Tips for Planning a Successful Fundraising Event
by: Kelly Fliller
Most of us have been to a fundraising event whether it’s a gala, casino night, gift auction, golf outing or a spaghetti dinner. While these are very different events, the goal is the same – to raise money for an organization or a cause. From the simplest event to the most extravagant, there are some great tips that can help you increase your fundraising, ensure your guests have a great time and keep them engaged in your organization.
1. Form a committee – Gather your closest colleagues, Board members and supporters from the community to form a solid event planning committee. This should include people from different backgrounds such as finance, marketing, admin and of course, your resource development staff people. The most successful committees I have served on have been a diverse group of bankers, business owners, senior level executives, and marketing professionals of all levels.
Have an agenda at every meeting with current action items listed as well as who is responsible for each. This is a great way to keep everyone accountable and ensure everything gets completed. After each meeting, email a recap to the entire committee along with kudos to all who have brought in sponsorships, auction items, sold tickets, etc. Carolee Oross, Director of Resource Development of the United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties said, “Use a detailed timeline, give credit where credit is due and celebrate success with your team.” Planning an event can be stressful at times, but it should also be fun!
2. Understand your audience – this is a key part of planning a successful fundraising event. Ben Waldron, Executive Director of the Monmouth-Ocean Development Council said, “A common mistake I see made with an organization’s fundraising efforts is they don’t always understand their audience when planning their events. For example, a small, local non-profit organization hosting their first golf outing fundraiser will most likely not be able to attract a large enough corporate participation to justify going to a high-end private golf course. Keeping costs down by utilizing a less expense club will allow them to grow the outing, after which they can look to improve the course and other amenities. Conversely, a large national organization probably already has the corporate support, and they also have a larger donor base who may be willing to pay more to be at the exclusive golf courses.”
3. Pay attention to detail – Sometimes, the little things that mean a lot to an event guest get overlooked and lost in the big picture. Ben said, “Whether you are attending a 350-person gala extravaganza, or a 50-person cocktail reception, your guests expect the same attention to detail (always a high level of service; good quality of food/beverage, not just the quantity; ease of registration and check-in; etc.). If your invitees are confident that your event will run smoothly, regardless of what kind of event it is, they will come back time and time again.”
4. Have a program for the night – and stick to it! There are a lot of moving parts to an event. Registration time, cocktail hour, the serving of dinner (sometimes multiple courses), speeches, auctions – the list goes on and differs depending on the event type. It is important to keep the schedule moving forward in a timely manner so your guests can enjoy their night. As guests, we all know why we are at a specific event and we are ready for the big ask however, we also want to eat, drink and network with our colleagues. Having a program will give you a good idea where the bulk of the time is being spent and how you can make the event most efficient so you can raise money and ensure everyone enjoys it.
5. Plan “the ask” – How will you ask for donations? At what point during the event will you ask? Will you have technology available for immediate credit card processing? Mobile donations? Paperwork on the table for guests to fill out? All staff members of the organization hosting the event should be on the same page and ready to collect. Be clear on your mission and how your donors’ funds will help. Carolee said, “Communicate the need for support by telling stories of individuals who were helped.” Will the donation feed ten families? Help five kids get school supplies? Allow a local theater to perform shows for a full season? Provide three volunteers to help alleviate senior isolation? Be specific, compelling and show them exactly how they will be helping.
6. Provide value – There are many things competing for our time and money, and fundraising events are no different. Gina McNamara, Executive Officer of Shore Builders of Central NJ said, “Since people’s time and business dollars are stretched thinner than ever these days, it is important that events present return value to our members in order to ensure participation.” If you provide your guests with something they see as valuable (another reason that understanding your audience is so important), they will look for your event year after year and will make sure to spend their time (and money) with you.
7. Follow up – This is crucial! You can have a successful event with tons of pledges for donations but if you don’t follow up, you won’t get the funds or the support you need. Depending on the event, you may have people who commit to a specific amount with the promise to send the funds at a later date. It is imperative to collect all of the contact data during the event and follow up right away, while it’s fresh in their minds. It is also good practice to send thank you notes to your sponsors, volunteers, donors and attendees. This will keep them engaged as they will feel appreciated and more willing to help the next time. Review your list of all who were involved from planning to attending and be strategic about cultivating your and newest supporters. And don’t forget about those who have helped you year after year!
The last tip for you and your event planning crew – celebrate with your staff and committee after it’s over! Pick a date when things calm down to get together and review what went well, what didn’t and some preliminary ideas for next year.
Ida Cahill, Fund Development Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ocean County said, “Planning an event, no matter how big or small can be very stressful. It’s important to plan ahead and allow enough time to complete all the details in advance of the big event. Remember if something doesn’t go quite right, your guests will probably not notice so don’t get overly stressed. Always maintain a sense of humor, it will calm you and your staff!” This is the time to think about what might not have gone according to plan, figure out why, and how to fix it for next year. Don’t forget to raise a glass to celebrate your success – you did it and are now ready to tackle your next fundraiser with more knowledge and experience!