How to Create a Fundraising Event with Serious Sizzle

Special events are a popular way to capture the attention—and gifts—of a number of donors in a single day. They’re also a blast; who doesn’t love a party or an excuse to set aside our daily routines for something fun and interesting? Because there are some pretty compelling reasons to try a special event to help raise funds for your nonprofit campaign, but they can also be time-intensive and costly to put together, we’ve put together this guide for how to create a fundraising event that’s memorable, not painful.

Before you even come up with a theme or executables for your fundraising event, bring your team together for a brainstorming session and ask:

  1. What is the purpose of this event?
  2. What is our end goal?
  3. Who is the audience?
  4. What is our budget? Note: It doesn’t have to be huge in order for your nonprofit to put on a great event! But clearly defining how much you can afford to spend is critical for you to create a fundraising event that’s fun, and also doesn’t throw any unexpected challenges in the way of your event team.
  5. Who will be the point person or people? And how many helpers will they need?

Once you have these details hammered out, it’s time to start developing an event theme. We love these tips for ensuring that your theme feels authentic to your mission and unique to your audience. Bottom line: skip the generic “50-Year Anniversary Gala” and go with something that communicates both your purpose and something eye-catching about the event or your organization.

Your next step is to create a solid marketing plan. This isn’t a vague discussion of which local newspapers or blogs you’d like to see publicize your event, or a promise to post “several times” on social media, but an actual, on-paper strategy for which print and online media outlets you plan to target and how you intend to contact them; a list of the print collateral (brochures, invitations, rack cards, etc.) you’ll need; and an optimal number of times for promoting the event on your blog, social media, and e-mail newsletters.

Once you have this information, take a step back and put together an editorial calendar. Start with the date of the event and then plan your promotions starting at least three months in advance—more if your event marks a major milestone, like a 50th anniversary, has a major donor or celebrity participant attached, or is especially large in scope or size.

Remember that most print magazines schedule their content three to four months in advance, while newspapers might want to talk to key people in your organization anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month before your fundraising event happens. Social media, blog, and e-mail promotions offer more flexibility, but since regularity is a key to success with social media and digital marketing, you’ll still want to put these items on the calendar now—and take the guesswork out of when to do them and what they’ll be about.

From there, you can work on logistical setup. In order to create a fundraising event that’s special, consider the tangbiles, from the venue to the items needed—for example, chairs, tables, dishes and silverware, catering, a bar, servers, cleaning crew, parking. Use this checklist to put your team on a path to success.

Now it’s time to spread the word! Put that marketing plan into action, and designate team members to help with public relations and media outreach, as well as social media outreach. Keep in mind that while social media offers a quick way to broadcast the word about what you’re doing to a large audience, there’s no replacement for in-person interaction. Reach out to as many potential donors in person or on the phone, not only to help put a human face on your campaign, but also to build those personal relationships that are so vital to continued giving.

Follow these steps for how to create a fundraising event, and you’ll find that the planning process will be that much smoother. Your team members will also feel like they’ve been set up for success, instead of rushing around to execute unrealistic ideas. And don’t forget to plan a thank-you to send to attendees after the event!