The Beginner’s Guide to Planning a Fundraising Event

Melbourne Summer Cycle 2009
The Melbourne Summer Cycle 2009 helped raise funds for people with Multiple Sclerosis. Photo by Fernando de Sousa.

Nonprofit organizations rely on fundraising events to promote a project related to their cause and to raise funds for operational expenses. Sometimes, a fundraising event can be so popular within a community that it is held annually, for example, a church fun run to raise money for a special charity that the church supports.

But, don’t forget, fundraisers come in all shapes and sizes, from outdoor marathons, rides, and festivals to indoor galas, silent auctions, and casino nights. The type of fundraiser you want to put on depends on your target audience and the cause, make sure they compliment each other.

If you are a newbie to fundraising, here are some tips to help you get started:

1. Know your goals

Collaborate with the Board of Directors regarding your plans and your goals related to them. Some examples of goals are: How much money do you need to raise for your cause? What will the money be spent on? (Overhead, funding a new program, building a shelter, generate emergency funds, pay debts). You may have more than one goal for your fundraiser. If that is the case, then each goal requires its own fundraising plan.

2. Consider your local community

What do they like to do? Your fundraiser should be something that will be a big hit with the community where it will be held. Does your community like rodeos? Bowling? Charity runs? Dog walks? Golf? A black tie ball? Organize your fundraiser activity according to what is popular with the community.

3. Create a fundraising committee

The members of the committee will draw up a fundraising plan. Each committee member will be assigned specific tasks, for example volunteer recruitment, sponsorships, publicity and coordination. Make sure each member of the committee understands what their tasks are and how much time they have to spend every week completing their tasks. Even if one member falls behind, your entire planning of the event might be in jeopardy.

Tip: Require committee members to submit weekly reports to the chair of the committee on their progress. It can be as simple as an email with what they’ve done, what they are working on, and what they will be working on next. Stay on top of them!

4. Fundraising plan details

Be sure that your plan includes how much money you need to raise, a list of possible sources for money, and a step-by-step plan to implement it. Possible sources for funds include civic groups, universities, foundation grants, churches, business sponsorships and product sales among others.

5. Be flexible

Your fundraising plan will not be written in stone. As you go along, there may be a need to revise the plan and change some parts of it. You may discover new sources for funding, while other sources may not deliver as expected. What matters most is that you keep your eye on the goal. Don’t get waylaid by unexpected surprises.

6. Estimate costs

Expenses will include creating a website, paying staff, managing volunteers, advertising, postage, etc. Your expenses should not exceed 25% of your overall operating budget.

Note: Try to eliminate your expenses by recruiting sponsors to cover those expenses or donate their products and services. For example, radio and TV stations might donate advertising spot in return for being a sponsor for a great cause. Social responsibility is a great leverage to sway sponsors on your side.

7. List basic needs

Examples are tickets, rentals, logistics, advertising, security, sponsors, decorations and snacks among others. One committee member should be tasked to oversee each of these items.

6. Pick a date

Choose a day when the weather will cooperate and there will be no conflicting events on the same day. Once you’ve set the date, advertise it on community calendars including the Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, and have volunteers post flyers around the community.

7. Get sponsorship

Before you start selling tickets, your objective should be to ensure that all the expenses of your events are already paid for. To do this, contact local businesses for possible sponsorships. Ask sponsors to also donate refreshments and door prizes, or other products or services you might need.  Ticket sales should be part of your profit, rather than part of the payment of expenses.

8. Advertise your fundraising event

The sponsorships will cover the cost of advertising but you can also tap free advertising opportunities on radio, TV and local newspapers and magazines. Also, send out press releases and flyers. Use email, Facebook and Twitter to generate added buzz.

9. Have regular committee meetings

This is to make sure that everything is moving according to plan and that deadlines are being met. Evaluate things according to specific criteria: Number of donors, amount raised, foundations contacted and activities related to donor cultivation. Evaluate your biggest successes, biggest challenges and what needs to be altered in your plans.

10. Keep good records for taxes

Have appropriate receipts ready for donors. Also, consult an accountant regarding tax requirements for your fundraising event.

11. Have a dry rehearsal

Prevention is better than cure, and as Girl Scouts say, “be prepared.” A dry run will help you see snags that may occur during the actual event and will help you address them in advance.

What tips or questions do you have? Share them and your blog in the comments section below.

Photo by Fernando de Sousa

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Mona Gonzalez
Mona Sabalones Gonzalez is a veteran writer, book and magazine editor, and columnist in her country, the Philippines. She has also contributed articles to regional and some international publications. She has ghostwritten several books and contributed to the book, Faces of the New Millennium. She edited case studies for the 2015 APEC Foundation and made six page summaries per case study. She and her husband Ed have done marketing and publicity for select clients, and media coverage for events. Mona has written for several online publications and she has a blog, The Philippine Consumerist, and another blog with her husband Ed, The Euthymic Dog, which is about their shared passion for animals and the environment.