How to Plan and Execute a Successful Fundraising Event in 6 Simple Steps
Being part of a nonprofit means a lot of things. First and foremost, you care about your cause. You have dedicated a significant portion of your life to ensuring that your mission, whatever it is, is accomplished. This is the most important aspect of your nonprofit: achieving change where others cannot, for people and things that truly deserve it.
But just because your organization is serious about change, does not mean you cannot have some fun along the way. Hosting events is a great way to add a little bit of lightheartedness to the business of making the world a better place. However, some of the best fundraising ideas (events included) require a significant amount of work. In this article, we will help you make your next event your best ever by covering:
- What is a Fundraising Event?
- How to Execute a Successful Fundraising Event in 6 Steps
- Management Tools For Planning Your Fundraising Event
- Final Thoughts
No time to read this article now? Download it for later.
What is a Fundraising Event?
Fundraising events are part of the core fundraising plan for many nonprofits. Fundraising events generally have two main aims:
Working to further your mission requires support in the way of funding. Peer-to-peer fundraising events are a very effective way to generate revenue by gathering a large number of supporters in one place to donate, chat, and have fun.
While you should have multiple revenue streams, like online donations and nonprofit start-up grants, annual or monthly events are a time-tested and very effective way to collect money for your organization.
Raise Awareness and Attract New Donors
Often, people come to know an organization not because they sought them out specifically, but because they attended some kind of event and were impressed by what the nonprofit was doing. This is a big benefit, and a main priority, of fundraising events: existing members bring their friends, new people come for the food or activities, and your contributors are increased by the time the event is over.
Fundraising events also allow for networking. Large donors or sponsors can be a huge part of your revenue if you prospect carefully, and fundraising events are the perfect place to meet them.
Eva is ready to execute an amazing fundraising event for her nonprofit!
Here are a few guidelines to set yourself up for networking opportunities:
Do Your Homework
Check out the registration list before the event. If any names of potential large donors come up, do your due diligence. Find out their line of work, check social media for their professional interests and what causes they may feel passionate about. You will find it a lot easier to talk to a "new" individual if they are not so new to you.
Learn Your Pitch
80% of success is showing up prepared. Have a pitch memorized to give to a potential donor after building some rapport. To avoid sounding robotic, it is best not to memorize the pitch but have two or three key messages you can pass along to a potential donor. Practice it enough that you can sound cool and confident giving it to someone while the event is going on.
Be Ready for Questions
People like to know where their money would go if they gave it to you. Be ready to talk about current projects, past successes, and the impact your organization has had on the issues you address. Having concrete numbers to backup your claims is key.
Types of Fundraising Events for Nonprofits
The type of fundraising event you decide to host can have an impact on how you go about asking for donations.
There are many different types of fundraising events your organization can host, including:
Fundraising Fun Runs
A classic in the fall months, a "fun run" is usually a 5k or 10k. Donors show up, chat with others for a bit, and then everyone runs (or walks, or dances) the distance to the finish line to show their support for your cause.
Pro Tip: The majority of funds from these events are through peer-to-peer fundraising. That said, there are additional opportunities to sell merchandise on or before the event or even collect additional contributions the day of the event via physical donation buckets or PayPal, Venmo, or another payment method.
Galas are a great way to meet potential large donors. Pull off a festive gala the right way, and you are in for a swanky night of meeting all the right people. While a gala is technically, by definition, just a social occasion with activities, they are often "classed up" to give a more interesting appeal and attract attention to your cause.
A Gala can also be the shell into which you place an absolute pearl of an activity: a charity auction.
Charity auctions are pretty self-explanatory: supporters of your cause bid on various goods and services, and the proceeds are donated to your organization. The lots you sell at a charity auction can be anything, from espresso makers to a coffee with the founder.
Silent auctions are particularly good because they can be held entirely online. Here are some silent auction ideas for what to offer to attendees:
Services from local businesses
Raffles and Lotteries
The concept behind a raffle or lottery is simple. Your supporters buy a chance to win a prize. Raffles and lotteries can be standalone events, where several raffles happen at once, but they are more often tucked into other events like fun runs and galas.
The key to a productive raffle is pricing. Let’s say your raffle is a vacation giveaway: 5-nights at an all-inclusive resort, a $1,000 value. You need to choose a raffle ticket price that is enough to earn you a margin on the cost of the vacation which, presumably, your organization purchased.
If 100 people are expected to turn up for the raffle, you can sell the tickets at $20 each, such that your revenue is $2,000 and your net proceeds are $1,000. Of course, ideally, a generous organization would have donated whatever it is you are offering for the raffle, which would make your margin 100%.
Pro Tip: Looking to increase that margin? Well, look to your community to donate products or services that can be auctioned off. Reach out to community organizations and businesses. Ask local landscaping companies and request that they donate a spring mulching to your auction. See if a boutique photography studio would be willing to provide a free family portrait. Reach out to nearby Publix to see whether they would provide a $25 gift card for groceries. These donation requests could bring in hundreds of dollars for your target program at no cost to you and provide these local businesses free advertising for their services in exchange for their gifts.
Crowdfunding refers to any fundraising activity where a large number of individuals donate specifically to a common cause. The most effective crowdfunding for nonprofits takes place online, since that is where you can garner the biggest audience. Here are some of the best crowdfunding sites for nonprofits:
How to Execute a Successful Fundraising Event in 6 Steps
Now that we have covered the basics of what a fundraising event is and what it can look like, you may be wondering whether there are additional fundraising tips for nonprofits you can employ. Here are some best practices you should follow in order to maximize revenue and ensure everyone has fun at your event.
Step 1: Set Goals & Objectives
Starting anything without a goal is a surefire way to vague, half-baked results. Before starting anything on your fundraising event, write down some clear goals.
Emily is jotting down goals for her nonprofit fundraising event!
Specify Your Goals
Your fundraising event’s broad goal is pretty straightforward: raise money. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get more specific. Is your goal to collect donations or to exchange an item for funds? To get contact information or network with big donors? What is the money going to pay for? A project or facilities? How much money do you need to raise to accomplish your objective? Answering these questions helps to frame your mind for the rest of the planning process.
Adjust and Budget
Once you have the methodology down and have determined how much you need to bring in for your project, check your cash reserves and overall budget, and tweak your skeleton plan so that you can make the event happen without going in the red.
Step 2: Decide If a Fundraising Event Is For You
It is always helpful, early in the planning process, to take a step back and make sure you really need to do what you are planning. A fundraising event is a tremendous way to earn money, but it also costs money and resources (volunteers, time from existing staff, and mental bandwidth) to set it up in the first place.
There is also a lot of effort that goes into pulling off fundraisers. At a minimum, they require diverting volunteer hours and meeting time, which can interfere with ongoing operations. Consider if there might be a better way to accomplish your goal, such as:
Online donation campaigns
Setting up a stand in front of a local
Pushing out a newsletter
If you have decided that a fundraising event is actually the best option, it is finally time to start planning.
Step 3: Choose a Format
A fundraising event can take multiple forms, including in-person, virtual, or a hybrid of the two. Choosing the right one depends on a few characteristics and your particular situation. Let’s take a look.
No streaming, no Zoom, just people talking face-to-face and having a fun night. Galas, fun runs, and festivals are all in-person events.
The benefit here is that people who attend in-person tend to be more engaged and are more likely to retain information about your organization. The downside is that your attendance is limited by the confines of your venue as well as your marketing effectiveness.
Virtual fundraiser events happen over streaming platforms or group call software like Zoom. Charity concerts can be virtual, and online donation forms and auctions can be created/ held very easily.
The pros of a virtual event are that, theoretically, millions of people can join in. In addition, they tend to be cheaper to host than in-person events, since you do not have to pay for a venue or too many physical items.
The cons are that virtual events lack the intimacy of an in-person event, and that technical difficulties can render the night unproductive.
Hybrid events consist of an in-person event, in conjunction with a streamed or otherwise online portion. Concerts and other shows can have in-person crowds while simultaneously being filmed for a digital audience. Auctions can be hybrid too, such that the attendees see the products in real life, but bid online anonymously.
Hybrid events can bring out the best from both formats, but also involve a lot of coordination to make sure the two blend together nicely.
Regardless of which format you choose, the key is in the planning.
Step 4: Plan Your Event
The more prep you put into your event, the smoother and more productive it is likely to go. The last thing you want is to arrive at the venue or hop on the stream and realize that something critical is completely missing. Let’s review what needs to be covered to plan a fundraising event.
Review Your Goals and Brainstorm
Now is the time to double-check your numbers from before. Then start thinking about what events and sub-events (activities within your event) would be most beneficial to accomplishing those goals.
Usually, it is a good idea to plan for general socialization. For example, a fun run where everyone just shows up, runs a 5k, and then gets in their car and heads home without a word to one another sort of takes the "fun" out of fun run. This is one of the reasons why racers travel together to and from the event and/or celebrate together afterwards.
Pro Tip: Allow at least 30 minutes of no activity. This encourages people to talk to each other. The subject of their conversation? Your organization and the great work it does. This gives your gold-star contributors a chance to sing your praises in front of newcomers and potential donors, so do not skip out on small talk time.
Consider Your Target Audience
Your target audience is the group of people who are most likely to donate to your organization. There are many broad groups to appeal to. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are a few you can brainstorm with your team:
If you are looking for a large donor or benefactor, there are a few things you can do. You can either host an event with the express goal of attracting people who tend to give large lump sums (galas and premium auctions are a favorite for this), or do something that might attract corporate sponsorship. One example of the latter is a sporting day or competition, either between branches of the same company or between different companies entirely.
Activists are those who are very involved (or "active") in your cause. Attracting activists not only means attracting donations, but also garnering a group of dedicated volunteers. A great way to get activists riled up is a workday, like a highway clean-up or a blood drive.
Getting parents on board with your event is pretty straightforward: to get the parents, you need the kids! Host a community festival or carnival with fun games and prizes, and you are sure to have more parents than you can count at your event chatting with each other while their kid goes 0 for 9 at skeeball. This is where you can really hit a homerun with spreading awareness.
Consider Your Budget
A fundraising day is definitely susceptible to a ballooning budget. This happens when brainstorming runs wild and ideas are approved before their prices, or the budget, are checked. The costs of the event start to inch ever higher, and before anyone can notice, the night as planned is no longer profitable.
Anthony has a lot to think about for his fundraising event.
To prevent this, you should prepare a list of potential activities and amenities, check the prices of the various activities online or by calling around, and then start to plan which events you will actually do. Mindful planning will help you keep the budget from skyrocketing.
Consider Your Resources
You may have the budget to pull off the event of your dreams but you need to keep in mind whether your associates have the time. Revisit your list of activities and think through not only how much they will cost but who and when they will be planned in detail and how they will be run on event day. Ensure you do not bite off more than your employees, or volunteers, can handle.
Pro Tip: When scheduling time slots for different aspects of your event, it is important to always allow some slack in the planning. Due to a whole range of human factors and things out of your control, a tightly planned agenda will rarely go according to plan exactly. If you are worried about down periods where your participants may have nothing to do, be sure to plan some backup options to keep under your sleeve?
Now that you have a general plan for the course of events jotted down, it is time to take care of arguably the most important aspect of any event: finding attendees.
Step 5: Promote Your Event
Marketing your event is the key to its success. While you can certainly set up an event in a high foot traffic area and hope for some passersby, you will have a higher chance at success by creating buzz about your event beforehand.
Let’s look into some time-tested marketing strategies that are sure to accomplish just that.
- Direct Mail
This method is perfect if you have a database of supporter addresses on hand. Direct mail, when done right, is still a perfectly viable way to garner attention for your event. The secret lies in crafting your promotional material to be mailed.
If you want someone to give your mail the attention it deserves, ensure it stands out. The best way to do this, typically, is by printing honest-to-goodness invitations for your event. As the saying goes, "if you build it, they will come." People like events, especially when they are for a good cause and an eye-catching invitation to the party may be just what they need.
Email marketing should be a part of your overall marketing and campaign strategy. If you have done it right, you should have a solid base of people who follow your emails. This makes it very easy to send them an invitation to your event.
Before putting all your eggs in this basket, check your open rate and make sure your email health is as good as it needs to be so that your emails do not wind up in spam.
If you do not have a consistent outgoing email campaign, you might have even more success with this, since your organization's name is an unusual sight in your supporters’ inbox. People’s eyes and attention are drawn to the unusual, so sending the right message to the right people may get a new base of support.
Be sure to collect emails when attendees are registering through other channels, since you can use these later on for fundraising emails.
Social media marketing works great for event promotion if you already have a decent local following, but you can also set up a new account and partner with some larger influencers to generate buzz for your event.
Develop quality content and ask your supporters to help you get the word out about your event or social media fundraiser ideas and link back to your organization’s account. From there, you can post updates, time changes, and general hype material to get people excited for the night. You can also continue to use this new social media account for later campaigns and event promotion.
Networking and Word of Mouth
Good word-of-mouth marketing starts internally. Make sure all of your volunteers, teammates, and members know about the event. Encourage them to talk about it to friends, bring their families, and tell their neighborhood all about your amazing organization and the fun night you have planned.
The fuel behind spreading word-of-mouth is a genuine passion for your cause, and the care and attention that went into making the night special. People talk about what they like, so by focusing on creating a truly great experience for everyone, you are sure to knock it out of the park.
Plus, if you see success at your first event, you will be the talk of the town next year when you hold the "second annual" one. Creating a loyal base of attendees might mean much less marketing is necessary next year.
By now, you should be ready to hold your event. But you are not done. You should always debrief and review with your team after the event, just as you would any other project.
Step 6: Review
Reviewing your event after the fact means different things depending on the goal of the event. If you were going for donation volume, it is fairly easy to track your success. If your goal was to spread awareness, success might be a little more of a vague term.
Louis is feeling great now that he has all these Springly tips!
There are, however, two types of reviews you should do no matter the goal: qualitative and quantitative.
Qualitative Review of A Fundraising Event
The questions to ask during a qualitative review are pretty straightforward. It is all about how the event itself went off with regards to planning.
What worked really well?
What did not work well?
What activities got the most attention?
What were attendees talking about?
Are people likely to come back to another similar event?
These questions serve to provide a basis for planning your next event. It empowers you to cut in during your next meeting: "No, Kyle, the mechanical bull was NOT a big hit at our nursing home event last year."
Quantitative Review of A Fundraising Event
A quantitative review is dryer and more statistics-based. The statistics you should find are as follows:
Percent of invited who attended
Overall profit or loss
Volunteer hours used
Gathering statistics obviously helps you ascertain the overall success of your event, but it can also help you generate material for promoting next year's event. Funds raised figures, in particular, tend to get people jazzed up for next year, when they want to do even more good.
The easiest way to get statistics about your event is to use event management software.
Management Tools For Planning Your Fundraising Event
Event management software is a digital solution to the problem of coordination and record-keeping that comes with all events. There are tons of great tools out there that can cut your planning and bookkeeping time by multitudes. Event management software can automate things like:
Reminding attendees of dates and time
Keeping note of new members generated from events
Counting up funds raised during events
Tracking attendance, demographics, and more
While there are hundreds of event management solutions available, here are some of our favorites:
Obviously, here at Springly, we are pretty big fans of Springly. Our all-in-one nonprofit software boasts some of the most powerful features for event management, and is trusted by over 20,000 organizations. Our software includes everything you need to run a smooth event.
Clean interface for participants
Publish events instantly once you create them
Accept online payment
Enjoy a full accounting suite
SoapBox specializes in event registration, giving you another great choice for tracking attendance, demographics, and success rates for your marketing efforts.
Strategy webinars to help you plan
Form integration with Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics
With Lumaverse, another great tool for event management, financials are the name of the game. They are famed for their 360-degree financial details, giving you a very good idea of your event's power to earn.
If you have made it this far, you are now an expert in planning a fundraising event. If you have skipped down to this part, your secret is safe with us. Here is a quick summary of everything we covered so you can get the gist.
First, we covered what a fundraising event is, and the various types (fun runs, galas, charity auctions, raffles, and lotteries) that are available for you to choose from. Then, we dug into the most important steps to ensure your event is successful. Make sure you set goals, determine whether an event is the best way to meet those goals, choose a format, plan, promote, and review. Whew! Planning an event is certainly time intensive. If you are looking for help, do not forget the tools that can help you plan, manage, and review: Springly, SoapBox, and Lumaverse.
Lots of information! It can definitely be overwhelming, especially if you are about to go plan your first event. But remember, Springly has all the tools you need to plan a rock-solid night and have you home in time for dinner. Best of luck!
Enjoyed the article? Download it to keep or share with others!
💡What is a fundraising event?
A fundraising event is a planned event that brings supporters of your cause together in order to raise funds through activities like auctions, games, and concerts. Find out more.
🔑 How do you plan a fundraising event?
There are 6 essential steps to planning a fundraising event:
Step 1: Set Goals & Objectives
Step 2: Decide If a Fundraising Event Is For You
Step 3: Choose a Format
Step 4: Plan Your Event
Step 5: Promote Your Event
Step 6: Review
📝 What are the different fundraising event formats?
Fundraising events come in three formats: In-Person, Virtual, and Hybrid. Each format has their own benefits, and will greatly depend on your budget and resources your organization has. Find out more.