Fundraising isn’t just emails, cold calls, and boring meetings. You have to put on a events to engage to attract fund new ideas and a fundraising event is exactly the way to do it.
Not all fundraising events are the same; some are fancy galas, while others involve hundreds of people running into the ocean in the dead of winter (I’d rather just donate the money). What they all have in common is a plan. No event is without significant planning months beforehand and in order to keep all of your plans in order, your nonprofit will need a fundraising event checklist.
Fundraising event checklist
In order to succeed, a fundraising event must obviously pull in more revenue than what is spent on the event and these events aren’t cheap. NYMag did a cost vs. revenue analysis of some big name fundraising galas and none of the events cost less than $100,000. But their revenue eclipsed their spending. All but one event made more than 10% of what they spent on the event itself, some reaching as high as 70%. You can bet that organization played a serious part in guaranteeing the success of these events.
When thousands of dollars are on the line, there is no way you can forego a checklist to keep track of every step of your event.
I’ve compiled a ten-step checklist for any fundraising event, from team building all the way down to specific marketing techniques.
Next, it’s time to establish the goals you are attempting to reach with this fundraising event. Is this event going to be used to fund a specific nonprofit organization, project, or local cause? How much money are you hoping to raise?
These goals will help you determine your needs in terms of venue, staffing, catering, and who your guests will be.
Goals to set:
- Attendee number: How many people do you want to attend your event? This number is important when establishing how much you wish to fundraise and what kind of press you are looking to gain.
- Fundraising goal: The most important goal of your fundraising event is obviously to raise as much money as possible. But don’t set your goals too high. If this is your first fundraising event, be cautious and set a goal that will exactly meet the needs of your cause. Large name galas cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and therefore the fundraising stakes are much higher, but not every event has to cost that much. As mentioned earlier, there are fundraising events centered around jumping into the freezing ocean. By comparison, their cost is significantly lower. So long as your returns on investment are significantly higher (at least 10% of what you spend on the event itself), your event is worth it.
- Press attention: Positive attention from the press significantly increases the likelihood that attendees will either donate to your cause after the fact or will look to attend your next fundraising event.
- Email subscribers: Fundraising events such as these are perfect for collecting personal information from your attendees, leading to further communication between them and your nonprofit. By continuing this relationships you are increasing the likelihood that these attendees will contribute in the future.
Goals will help you stay on track and measure success once your event is over. These goals will shape your decisions from now until your event is over.
If your nonprofit isn’t looking to hire an outside party to manage and plan your fundraising event, you will have to build an internal event planning team.
Event management teams cover a wide variety of roles, including team leaders, volunteer coordinators, marketers, public relations, and many others.
Consider using Leoissac.com’s chart of event team roles for inspiration:
There are five key aspects to team building that you must keep in mind when selecting and orienting your team members:
1. Establish an effective leader
There are five traits to watch out for when selecting a leader: Honesty, effective communication skills, confidence, the ability to commit, and open to feedback. The leader will be the one to build the team and assign each person to their specific role.
2. Define team roles
Every team member needs to have their own separate roles. This practice gives each team member a feeling of importance through individual responsibility.
3. Establish a common vision
Once the team is built, it is important to assess your strengths and weaknesses to find out what kind of team structure and workflow you will operate under.
4. Host team exercises
These exercises, whether they are activity nights, team outings, or book clubs, are important for establishing team unity. The more your team interacts with one another, the closer they will get, and the more effective they will be when working together.
5. Host team meetings
Meetings are perfect for your team members to discuss their issues they are facing, the successes they’ve had, and for your team leader to offer direction and updates on event progress.
A quality team building event will include teamwork, inspire communication, and requires openness with each other.
Here are a few effective meeting habits you should follow:
- Obtain/create written agenda in advance
- Review the attendee list and send schedule updates
- Manage your meeting by the clock
- Take notes of the meeting
- Follow up with team members after your meeting
These five key aspects will help you build and maintain your solid event management team ready to take on any fundraising event.
Now it’s time to plan out what you plan to spend and what you hope to make with this event. Once your budget is set, it is wise not to deviate from your set expenditures (unless emergency situations arise).
Your goal is to make sure that you make at least a 10% revenue increase over the amount spent on the event, so all costs associated for the event must remain within an attainable amount. Spending $100,000 doesn’t make much sense if you only hope to bring thirty or so people to this event (unless those donors are promising massive donations to your cause).
You budget should include:
- Staffing costs
- Entertainment and speaker fees
- Event management software
- Crowdfunding software
Here are a few free fundraising event budget templates to help get you started:
And finally, check out this helpful how-to guide on creating nonprofit fundraising budgets.
When selecting your event venue, there are several you will have to answer to meet your overall fundraising event goals, such as:
- Is my venue big enough? Is it too big?
- How many rooms will I need?
- Does this venue absorb a disproportionate amount of my budget?
- Is this venue available when I need it?
- What kind of parking does the venue have?
- Will I have to provide my own A/V equipment?
- Does this venue have cell service or a WiFi connection for attendees?
In order to help you find your venue, try using an event venue database, like Unique Venues and EVENTup. These databases are for general events, so if you are looking for something more specific, you will have to get creative in your research.
As for your event date, you will have to coordinate availability between your venue, your catering, your speakers, and entertainment. Be sure to have several potential dates in mind before reaching out to venues and use the scheduling tool in your event management software to track all venue availability dates.
Now that you have a venue, it’s time to think about how you will attract guests to your event.
Your speakers and entertainment are perfect for differentiating your fundraising event from others. Your guest speaker(s) should be relevant to your cause, preferably with experience in the field or someone who is passionate about what you are advocating for.
If you are having trouble finding an event speaker, there are also plenty of speaker bureaus which represent guest speakers of all kinds, including politicians, businessmen and women, and celebrities.
Selecting your caterer gives your guests a unique opportunity to reach out and influence your fundraising event. Before selecting a caterer, reach out to your organization’s member lists and survey your potential attendees on which kinds of foods they would like to eat at your event, whether through email or social media.
It’s important for your attendees to have an easy-to-access registration form either on your nonprofit website or third party provider. Your registration efforts are a gold mine for fundraising research. This registration form should include requests for an email address, a phone number, address, and any other other information you will need to reach out in the future once the event has concluded.
Luckily there are plenty of registration programs out there to host your forms, like 123 Contact Forms and Typeform. If you are looking to build a custom form on your website, there are guides for WordPress and other hosting websites.
Now it’s time for my favorite part, marketing!
Traditional marketing techniques such as cold calling and mail are better suited for events geared towards older generations. If your target market is geared towards age groups fifty and above, then those traditional marketing practices are best.
There are several avenues for you to take when marketing your fundraising event. The internet has opened new doors for event marketing through emails, social media, and content marketing on your own website. Here are some best practices for each:
Social media is forever changing with updates and algorithm rewrites. There is no fix-all when it comes to social media marketing, but here are some guidelines to help improve your campaign.
Facebook (best for events marketed to attendees between 18 to 49 years old)
- Join groups relevant to your fundraising event in order to post event related content to those most likely to be interested
- Vary your types of content (links, images, and videos) in order to keep your event advertising fresh
- Post at least twice a day on your page and once a day in each group in order to ensure the most people possible see your campaign without pushing viewers away
- Set aside funds to be used for paid advertisements on Facebook
Twitter (best for events with with 18 to mid-20s attendees)
- Use no more than two hashtags per tweet (engagement drops after two)
- Research your Twitter hashtags using tools like Hashtagify.me and Keyhole in order to ensure your hashtags have reach and popularity
- Tweet no more than three times per day (tweet engagement drops after three)
- Use visuals in your tweets (preferably GIFs and images) in order to increase their engagement and likelihood of being spotted
- For more information, check out my guide on boosting Twitter followers
Google+ and LinkedIn (best for improving your overall content reach)
- Join groups relevant to your cause
- Be sure to engage with other posts in these groups, otherwise you will risk being marked as a link spammer
I could go on forever about content marketing as it’s what I do on a daily basis. There are tons of nonprofits that have seen significant success after employing a content marketing strategy, such as March of Dimes.
Their content marketing strategy includes blogging on their website about saving children around the world, creating YouTube videos about the cause, and sharing updates and announcements on their Twitter has greatly increased their visibility as an organization.
Want to optimize the content on your website?
Develop a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.
Search engine optimization is the practice of developing your content so that search engines like Google will prioritize your website over your competitors.
In order to do that, be sure to:
- Write regular blog posts: Blogging is a proven method for informing your your nonprofit followers and potential attendees about your organization from your own perspective. With this content form, you control the narrative, rather than relying on outside journalists to shape it for you. Use your blog to share updates and details about your event, including who will be attending, where it will be hosted, and all about the cause you hope to affect. These blog posts should be released on a regular schedule, whether that be daily or weekly. The important thing is to keep it consistent so your followers will expect when to hear from you.
- Keep your content relevant: Search engines like Google evaluate the content on your website to make sure that it is relevant with what your headlines promise. Make sure your content marketing strategy for your fundraising event is relevant, whether you are writing blog posts, creating infographics, or creating videos.
- Conduct keyword research: Keyword research is important when trying to rank higher on Google’s search lists. Google’s Keyword Planner Tool and KeywordTool.io are easily the most popular keyword research programs.
- Link internally (when relevant): If you haven’t noticed yet, some of the links trace back to other blog posts written at Capterra. These internal links are not only helpful to the reader, but the content is high quality and leads to more time spent on your domain. The longer a reader spends on a domain, the more likely they are to convert (in this case, a conversion would be a registration for your event).
Content marketing is also important in order to build email subscribers, which brings us to our last form of digital marketing.
Email marketing is different than social media. Rather than hoping to gain the attention of followers and group members, an email strategy doesn’t compete for attention the same way social media posts do. Social media is constantly changing layouts, algorithms, and demographics, while email has remained relatively constant since its creation.
There are three steps to building a successful email marketing campaign:
- Connect: Your email campaign should tell a story. It introduces the reader to the problem you are trying to solve and explains how your fundraiser event is the solution to the issue.
- Educate: Your email must include the where, when, why, and how of your event. Where will the event take place? When will it take place? Why are you hosting this event? And how will attending your event solve your problem?
- Make an offer: In your email campaign, make early registration offers to potential guests, such as lower attendance fees or entry into a raffle of some kind. Give your email readers something special they wouldn’t get anywhere else.
If you follow these practices, then marketing your event will be a breeze and your registration lists will thank you for it.
You don’t have to wait for the event to start collecting money. Some would-be attendees would like nothing more than to help the cause, but for whatever reason (travel expenses, scheduling conflicts, or distance) some won’t be able to make the trip.
Don’t let those would-be donors go without giving them an opportunity to help from a distance. After you’ve exhausted your traditional fundraising methods such as calls and fundraising letters, online fundraising is your next best source of income.
In this case, crowdfunding software comes in very handy for raising money.
Crowdfunding is one of the most effective ways to collect donations online, aside from marketing your own donation forms on social media and email. Crowdfunding relies on the social media reach of those who give, so in the process you may end up snagging new donors you hadn’t expected to reach in the first place.
First you will need to choose a crowdfunding platform, like Gigfunder, Kickstarter, or Deposit A Gift. Once you’ve selected your platform, follow the marketing practices listed above to spread the word about your crowdfunding campaign.
After you’ve collected all that you can from your crowdfunding campaign, be sure to account for it in your fundraising goal, as well as your budget.
Now, it’s time for the main event!
The day has finally come for your event. You’ve selected your venue, attracted as many guests as you could, and everything is coming together for the fundraiser.
Days before the event, there are a few things you have to put in order:
- Call all third-party vendors, including caterers or businesses providing A/V equipment
- Double check if the venue is ready with the venue owners at least a week before the event to account for any issues
- Reach out to your network of volunteers to help staff your event
- Test all equipment when it arrives at the venue
- Make sure all vendors have been paid what is due
There are a few tools you will need to make sure this day goes by smoothly, most of which should be handled by your event management software:
- Ticketing system: Gotta keep track of who’s here and who isn’t
- Fundraising system: Depending on the type of fundraiser, you will either need auction software, text-to-give software, or some sort of peer-to-peer online collection system.
- Room block management: This will help you keep track of which rooms at the venue will be used and when.
- Volunteer management: In case you decide to bring in extra help for the event.
And then there are other tools out there for you to use, but aren’t necessary for all events:
- RFID: This bluetooth technology simplifies ticketing and other forms of communication with event attendees.
- Beacon technology: Perfect for mapping and communicating with event attendees.
- 360 degree video: In case you want to broadcast your event to those attendees who couldn’t make it.
Now what do you do once the event has concluded?
You used your event management tools to log all registrants, check-in all attendees, schedule out all dates and necessities, and finally all of this information is crucial to finding out whether you hit your goals or not. Now you have all that data available to you.
Be sure to answer these three questions:
- Did you reach your fundraising and attendee goals?
- Did the press attend your event (and if so, what did they have to say)?
- If any goals were not met, what can you do differently to meet them next time?
Finally, thank your guests not only at the conclusion of the event, but after everyone has gone home. Send out follow up emails thanking your attendees for their generosity and ask them to keep an eye out for your next fundraising event.
Need help with your other nonprofit events?
- How to Maximize Nonprofit Income While Maintaining your 501c3 Tax-Exempt Status
- 6 Harmful Fundraising Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make
- The 10 Books Every Fundraiser Should Read
- The Top 5 Nonprofit Management Myths That Need to Die
Event management blogs:
- The Ultimate Guide on How to Start Your Event Planning Business
- The Top 10 Books Every Event Manager Should Read
- The Top 14 Event Fundraising Templates
- The Ultimate Guide to Fostering Relationships at Your Networking Event
Tell me about your fundraising event? Did this checklist help you? What was your favorite tool for planning your fundraising event (and why was it this checklist)? Be sure to let me know in the comment section below!
Looking for Event Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Event Management software solutions.