A well-executed fundraising event can raise a lot of money for your cause, whether you’re a one-person team or part of an established nonprofit organization. The key is thorough planning — a detailed event strategy that gets you from start to finish with minimal hiccups and maximum funds.
We’ve got you! This article breaks down the fundraiser planning process into the nine most important steps. Learn the major to-do’s for brainstorming, budgeting, promoting, and executing your event to perfection.
9 key steps for successful fundraiser planning
Tackle your nonprofit fundraising event one step at a time. We’ll walk you through it.
1. Determine your campaign goal(s)
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. So, your first step is to take any broad, tentative goals and turn them into SMART goals, which are:
In a nutshell, you need to define the amount of money you’re raising (or other quantifiable metric), give it a timeline, and have a plan for the funds.
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: 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.) It helps you stick to your priority objectives — like sending 500 invitations — instead of getting lost in the weeds. And finally, it gives you a way to measure the success of your event later.
2. Choose the right type of event
Next, decide what type of event you’ll host. 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 attendees, you’d need an average gift of $100. Is your event “worth” the $100 ticket price for your target audience? You can find events suited to any budget by searching our list of fundraising ideas.
3. Make an event budget
Budgeting is among the most important aspects of fundraising event planning. 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
- Staffing, internal or outsourced
- Marketing and advertising
- Decor and furniture
- Event security
- Fundraising platform (Givebutter is 100% free, by the way)
- Payment acceptance
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.
4. Build your team of leaders and champions
Now, you need to assemble a passionate group of board members, staff, and volunteers who will spearhead your fundraising event. Each person or team should have a clearly defined role and “own” 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.
5. Set a date and promote your event
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.
Next, you need to formulate a marketing plan. This is arguably the most important part of successful fundraiser planning. After all, if your supporters don’t hear about the event, they can’t attend or donate.
A successful market strategy is typically 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 is consistent and appeals to your prospective guests.
6. Sell tickets and collect donations
Ticket sales may be your main money-maker, but 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.
Another way to make donating easier? Choose fundraising software like Givebutter, which lets you accept everything — all major credit cards, Google Pay, Apple Pay, Venmo, and PayPal, as well as cash and checks. We also don’t require transaction fees, so you keep every cent of your hard-won donations.
7. Set up for the big day
As you’re nearing the event date, confirm all the important details — quantity, cost, arrival time, 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.
8. Join in the event
You’re at the finish line! 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!
9. Follow up with your supporters
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 with that warm sense of accomplishment.
Your fundraiser planning checklist
From a humble community potluck to a gala with 2,000 guests, every successful fundraiser begins with a to-do list and a goal. Whenever you’re ready to start planning, return to this handy checklist. Here’s a recap of the steps we covered:
- Determine your campaign goal(s)
- Choose the right type of event
- Make an event budget
- Build your team of leaders and champions
- Set a date and promote your event
- Sell tickets and collect donations
- Set up for the big day
- Join in the event
- Follow up with your supporters
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.