By Sara Lundenberger – Director of fundraising consulting
If you are a professional who works for a nonprofit, you have probably attended or worked at an event for your organization. In fact, I’m sure some of you have been told in a board meeting or two to simply do another event to raise more money.
And I’m sure you know that there is nothing “simple” about events.
Event planning is not for everyone. There are a lot of details to keep track of, committee members to nudge and budgets to keep in mind. However, most nonprofits have at least one event each year, and many hold multiple events throughout the year. Some rely solely on events for their entire fundraising budget. While I would never recommend putting all of your fundraising eggs in the event basket, starting an individual giving program (read more about how to begin this process here) or putting more time into grants (check out these tips on grant writing) might not be feasible for you right now.
So, how can you make sure your fundraiser is successful and doesn’t completely overwhelm your staff?
Before you start planning anything – ask the tough questions
“Do we need another event? Do we have capacity to plan it? Can our current events be revamped to raise more money? Do we have enough donors/sponsors to support another event?”
It can be tough to ask these questions when your board is pressuring you to add another event; however, it is important to talk through the process before taking on something that uses all of your resources and may not be successful.
Set attainable and realistic goals
In many cases, an organization doesn’t have an actual idea of what they want to accomplish by holding an event.
When planning an event, consider these questions: Do you want to raise a specific dollar amount, introduce new people to your organization or thank your current donors? Or do you want to do a combination of the three?
Sit down with your board and staff and really discuss what a successful event looks like. Take into account how many people currently are involved in your organization, how much those people currently give, etc. It’s probably not a great idea to set your event fundraising goal at $100,000 for a sit down dinner with 1,000 guests at a ticket price of $500 each if: 1) you currently have no donors that give that amount, and 2) you only have a few hundred names in your database. Be realistic and honest with your staff and board.
Create a committee and delegate
If you’ve decided to move forward with the event – create a committee. Utilize under engaged board members, current supporters, volunteers and even clients to help. Planning an event takes a village! You need a solid group of people, outside of your staff, to take on some of the planning tasks. Set deadlines, meet when needed and keep people on schedule. If they know what they need to do and when it needs to be done, most people will follow through.
This leads to my next point…
Assign specific tasks
Overwhelming volunteers with huge, daunting jobs leads to frustration on both ends. Do not give a volunteer the task of securing all sponsorships for the event. That is a huge job even for seasoned, paid staff. Instead, give them a list of 20-25 companies and ask them to reach out to those specific places. Ask them to put together five baskets. Overall, giving volunteer committee members specific and achievable tasks will make it a lot easier for them to actually finish their task and ask for another one instead of letting it sit until it’s too late.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
If I learned anything in my years of planning events, it is this: Make a plan and then let it go. No event will ever be perfect and you can drive yourself crazy micro-managing every aspect of it. And, usually, you are the only one that noticed that you were missing three high-top tables or that the raffle tickets weren’t all the same color. (True story: I once freaked out because the raffle tickets weren’t all the same color because I thought for sure people would be confused. It was fine.)
When the event ends, we want to pack it away and not think about it until next year; however a recap meeting is important! By recapping, you are able to make improvements for future events.
Assemble a small group to go over each step of the event. Honestly critique the whole event and brainstorm ideas for making it better. And make sure someone takes notes. There is nothing worse than coming up with some great ideas only to completely forget them when next year finally rolls around.
Planning successful fundraising events is not easy. Unless you have someone on your staff that loves events (you probably don’t), it can quickly turn in to everyone’s least favorite time of the year. The most you can do is plan well, be flexible, think outside the box… and hope for good weather.