Planning a large-scale event can be daunting, especially for the inexperienced.
But fundraising events are extremely important for a nonprofit’s success. Besides serving as a major source of revenue, fundraising events give you an opportunity to engage directly with your donors and form long-lasting relationships.
Events are a great way to maintain member engagement, which is crucial to ensuring your cause receives gifts well into the future. Here are the five most important steps to planning a great event:
- Outline your goals.
- Build a team.
- Look for sponsors.
- Create an agenda and reserve a space.
- Advertise your event.
While you’re still in the planning stage, take a look at these 5 essential steps to make sure your event goes off without a hitch.
Bonus! If your event needs to go virtual, check out this Guide to Virtual Fundraising by OneCause for some helpful tips!
1. Outline your goals.
Before you can start planning, you should probably know what you are planning.
It may seem silly, but many inexperienced event planners have suffered due to a lack of clearly defined goals for their event. If all you know about your event is that you want it to be a magical night under the stars, consider sitting down and making a short list of simple, actionable goals.
The specific details will depend on what type of event you are planning, but using a few of these essential examples will make a good foundation:
- Budget. You may think of a budget as more of a restriction than a goal, but staying under budget is one of the most important signs of a successful event (especially for your donors). After all, what’s the point of a fundraiser if you spend everything you earned on the event itself? Compare your ideal event against a realistic budget to arrive at the perfect solution. Effective budgets account for both expenses and income. For more help walking you through building a budget, check out this guide from CharityHowTo.
- Size. Do you want your event to be small and intimate or large and boisterous? Having a set size in mind will come in handy later when picking a venue and making catering decisions. Of course, always plan for more people than you actually expect—the last thing you want is to run out of food or space!
- Objective. What do you want to get out of your event? You may have a specific fundraising goal, or maybe you’re hoping to welcome new members to your organization’s membership program. This should be one of the first decisions you make, as it will influence many of your event planning decisions going forward.
Whatever your goals, laying them out is the first step to planning a great event. You have to know what you want to achieve before you can plan how you’ll achieve it!
2. Build a team.
The perfect event needs the perfect team to handle any issues that come up while planning or during the event itself.
This is especially true for mid- to large-sized events.
Once you’ve made a list of goals for the event, you should be able to delegate responsibilities to a few trusted helpers who can handle the minutiae while you take care of the big stuff. After all, you still have to take care of the day-to-day operations of your nonprofit!
Your team can serve as an extra set of eyes when you are stuck on a decision or an extra set of hands when the many small (but important) tasks are mounting. You’ll also need them to help handle the key day-of logistics like donations, parking, and emergency preparedness once the big day rolls around.
Depending on the size of your event, you may simply recruit your two best employees, or, if you are preparing a large event, you may need a team of 10 people or more. In either case, make sure that you clearly define each team member’s role so that nothing falls by the wayside. You should also set up an efficient means of communication for the team so that everybody stays on the same page.
To avoid any logistical hiccups, find a software solution that will allow your team to handle registration, ticketing, donations, and sales with ease. A system that integrates these features with your nonprofit’s membership management will ensure that you keep track of all this important information. Check out this list of Eventbrite alternatives from Double the Donation for some options.
3. Look for sponsors.
Most nonprofits require sponsors to help host great events without dipping too much into their gift revenue.
There are lots of costs involved with organizing a fundraiser, and you may not see some of them coming. Getting a local business to hop on board as a sponsor is a great way to offset the cost, get some free advertising, engage with your community, and cultivate some potentially long-lasting relationships.
But how can you find the right businesses to sponsor your event? Here are a few ideas:
- Take advantage of your network. If there are any businesses you’ve worked with in the past, or if you know anyone with ties to local businesses, ask if they have any interest in sponsoring your event. It doesn’t have to be too formal at this point—you’re just asking, and they won’t sponsor your event unless they really want to.
- Look around. Find out what businesses have sponsored similar events in the past, and explain to them how your cause aligns with their values. Make sure to detail how crucial their help would be to supporting your mission.
- Think about media sponsorships. A media sponsorship can really kill two birds with one stone by helping you fund your event and get the word out to the public. Think about local publications, radio, and television. Even if they only offer free advertisement, that’s money saved for the rest of your event!
Once you’ve identified a few candidates, all you have to do is send them a letter outlining a few options for different levels of sponsorship and explaining the potential opportunities and benefits for their business.
Once again, you will hopefully be able to sustain this relationship and work together on a future event or project. So after the event, make sure to thank them for their help and tell them specifically how their sponsorship led to a successful fundraiser.
4. Create an agenda and reserve a space.
Now that you’ve secured some sponsorships, you can start planning the details of your event.
The first step is to create an agenda or itinerary outlining the event’s essential details—date, time, attire, parking, and all the other important facts that your guests need to know. This will be helpful for both you and your guests, letting you keep the event running smoothly and while serving as a reference for them.
If you don’t know where to start, try thinking about the kind of mood that you want to set for your event. Do you want a serious space to talk frankly about your cause, or would you prefer a lighthearted affair with an air of celebration? Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box—consider making your event more unique by planning an aquarium or museum event that will really get guests excited.
Set new events apart from those of year’s past by implementing new features like a special guest or honoree. Select someone who is esteemed in the community or your industry who is also sure to bring in donors and big donations to your event.
But it’s not just about features and decorations. Location is also extremely important for racking up those RSVPs. Make sure to consider parking, mass transit, and valet service as well. You should also be sure to choose a location whose staff is accommodating and willing to work with you to make your event special.
The research and booking process can take time, so make sure to start well in advance. This is another area where a good software solution can make a difficult task relatively painless.
5. Advertise your event.
Everything’s set up and now all you need are the guests.
You’ve put so much into planning, so you should use every resource available to make sure you get the attendance you want for your event.
We already talked about the possibility of a media sponsorship, but chances are you will need some additional advertisement to make sure your message is heard. There are lots of possible avenues, but you should make sure to hit these essentials:
- Social media. Most people use their social media accounts to respond to invites and manage their event calendars. Make sure to include social media in your event’s marketing strategy so people can respond in a way that is convenient for them.
- Email lists. As a nonprofit, you likely already have an email marketing strategy devoted to general donations and fundraising campaigns. Make sure to invite your most valued donors while conveying that their attendance will be greatly appreciated. Write an invitation email that is unique so your donors know a special event is coming up.
- Word of mouth. When the RSVPs start rolling in, ask a few of your most loyal supporters to invite their own friends and family. Look for donors who might be connected with wealthy prospects and see if you can bring in a few new supporters.
You want your event to have the right mix of top donors, devoted members, and interested newcomers who may apply for membership. By advertising in diverse ways, you can make sure to reach all your target demographics.
For a growing nonprofit, fundraising events can make all the difference.
But don’t stress! As long as you get started well in advance and go through each of the steps above, your event will come together and you will be ready to get some valuable face time with your valued donors.
Adam Weinger is the President of Double the Donation, the leading provider of tools to nonprofits to help them raise more money from corporate matching gift and volunteer grant programs. Connect with Adam via email or on LinkedIn.