found raiser event will be held and get a permit to hold it? We want to make sure we are all legal in doing the event. Any help you can give would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance for considering our request, Rebecca Willis

Joe Garecht January 28, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Becky,

Thanks for your e-mail. Laws and regulations differ by state, county and municipality. Generally, the most important thing is that you either register your group as a non-profit with the IRS, or that you find a charity or church that already has non-profit status and is willing to partner with you to do the event. If you are not approved as a non-profit organization with the IRS or working with an approved charity, then donations people make to your event are NOT tax-deductible and your group will be liable for paying tax on the donations as if they were income.

If you decide to file your paperwork with the IRS (instead of working with another charity) then you will likely also have to file with your state’s bureau of charitable giving (or whatever it is called in your state). Generally, once you file with the IRS and with the state, you don’t need any other permits or licenses to hold a fundraiser, but this differs by location so consult an attorney or knowledgeable non-profit person in your area.

Best of luck with your fundraising efforts!

Joe

Chloe Driscoll August 7, 2013 at 11:13 am

Hi I am working in aid of Richard house childrens hospice, I have held many events and they have been such a success but everytime I have trouble trying to get sponsorship has anyone got any ideas or the best way to go about it please.

Many thanks Chloe

Joe Garecht August 8, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Chloe,

Thanks for your question. Check out this article that we previously ran on our site: https://thefundraisingauthority.com/fundraising-events/cultivating-corporate-sponsors/

Joe

Esther Miles November 8, 2013 at 10:57 pm

Enjoyed the organized steps listed above. Will definitely incorporate into my next event. Thank you for the clarity

Joe Garecht November 9, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Esther, glad you found the steps helpful. Thanks for your comment!

Joe

Ed Savage December 11, 2013 at 11:28 am

What are the potential pitfalls of a charity partnering with some individuals who want to stage a golf tournament for the benefit of the charity?

Joe Garecht December 12, 2013 at 12:47 am

Ed, Thanks for your question. The pitfalls here would be (a) cost – are you paying for the tournament or are they? If you are responsible for the cost or for guaranteeing the cost, and the event doesn’t work out, you may have to fork out a significant amount of money, and (b) the opportunity cost – if your supporters can’t pull it together and the event falls through, and you have invested a serious amount of time into planning for the event, it takes you away from other fundraising activities.

My advice is to make sure that those who want to hold the golf tournament for you are committed to the event and capable of pulling off a successful event prior to agreeing to participating in the tournament.

Joe

Amber February 11, 2014 at 5:26 pm

I am putting on a fundraiser in the form of a dog wash for a local dog rescue organization. I was wondering if you had any ideas as to make this a great fundraiser.

Joe Garecht February 13, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Amber,

Thanks for your question! Consider trying to find some sponsors for the event to raise some money before the first dog is washed. Also, put together an event committee that will help you get dogs in the door, find sponsors, and spread the word. You should also offer an opportunity for those who bring their dogs to donate above and beyond the cost of the dog washing.

Good luck with your event!

Joe

Irene March 16, 2014 at 2:34 am

Hello, I was wondering if you could tell me the formula you use to purchase beverages and liquor for private fundraising parties (how much to purchase exactly, the cheapest way, etc.), that are not located at a venue but most likely a donor’s home. I may be starting a job that entails this, and I want to have a guideline beforehand. If you can, please be as specific as possible. Your information is appreciated!

Thank you!

Joe Garecht March 17, 2014 at 2:28 am

Thanks for your question. This really depends on the event. First, figure out how much your folks will likely drink and eat (1 drink per person? 2? — 1/2 entree + 3 appetizers per person? 5 appetizers per person, no entree?) Come up with averages that you think will work. Then, check to see if you can get the items donated in return for promoting the donating company as a sponsor of the event. If not, try for a discount.

Melissa April 3, 2014 at 4:12 pm

If an outside organization (not-for-profit) makes a donation to underwrite some of the costs of a small, educational conference (also not-for profit organization), should members of the outside organization be given free or discounted fees if they wish to attend the conference?

Joe Garecht April 4, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Melissa,

That’s up to you. I would say that normally, sponsors of an event get some free tickets to the event, but not an unlimited supply.

Joe

Kevin May 9, 2014 at 10:24 am

This is a good article, with a good overview of the major components to fundraising. Thank you for posting this.

I would respectfully suggest that item 9 be amended. If your event is to be held in a theater or similar, with the theater’s crew running the equipment, that crew will want at least one complete run-through, two is better. Remember that whatever vision you have for your show, it is only in your head until you clearly communicate that to the people pushing the buttons for you. Telling them, “I want the sound to start when Susan says, ‘Boo’.” or “The lights should flash when Steve walks on stage.” doesn’t really work. We don’t know who Steve or Susan are; we’ve just met them while you may have been working with them for months. Plus, working the equipment sometimes takes our eyes & attention off the stage.

A tech walk-through, plus one or two rehearsals, with EVERYONE there, will get a good crew 80-90% of the way towards a successful show.

Joe Garecht May 10, 2014 at 2:38 pm

Kevin,

Thanks for your suggestion. I agree that if you are holding your event in a theater or larger venue that requires stage lighting, sound systems, etc., you may need a full tech run through.

Joe

Debby Roth-Bush May 15, 2014 at 6:21 pm

Very clear outline! On the run-through – I cannot emphasize how important that is – especially when it comes to the appeal or ask part of the evening. You absolutely have to rehearse your person giving the emotional appeal to be sure they are on target and concise. I saw a train wreck where the speaker said we are here raise funds for (this group) but I want to talk about (that group) Having a timeline for the night helps everyone from the person in charge to the volunteers.

Rebbecca O'Connell March 12, 2015 at 8:52 am

I’m planning to raise money for a little boy & just need a little information we are looking in to venues we are hoping to do it outside & an all day thing family day to start have fair ride some stalls BBQ a bar etc we have DJs etc then at the night turn it in to a more adult rave type of thing just wondering if I’d need anything to do all this & how can I go about getting permission from the council to do this ie in a field??

Joe Garecht March 12, 2015 at 2:42 pm

Rebecca,

Thanks for your question. The rules and regulations around fundraising vary by country, state, province and municipality. Because you are in the UK, I would suggest you check out this guidance from the Institute of Fundraising:

http://www.institute-of-fundraising.org.uk/guidance/about-fundraising/charitable-collections/

Thanks,
Joe

izzy August 3, 2015 at 5:35 am

Hi, I need some advice please. We organised a fashion show for charity with all proceeds from everything (apart from the clothes sales) going to a local animal charity. At the end of the evening there was still a good bit of stuff left including wine and beer. Am I correct that this actually belongs to the charity and if the fashion people want to use it, they must either buy it or use it for another event for the same charity. Thanks in advance for any advice. Izzy

Joe Garecht August 3, 2015 at 9:34 am

Izzy,

Thanks for your e-mail. My guess is that it would depend on where the wine, beer, and other stuff came from – was it donated to the event? If so, then it would probably need to remain with the charity for future use. That being said, many items that might have been donated (such as perishable food, or used items, etc.) probably have limited market value outside of the event, and thus could be purchased relatively cheaply by the hosting organization. Check with your non-profit’s treasurer or accountant for specific rules.

Joe

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