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The ultimate nonprofit event planning checklist (free download!)

Wondering how to start a fundraiser event? This checklist and fundraising event planning template will help you create a game plan for success.

Anna Bean
June 30, 2023
January 31, 2022
Nerd Mr Butter

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For many nonprofits, "scramble mode" can sometimes feel like their default setting—especially when it comes to planning a fundraising event. 

If you’re gearing up for a fundraiser, we’ve got your back. Use this step-by-step guide and fundraising event checklist to learn the most important to-do’s for brainstorming, budgeting, promoting, and executing your event to perfection.

4–6 months out: Plan your strategy for success 

Knowing how to plan a nonprofit event means laying out a detailed strategy that gets you from start to finish with minimal hiccups and maximum funds. Depending on the size of your organization, you may want to start planning a major fundraising event up to six months in advance. 

At this stage, you'll want to set goals and make decisions like what kind of event you’re planning, where it will be, and what budget you have available.

Let’s break it down into three initial steps:

Determine your goals and objectives 🏆

Of course, your primary aim is to raise money, and you likely have a ballpark figure in mind. You may also have secondary goals, like educating your donors or increasing newsletter signups.

Your first step is to take any broad, tentative goals and turn them into SMART goals, which are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

In a nutshell, you need to define the amount of money you’re raising (or other metrics), give it a timeline, and have a plan for the funds. Do you have a set dollar amount you would like to raise from this event? To start, look back at what you raised last year, and try to increase your incoming donations by 5–10%.

Here are some SMART goal examples:

  • Raise $6,000 by June 1 so our youth sports nonprofit can buy new jerseys ($1,500) and game equipment ($4,500) for low-income children.
  • Get 20 new people to sign up for $100 monthly donations by January 1.
  • Add 200 new monthly email subscribers by the end of the year.

It may be tempting to just raise as much money as possible and then figure out how to spend it later. But having a target amount accomplishes three things:

  1. It shows your supporters that you’ve done your homework and will make the most of their donations—this relief package breakdown is a great example.
  2. It helps you stick to your priority objectives—like sending 500 invitations—instead of getting lost in the weeds.
  3. And finally, it gives you a way to measure the success of your event later.

Choose the right type of event 🤔

Next, decide what type of fundraising event you’ll be organizing. Will this be an in-person event, a virtual event, or a hybrid of the two? Will you include a silent auction or a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign leading up to the event?

You can easily rule out some events by revisiting your main fundraising goal. For example, if you want to raise $20,000, a series of bake sales probably won’t bring in the right revenue. And if you’re raising $2,000, the costs of hosting a gala could easily outweigh the donations you’d receive.

One of the best places to start is with your target audience. Who are you hoping will attend, donate, and spread the word about this event? What are their interests, values, and habits? Do you need to raise awareness for your cause with this audience, or are they familiar with your mission?

Size matters, too. If your goal is $10,000 and you anticipate roughly 100 event attendees, you’d need an average gift of $100. Is your event “worth” the $100 ticket price for your target audience? 

Create your event budget 💸

Budgeting is one of the most important aspects of fundraising event planning. Your budget will certainly determine future decisions further down your checklist. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a numbers whiz to create a comprehensive budget.

Make an itemized list of all your anticipated costs, and then add extra for incidentals and unexpected expenses (usually 10-15% of your total costs). Be specific. Rather than large categories like “entertainment,” list out costs like TV, speaker, and microphone rentals. It may also help to mark or highlight your required expenses versus your nice-to-haves.

Here are some potential sources of costs:

  • Food and drink
  • Entertainment
  • Staffing (internal or outsourced)
  • Marketing and advertising
  • Decor and furniture
  • Parking
  • Event security
  • Fundraising event software (Givebutter is 100% free, by the way!)
  • Payment processing/ticket check-in

If it looks like you’ll end up spending $1,000 just to raise $1,000, don’t worry. You can save money by securing sponsorships from local businesses. Sponsors are happy to cover costs in exchange for visibility with their target audience.

3–4 months out: Build your team of leaders and champions 

Your goals are set. Now it's time to delegate roles and responsibilities to your team. Assemble a passionate group of board members, staff, and volunteers who will spearhead your event planning. 

Assign roles 👯

How many people (counting both staff and volunteers) are within your team? Start delegating duties to individuals, choosing people to lead marketing, entertainment/food, operations, and individual outreach.

Each person or team should have a clearly defined role and “own” their part of the campaign. For example, you might task some committee members to solicit sponsorships and recruit volunteers while others will focus on venue setup, breakdown, and cleanup.

Give your team members a name—like Champions, Pioneers, or All-Stars—to create a sense of unity and identify them as resources for questions and help. If you’re recruiting some of your supporters for peer-to-peer fundraising, make sure you provide them with the materials they need to advocate for the event. Create some short-and-sweet donation request scripts and top-notch descriptions for their fundraising pages.

Create a project plan ✍️

With committee roles assigned, ensure you have a project manager who can keep your plans on track. Create a calendar with assigned due dates for specific tasks, weekly check-ins, and other milestones from present-day to your upcoming event. 

Collect estimates 📝

Keeping your budget in mind, what vendors do you need to pull off your event? Start collecting bids from local business owners for catering, bartending, music/DJ, decorations and signage, and other must-have items.

Seek event sponsorship 🤝

To help stay on budget and reach your fundraising goal, consider reaching out to local businesses who might be interested in sponsoring your event. To streamline your efforts, consider creating an email template to send to each recipient.

Finalize your event date and location 📅

When and where is this event happening? Before you choose an event date, grab a calendar. Make sure your date or time won’t conflict with any major events, like holidays, sports games, award shows, local celebrations, and so on. This is particularly important if you’re booking entertainment, a venue, or other services.

On the flip side, it may benefit you to schedule your event on a noteworthy date, like hosting a lavish brunch on National Pancake Day. No matter what, give your supporters ample time to RSVP on your event page and ask questions before the event.

And if you're doing an in-person event or hybrid, where is it happening? Double-check to see if the location is available before you sent out invitations. And make sure to find out about any strict capacity limits that will reduce the number of in-person attendees.

2–3 months out: Brand your event

With your team in place, you'll need to start branding your event so you can garner attraction from supporters. In this phase of planning, check these items off your to-do list: 

  • Name your event: Your event needs a name. Write down your name and a 1–2 sentence pitch that can be used across email outreach, social media, and your website.
  • Create a landing page: You need an event website where new and loyal supporters can arrive and learn more about your event. Add images, videos, your organization's story, and any important details you want event attendees to know.
  • Launch ticket sales: You need a way to collect donations and sell tickets prior to your events. Use Givebutter's donation forms to embed forms on your website, or sell early bird tickets to start raising funds.

While ticket sales may be your main money-maker, it’s best to provide your supporters with multiple ways to give. Having different ticket tiers and donation opportunities allows your guests and supporters to contribute comfortably, which translates to more donations to your campaign overall. Allow guests to upgrade to a VIP ticket, add a donation at purchase, text-to-donate, and more throughout the event.

You can also get creative with your ticket packages like the Children’s Center did for their virtual happy hour event. All tickets included raffle tickets and fun educational tools, but guests were free to build their preferred drink and pizza kit.

6–12 weeks out: Turn up the marketing plan

Marketing is arguably the most important part of successful fundraiser planning. After all, if your supporters don’t hear about your charity event, they can’t attend or donate.

Marketing an event will typically include a combination of online channels (email, social media, website) and offline channels (phone calls, direct mail, posters, print ads, etc). Remember, your target audience is the biggest factor in determining where to focus your marketing efforts. Make sure your voice, messaging, and imagery are consistent and appeal to your prospective guests.

To reach new and recurring supporters alike, consider taking these steps: 

  • Launch an email campaign: Create a three-part email series educating your email list on the importance of your fundraising campaign. 
  • Reach out to local influencers: Consider launching a peer-to-peer campaign leading up to the event where local influencers and loyal supporters reach out to their network to sell more tickets and bring in more donations.
  • Write a press release: Create a short write-up on your event and email it out to local news outlets.
  • Create printed materials: Create signage, posters, and other deliverables you can hang in libraries, coffee shops, and other community bulletins to promote your event. 
  • Develop a social media schedule: Increase your posting frequency to all channels—including Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, or TikTok—to assist with event registration. 

1–2 weeks out: Last-minute preparations 

By now, your event planning process is in the home stretch. As you’re nearing the event date, confirm all the important details—quantity, cost, arrival time, and setup requirements—with your speakers, entertainers, vendors, and sponsors. We suggest having a contingency plan in place for any major issues, like late food delivery or a speaker cancellation.

Although you may not need to run through the entire event, it’s a good idea to meet with your leadership team and volunteers one week out. You can rehearse some portions of the event, or simply touch base on last-minute questions or suggestions. If you’re hosting a virtual event, test your setup with volunteers using different computers and mobile devices.

This is a great time to tackle last-minute items, including:

  • Create a seating chart: If you're going to have assigned seating, create a seating chart for your guest list. In addition, create name badges that can guide each supporter to their seat.
  • Test your technology: To prevent a technology mishap on the day of the event, do a run-through of all your technology. Ensure your Wi-Fi works, test all speakers and microphones, and do a test with your livestream to connect with virtual supporters at home.
  • Create and print an itinerary: To ensure you throw a successful event, you'll want to ensure it stays within the allotted time frame. Create an itinerary with estimated timelines attached. 
  • Do a dress rehearsal: Do a dress rehearsal with any presenters and other key stakeholders, making adjustments to your timeline as needed.
  • Send last-minute event reminders: Leverage SMS tools and email invites to bring in last-minute RSVPs. 

Day-of: Launch your event

The day is finally here! To ensure everything goes off without a hitch, be sure to have your event planner check through these items: 

  • Event check-in: Ensure you have a team member greeting guests at the door and scanning tickets
  • Greet VIP guests: Create a list of all event sponsors and other VIP guests, and guide them to their reserved seats. 
  • Double-check all signage: Ensure all decor, signage, and other props are in place and visually appealing for your guests. 
  • Assist speakers as needed: Assign one person to stand by your "stage" to ensure all presenters follow the itinerary and stay on track. 
  • Greet the press: Ensure all media personnel have everything they need, and provide contact information for them to follow up with any last-minute questions.

During the event, you and your team should be helping and engaging with attendees, taking pictures and videos, using your campaign hashtag, and experiencing the actual event yourselves. This is a great opportunity to learn more about your supporters and get in-the-moment feedback from them. But don’t forget to take time to eat, drink, dance, and enjoy the fruits of your fundraiser planning!

Post-event: Final to-dos

Congratulations, you got through your fundraising event! But sit tight, because your event isn't quite over. 

The hallmark of a successful event isn’t how it begins, but how it ends. Cap off your diligent fundraising efforts with two very important words: “Thank you!” Your leadership team, volunteers, and guests have invested significant time and energy into your event. 

An email or phone call goes a long way to show your gratitude and ensure you’ll have their support in the future. Include the donation grand total and highlight the event’s positive impacts, whether it’s an individual story or a big-picture summary. That way, everyone ends up with that warm sense of accomplishment.

And, of course, thank your attendees and donors! Send out a thank you message to all donors, presenters, and sponsors, thanking them for their contributions. With Givebutter's ThankView integration, you can send personalized thank yous with ease. 

Your event planning checklist can also the following items for evaluating your event and making the next one even better: 

  • Send a post-event survey: Send a survey to all staff, presenters, and volunteers—what improvements could you make next year to help streamline your efforts?
  • Do an event debrief: Hold a meeting with your committee chairs to see if there are any improvements you can make for next year's event.
  • Ensure all data is stored: Keep your event management database up-to-date by ensuring all phone numbers, email addresses, and activities are logged in your database. 

Check things off your event planning checklist with Givebutter

To streamline your efforts and break the scramble-mode cycle, create a fundraising event planning checklist your organization can reuse for each campaign. By creating a system of processes, you spend less time planning, and more time reaching your fundraising goal.

Fortunately, Givebutter's all-in-one fundraising platform can help you complete nearly every item on your checklist. With Givebutter's modern, always-free, donor-centric platform, you can easily stay on budget for your event. Plus, with built-in marketing automation and a free CRM platform, you can streamline your pre-event outreach efforts, and even get ready for next year's event. 🥳

Powerful fundraising events for nonprofits

Ready to see how Givebutter's free fundraising features can help lead to a successful event? Create your free account and get started today! 

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