Planning a fundraising event can feel daunting, to say the least. That’s why fundraising event planning is something of art and something of a science—while also being part craps game, part military campaign, and part magic trick.
From major annual galas to small wine-and-cheese nights, there are dozens—sometimes hundreds—of individual steps that go into pulling off one of these events.
And while we don’t have the space to list dozens of steps—let alone hundreds—we have boiled the whole process down to 16 major steps that can guide you on your way.
- Step #1: Determine the Type of Fundraising Event You Want to Host
- Step #2: Set a Budget for Your Fundraiser
- Step #3: Find Your Target Audience
- Step #4: Pick a Time and Date for Your Event
- Step #5: See if You Need to Fill Out Any Event Paperwork
- Step #6: Make Concrete Arrangements
- Step #7: Incorporate Marketing Into Your Fundraising Event Plan
- Step #8: Sell Tickets for Your Charity Event
- Step #9: Set up the Venue on the Day of the Fundraiser
- Step #10: Practice a Run-Through of the Event
- Step #11: Pay Attention to Engagement During Your Fundraiser
- Step #12: Have Fun With It!
- Step #13: Close Out Your Event the Right Way
- Step #14: Write the Best Thank-You Letters
- Step #15: Update Attendees on Progress
- Step #16: Analyze Fundraising Event Data
When you’re planning your next fundraising event, use this guide as your checklist. Good luck, and godspeed!
Planning the Fundraising Event
There are four major stages to mounting a nonprofit fundraising event: Planning, Prepping, Launching, and Following Up.
In this section, we’ll cover the “Planning” stage, where you answer a lot of the big questions, including “What,” “When,” “Who,” and “How Much.”
Step #1: Determine the Type of Fundraising Event You Want to Host
The right kind of fundraiser for your nonprofit will serve your mission, your supporters, and your financial needs.
Decide On Your Purpose for Hosting the Event
Are you planning a fundraising event solely in order to raise money for a specific project? Perhaps you’re throwing a fundraiser in the hopes of increasing your membership count. Alternatively, you could be looking to steward existing donors with an event. Before you commit to a type of fundraising event, you must first decide why you’re throwing it in the first place.
Set a Goal for Your Fundraising Event
If you’re throwing an event in the hopes of funding a project, set a concrete goal, such as $10,000. Likewise, if the event’s purpose is to increase membership, you’ll want to decide a quantifiable goal, like 15 new members. If you’re hosting an event in the name of stewardship, your goals may not be as definable, but you should still have an idea of what success looks like.
Find an Event That Meets Both Needs
The perfect event will meet at the intersection of purpose and scope. If your purpose is to raise money for a specific project, and your goal is to raise $5,000, you probably won’t want to host a gala. The size and expense of a gala just wouldn’t mesh well with your ultimate goal. The point is: your fundraising event planning should satisfy your purpose and fit in with your goals.
Step #2: Set a Budget for Your Fundraiser
When throwing an event, you’ll have to spend money to make money. The purpose of the budget is that you don’t end up spending too much in order to raise not enough.
Create a List of Items You’ll Need
Estimate what you think you’re going to require. These items might already be a part of your event checklist!
Once you’ve nailed down a rough idea of items you’ll need, you’re going to want to open up a spreadsheet. Make columns with titles along the lines of: “Item,” “Description,” “Amount needed,” “Estimated cost,” and “Actual cost.”
You don’t have to fill these columns in just yet!
Enter Descriptions Into Your Spreadsheet
To keep all of your specifications straight, it may be helpful to enter particular descriptions into your spreadsheet. They don’t have to be extensive, but they should give some hint as to the needs of your organization.
Research Items in Your Budget
Do some research on each of the items in your proposed budget. You may need to call your prospective venue or chat with a couple of different caterers to get an idea of those larger, less standardized costs.
Fill in the “Estimated Cost” column with your best (educated) guesses. You can use eCommerce websites like Amazon to get a general idea of what things may cost, though if possible it is great to use local vendors!
Add up the “Estimated Cost” Column
With all of the educated guesses filled in, you can then add up the “Estimated Cost” column.
That total should give you a good idea of your overall budget.
Pad Budget for Unexpected Expenses
Of course, we all know that extenuating circumstances arise. In order to prepare for the worst case scenario, it’s important to add in a little cushioning to your initial estimated budget.
There will probably be hidden costs around every corner. Don’t forget to account for easy-to-forget realities, like taxes.
Fill in the Actual Cost (Once the Event is Over)
The final step in crafting your budget will actually come once you’ve finalized every detail, and that most likely won’t be until after your event has ended.
The “Actual Cost” column is an important column to keep for future reference.
Step #3: Find Your Target Audience
A fundraising event is the same as any other kind of fundraising appeal: It needs to speak to the motivations of a specific audience and spark something inside of them.
What Action Do You Want Your Audience to Take?
Are you hosting an event where the primary action is donating a large sum of money by the end of the evening? Or is the focus of the event volunteering? Depending on the action that you want the audience to take, you’ll be targeting different individuals. The donor who looks forward to your elegant annual campaign gala probably wouldn’t be interested in digging up a garden.
What Demographics Are Most Likely to Take Action?
Age group, location, occupation, and family status will all have a bearing on whether or not certain donors will be interested in your event. Let’s say, for instance, that you’re hosting a fundraising carnival. You’ll want to be sure to invite children (age group) who are nearby (location) with parents (family status) who can afford to take their kids to a carnival (occupation).
What Are Your Target Audience’s Interests and Habits?
When trying to figure out your ideal audience, you’ll also want to take into consideration your donors’ interests, hobbies, values, past charitable giving, and volunteering habits. In examining your donor database, you may find that you have a number of donors who really enjoy being active. In that case, those donors would be perfect for your next 5K fundraiser.
Step #4: Pick a Time and Date for Your Event
If you’re some kind of extra-dimensional cosmic being that lives outside the bounds of time and space, you can skip this step. But you’re probably not, so you can’t. Sorry.
Allow 2 Months for Every 100 Guests
If you’ve got a guest list of 300 people, your fundraising event planning should start at least 6 months in advance. This will give your organization ample time to raise money and receive all RSVPs.
Make Sure You Don’t Conflict with Major Events
Few things would be worse than realizing that you arranged your entire fundraiser around a date and time that coincide with a major event, like an awards show or the Super Bowl.
Pay Attention to Venue Cost
Weekdays are notoriously less expensive than weekends for booking most venues. Make sure you’re willing to pay extra if you’re planning your event on a Saturday or Sunday.
Keep to Annual Event Traditions
Now is not the time to break traditions. Your donors will be expecting your annual event to be the same time each year; don’t disappoint them by changing your timeline last minute.
Prepping the Event
In this state of your event planning journey, you’ll move from big picture planning to increasingly more detailed particulars and logistics. It’s where your idea starts to become a reality!
Step #5: See if You Need to Fill Out Any Event Paperwork
Well, if it isn’t everyone’s favorite part of the process! Still, the last thing you want is for your event to get scuttled at the last minute because you didn’t fill out form IG-88.
Health Code Compliance
If you’re serving or selling food at your fundraising event, you may need to check with the health department to make sure you’re in compliance with any and all regulations.
If you’re hosting a raffle or some other type of gambling fundraiser, you might have to fill out paperwork with the local or state gaming authority.
Step #6: Make Concrete Arrangements
This refers to stuff like funding a venue and caterers, not making arrangements for actual concrete. Although, if you’re throwing a mafia-themed fundraiser, a concrete hook-up could come in handy.
Find a Venue
Finding a proper venue should coincide with picking a date and time. In order to finalize all three, your nonprofit should negotiate, look into various options, and ultimately choose the event space that will be most conducive to the type of fundraising event you’re throwing.
By this point, you will probably have spoken to at least one catering company to gauge prices for your budget. During your fundraising event planning, find the time to settle on your favorite (or the one most willing to work with your budget) and book them for your event date–well in advance, of course!
Purchase Promotional Items
It’s time to purchase any materials or tools you might need to promote your event. Consider which channels you’d like to market your event through, and make sure you have everything you need to get the word out!
Buy Necessary Supplies
Some venues will provide you with all of the supplies you’ll need (sound equipment, tables, chairs). But many won’t. In any case, it’s crucial to set time and money aside to purchase any necessary items you may be lacking before the event.
Step #7: Incorporate Marketing Into Your Fundraising Event Plan
This isn’t Field of Dreams. You can’t just build it and expect people to come. You’ve got to tell them about it, likely multiple times through multiple channels.
Direct mail marketing involves sending out information about your upcoming event through the mail. Because recipients can tack your direct mail up on their fridges, they’re unlikely to forget about your fundraiser.
Print advertisements include media like newspaper ads, magazine ads, bus stop ads, and billboards. People walking down the street or perusing a newspaper might stumble upon an ad for your event and be interested in attending.
Word-of-mouth marketing refers to actively encouraging conversations throughout a given network of supporters. It’s a seemingly more natural, organic way of spreading the news about your upcoming fundraising event.
Flyers are promotional materials in the form of posters that are tacked up around town or pamphlets that are passed around. Because they’re so easy to disseminate, you can post up and pass around flyers all over town in no time.
Email is one of the most effective ways that you can market an event to your existing supporters. By crafting an email campaign that marries engaging subject lines, clear Calls to Action, and exciting individuals, you can help ensure that your organization’s supporters will show up on the big day!
Crowdfunding pages allow your supporters to raise money and awareness for your event with a web page. Your supporters are spreading the word, so there’s more trust involved and a wider network to be reached.
Event websites are created specifically to sell tickets, raise awareness, and provide information about a fundraiser. If an attendee has a question, they can just refer to the page.
Social media sites like Facebook. X, Instagram and TikTok are really useful for spreading the word about your event. They’re easy to use, and the majority of your constituents are likely to be on at least one of these platforms.
Step #8: Sell Tickets for Your Charity Event
Ticket sales are going to be one of your primary sources of revenue for this fundraiser. So the more tickets you sell, the closer you’ll get to your fundraising goal.
Start Selling Early
Many nonprofits believe they have to wait until their invitations are sent out in order to start selling tickets. The truth is: you should absolutely start selling tickets well before you mail out invitations. The earlier you get the bulk of your tickets sold, the better!
Use Supporters’ Networks
In the same vein as peer-to-peer fundraising, making the most of your supporters’ networks means having active members reach out to their connections. Your fundraising event planning should include having supporters sell tickets to their friends, families, coworkers, and more.
Send Out Save-the-Dates
Preceding or following your invitations, send out save-the-dates in order to remind people of your upcoming event. Save-the-dates are simple but effective reminders that can be put up on the fridge or tacked on to a memo board.
Sell to Groups
Selling discounted tickets for bulk purchasing is great for your organization as well as for your donors. They’ll feel like they’re getting a steal by booking a large group, but really, they’re helping you sell all of your tickets more quickly.
Launching the Event
The big day has arrived! Here’s a breakdown of all the steps you’ll need to take to make sure that your fundraiser goes off without a hitch and brings in some substantial gifts.
Step #9: Set Up the Venue On the Day of the Fundraiser
For most event planners, the hardest part of this step will be taking a step back and trusting that people know their jobs and how to do them well. Fight that urge to micro-manage every little thing and, instead, just remember to breathe.
If you’re having musicians, DJs, or speakers as your entertainment, call them ahead of time to make sure they know where to go, where to park, and what time everything starts.
Your fundraising event planning will have likely led to multiple levels of volunteers for the day of the event. Be sure that everyone on your team knows the drill, and have a roster to keep track of them, if need be.
Set up your event photographers right where the action is going to be. Give them the hottest spot in the house, so they can snap the best shots.
Though you won’t need to enlist their help until after the event, it’s important to coordinate your ending time with your clean-up crew, whether they’re professional or just volunteers.
If you’re hosting a 5K fun run, then you’ll definitely want to set up your last-minute registration tables early. In any case, it’s a good idea to have a few extra tickets available at the door.
Be sure you have enough name tags, name plates, and bidding paddles (if you’re running a charity auction) to accommodate all of your guests–plus a few more who may show up!
Be sure you have enough name tags, name plates, and bidding paddles (if you’re running a charity auction) to accommodate all of your guests–plus a few more who may show up!
Ensure that all promotional items, like T-shirts or other apparel items, are fully stocked and ready to be passed out or sold at your fundraising event.
Step #10: Practice a Run-Through of the Event
A well-run event involves keeping surprises to a minimum. This is a chance for you to spot problems ahead of time and address them before the doors even open.
In order to have a truly successful fundraising event, you’ll want to be sure that your volunteers, hosts, and any key speakers have had a chance to run through the script of the evening (or day) at least once. Leave enough time to work out any kinks, questions, or inconsistencies.
Just as you’ll want to address any issues with your event staff and entertainment, you’ll also want to set aside time to test and resolve any issues with your sound system, fundraising thermometer, and payment processing technology before the fundraiser starts.
Step #11: Pay Attention to Engagement During Your Fundraiser
Fundraisers aren’t a set-it-and-forget-it affair. Here are some ways that you can keep your attendees engaged, energized, and inspired throughout the event.
During your fundraising event, use an event-specific hashtag for your Instagram, Facebook, and other social channels. This is an easy, fool-proof way to track engagement before, during, and after the fundraiser.
Encourage your fundraising event attendees to text your nonprofit’s designated number with song requests, live suggestions, and any feedback they may have.
Talk to Attendees
The best way to gauge your donors’ feelings about your event is to ask them! Strike up a casual conversation, and you’ll likely learn more about both them and your event than you could otherwise.
Give People Programs
Just so that everyone is on the same page during your event, be sure to provide your guests with detailed programs to let them know what’s coming next!
Step #12: Have Fun With It!
If your attendees see you having fun, then they’ll have fun, too. We promise.
Have a Great Attitude!
It’s really easy to get caught up in the stress of planning and pulling off a fundraising event. But you’ve made it to the proverbial finish line; it’s okay to relax a little and switch from harried planning mode to easy-breezy party mode!
Enjoy the Food and Drink!
Just as it’s easy to maintain a stressed-out attitude during your fundraiser, it’s also easy to forget to feed yourself. Don’t let that happen to you and your staff. Remember to take care of yourself and enjoy that food you paid for!
Dance and Let Loose!
Chances are, this is your one night per year to let loose. Don’t miss the opportunity to dance, laugh, play, and have fun. After all, you’ve definitely earned it. There will be time to worry about planning your next event later!
Here’s the good news: Your event is over, and it was a huge success. Congrats! Here’s the not-so-good news: Your work isn’t done yet.
Step #13: Close Out Your Event the Right Way
If you have trouble remembering this part, try setting it to the tune of “Closing Time.”
Input Data in Donor Database
It’s highly likely that you’ll have a large influx of new donor data in the wake of your fundraising event. Make sure that you file it away accordingly in your CRM.
Draft and Send Thank-You Letters
Sending a well-written thank-you letter is one of the best things you can do right after an event. Put them in the mail no more than 48 hours after the event ends.
Make Sure Vendors Receive Payment
In order to close your event out fully, you’ll need to pay your vendors. That includes giving caterers, musicians, and cleaning crew their dues.
Step #14: Write the Best Thank-You Letters
A great thank-you letter will go a long way towards turning an event attendee or an occasional giver into dedicated super fans.
Begin with the P.S. in mind
Decades of eye-motion studies have revealed that letter recipients read their names first and the P.S. line second. Add an extra “Thank you” to the end of your letter!
Your attendees don’t want to read a thesis paper. Let them know how much you appreciate them as though you were speaking with them in person.
Make Formatting Easy to Read
Use a larger font than you think you’ll need, keep it short and sweet, and don’t employ any colors that are difficult to read, and you should be good to go!
Say “Thank You” More Than Once
It never hurts to say “thank you” more than once. Your donors have helped you pull off something spectacular; make sure they know you’re grateful!
Step #15: Update Attendees on Progress
Your event was only the beginning of a conversation between you and your supporters. And it’s up to you to keep that conversation going.
When Should You Follow Up?
As we mentioned earlier, it’s important to follow up with a thank you letter immediately after an event, no more than 48 hours later. It’s just as crucial to follow up with your donors as soon as you have any updates to share regarding the progress made with their donations.
How Should You Follow Up?
Depending on the size and scope of the fundraising event, you may choose to call each of your donors to update them on your progress, or you might find it more expedient to send out an email. Either way, try to make your communications as personal as possible.
Why Should you Follow Up?
53% of donors surveyed cited that a lack of consistent communication was the reason for their leaving a nonprofit. In order to increase your overall donor retention rate, it’s vital that you follow up with and update your fundraising event attendees in a timely manner.
Step #16: Analyze Fundraising Event Data
The better your data, the better you’ll be able to suss out what worked, what didn’t, and how you can improve next time.
Review Feedback from Event
Reviewing your feedback might include reading through online surveys, searching your event hashtag across different social media sites, or even sorting out useful suggestions from your suggestion box.
Conduct Prospect Research
Conducting prospect research on your recent fundraising event attendees is one of the top ways of sussing out donors who could be giving significantly more in the future. Get this ball rolling early in order to have the best chance of securing a major gift.
Run Appropriate Reports
With your newly updated CRM, you’ll be able to run automated reports on your constituents. Because all of the pertinent information is consolidated in one place, you’ll be able to get an accurate picture of your donors.
Finalize and Compare Budget
Now is the time to calculate your fundraising event’s ROI: your return on investment, that is! Finalize your budget and fill in that last column in your spreadsheet. Compare that number with the money you raised to arrive at your ROI.
Plan Your Next Fundraising Event With Neon CRM
If you follow all of the steps and sub-steps laid out in this guide, you’ll end up with an awesome event, but it’ll take an incredible amount of work. What you need is a software platform that saves you time by combining robust events features with an all-in-one donor management platform that keeps all your donor data and fundraising capabilities in a single system.
You might be able to guess where we’re going with this: Neon CRM is exactly that kind of solution! It’s a powerful donor management system with a newly improved and expanded events module, plus fundraising, communications, payments, volunteers, and events capabilities. With Neon CRM, you can set up events, sell tickets, send emails, collect payments, check-in attendees, and process donations without ever changing systems.
Want to know more? You can read all about Neon CRM’s new events module in this blog post. And for a full tour of the system, you can join one our regularly scheduled Neon CRM group demos! These 30-minute sessions cover all of the platform’s major capabilities with zero pressure to buy. Just click the button below to find a session that works for you!
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