Whether you’re organizing an intimate dinner party or an elegant charity gala, fundraisers require plenty of up-front planning and expert event coordination. As the host, you will be responsible for ensuring that guests have a great time while simultaneously opening their checkbooks (or PayPal accounts) to the cause. While it’s not easy to pull off a seamless event, this no-stress guide to non-profit event planning will help you transform your fundraising aspirations into a #goals worthy charity event.
SPEAKING OF GOALS…
Before you plan anything, identify your goals for the event – starting with a monetary donation goal. What funds do you want or need to raise? When setting your donation goal, factor in your audience, such as what’s realistic versus what’s aspirational for the men and women you plan to invite. Keep in mind that you can create donation opportunities at the event beyond your initial ticket sales, so don’t limit yourself in that way.
Once you’ve established your fundraising goal, identify any secondary objectives for the event. Are you hoping to gain commitments from potential volunteers? Earn media attention that raises awareness for your cause? If your secondary goal aligns with the tone and mission of your fundraiser, don’t hesitate to incorporate it into your event plan. You can double your success if you provide ways for guests to make micro-contributions such as a signing up for your organization’s email newsletter.
ASSEMBLE YOUR DREAM TEAM.
Why take on the burden alone when fundraisers are more “fun” together? Assemble a host committee comprised of your organization’s staff, board members or friends that are committed to the cause. Formalize your committee several months before the event; large events typically need six to nine months lead time to allow for booking venues or hiring caterers.
Be sure to assign clear responsibilities to each member and delegate accordingly. For example, set the expectation that each member of the host committee must sell 20 event tickets. Or, if you plan to hold a raffle or silent auction at your event, you could ask each committee member to track down one prize donation. Leverage existing connections when possible. For instance, if someone knows the owner of a local restaurant, see if he or she will donate a gift certificate or elegant dinner for two.
Committee members should have the time and energy to truly support the event. Benefactors who want to help but are unable to commit to planning activities may still make a donation to become involved in a sponsorship capacity. Think of sponsors as the patron saints of your event. While they might not put in the hours, influential sponsors can increase attendance by extending valuable personal invitations or leveraging their social capital to support publicity efforts.
CHOOSE THE PERFECT EVENT.
In exchange for a ticket or donation, you’re expected to provide a unique and entertaining experience for your guests, whether it’s the chance to dance until dawn, or learn more about the clients their donations will serve. Keep your audience in mind when selecting the type of event and venue. If you’re targeting young professionals, for example, popular events might include a pub trivia night, chili cook-off or happy hour at a hip bar. Socialites, on the other hand, may prefer a free beauty consultation or fashion show.
The fundraiser event should be so appealing that you are eager to invite your own friends, not just organization contacts. Vet venue and activity ideas through your host committee to gauge their response. If your host committee isn’t excited to attend, why would anyone else be?
STICK TO YOUR BUDGET.
Since the point of the event is to make money for your cause, it’s important that you act like the business woman you are by creating a detailed budget and sticking to it. Calculate your expenses, such as venue rentals, meals for volunteers, catering costs, entertainment fees and tips. Determine which costs you can offset through donations, such as a free event space from a sponsor. Compare your total expenses to your fundraising goal to ensure your event plan is truly viable. Follow your budget, but factor in a little extra in case unexpected costs arise.
Be realistic about your ticket price, too. The fancier venue won’t be worth it if the ticket price climbs too steep for your audience. The most lucrative donations will not come from ticket sales anyway. Consider how to incorporate other fundraising options at the event such as a raffle, silent auction or merchandise sale. Foundation Center recommends soliciting donations with an open-ended request rather than a fixed donation amount to generate the most money.
While a well-known speaker or celebrity guest can draw a crowd, you will need to assess whether the associated fees will overshadow the benefits. Expenses such as accommodations and transportation can add up quickly. Plus, organizations tend to overestimate their projected ticket sales. “If you build it, they will come” is terrible advice for a charity fundraiser. Even with a prominent speaker, you will need to invest heavily in event promotion to make sure you can fill seats.
SPREAD THE WORD.
After all the time you’ve invested in event planning, don’t skimp on marketing and promotion efforts. Beyond sending an email to your list-serv, design personalized invitations for your top donors and personal connections. A direct invite will produce a much stronger response compared to a general announcement in your monthly newsletter.
You also want to make it as easy as possible for your existing advocates, such as your host committee members, to invite guests. Provide them with a sample message they can personalize for email invitations or share on social media. Create a Facebook event to quickly spread the word to hundreds of connections. The RSVP function will show which people plan to attend, lending social proof to your cause.
For more exposure, check with your local paper or event website to see if they offer free calendar listings for activities in your area. For large events, you may even want to pitch the media. Send reporters a press release with event details or an invitation to cover the fundraiser in person.
BE THE HOSTESS WITH THE MOSTESS.
Coordinate responsibilities with event volunteers in advance so everyone understands their role and the night runs smoothly. As guests arrive, greet them personally or assign another staff member to graciously welcome them to the event. Ask your host committee members to arrive a few minutes early to facilitate conversation with guests and avoid awkward downtime before the party picks up.
Most of all, make sure your fundraising mission doesn’t get lost in the revels of the night. The Philanthropy website recommends scheduling a moment to reinforce the purpose behind the event and help your guests feel connected to your mission. As the host, you can make this a brief announcement or invite a board member to share an anecdote about the impact of monetary contributions. However, let guests enjoy themselves for at least thirty or forty-five minutes before pushing additional donation opportunities. If you hold a raffle or silent auction, consider sharing the amount raised at the end of the night to allow guests to join in a celebration of the event’s success.
MIND YOUR MANNERS.
While it can be tempting to spend the day after your event letting the stress melt away as you catch up on Netflix, your work isn’t over just yet. A prompt and gracious follow up letter or thank you note lets donors know you appreciate their generosity and value their presence at your fundraisers. It’s important to solidify relationships with your organization while the event is fresh in their mind.
Don’t forget about your volunteers, staff and host committee members as you write thank you notes. You may even want to host a small reception to acknowledge their hard work and toast your fruitful fundraiser.
Retain any contact information you gained from guests at the event. After a month or two, share progress updates, photos and reports that demonstrate how donations were put to use. This level of communication can help differentiate your fundraisers from other events where attendees never hear back about meaningful impact from their contributions – and it could even inspire people to become even more involved with your case.
All of this follow up work lays the foundation for repeat guests, increased donations and easier volunteer recruitment should you choose to host another event in the future. Doing good can be addictive, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself signing up to host next year’s event, too. Cheers!
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