How To Plan A Fundraising Event
The ultimate checklist for charities looking to smash their first fundraising event.
Events are an effective way for charities and nonprofits to immerse their supporters in a memorable, exciting, and personal experience. While many individuals give to charities on a regular basis, donating takes on a more personal, emotive meaning when there is an in-person interaction behind it. However, as we all know over the last year, the events industry has ground to a halt. Fortunately, many companies made the most of the opportunity to innovate by transitioning to virtual events. As a result, in 2020 the UK’s Top 25 events raised over £74m.
As we move out of lockdown, charities are once more beginning to fill up their events calendar. Whether it’s virtual or in-person, organising a fundraiser can be a daunting prospect. Even the most experienced events managers will encounter the same challenges year in, year out. Fortunately, this guide covers the key components of organising charity events. No matter the size or scale of your fundraising event, these are the vital steps in how to plan a fundraising event successfully.
Step 1 – Define your cause
Be clear on who you’re raising money for and why. This creates a clear promotional strategy in the lead-up to the event, and helps donors know what the impact of their participation in the event will be. Events with a clear aim in mind are far more impactful as they help donors connect to your cause on a personal level. This should align with your overall fundraising strategy so that all channels, campaigns and projects work towards the same end target.
Step 2 – Set a fundraising goal
Traditional fundraising has historically revolved around reaching a monetary target. How much money can you raise from your fundraising event? But as we mentioned in our blog post on weird and unique fundraising ideas, your goal shouldn’t necessarily revolve around how much cash you can raise. Set a clear fundraising goal for your event. This might be to get 100 new recurring donors as opposed to a one-off monetary figure. Or maybe it’s to form connections with 10 potential business partners with whom you can form a charity-corporate partnership. Perhaps you want to gain more publicity or reach out to a new network of potential donors, measured through social media engagement.
Although raising money doesn’t have to be the only goal of your fundraising event, if you are thinking of having a figure to work towards, look into past fundraising events to determine a realistic amount to aim for. As a rough guide, your goal should be about 30% higher than what you need to actually set up and run the event. This will ensure that you can cover your expenses and still raise funds to help your beneficiaries.
Step 3 – Create a budget
Venue hire, food, drinks, entertainment, organising the activities. It all costs money. As charities have tight budgets to begin with, making a budget is the best way to ensure you don’t overspend in the organising of your fundraiser. Create a detailed budget to work out how much needs to be allocated to each area.
One of the first rules of budgeting is that you must also allow for unanticipated costs. Life has a funny way of throwing a spanner in the works in fairly imaginative ways, so having a buffer against unpredictables prevents you from being caught out. If unexpected costs do arise, you’ll be able to adjust your budget or fundraising target to accommodate.
As you begin to assemble your budget, you should try and brainstorm ways to keep costs under control without affecting the overall experience of your event. For instance, could you enlist volunteers who are interested in your chosen cause to work at your event? Are there any companies that could provide sponsorship as part of a corporate social responsibility initiative? With a little imagination and tenacity, you’d be surprised where you can save money whilst still throwing a fantastic event.
If you decide to organise a digital fundraiser, while you may save on costs such as a venue hire it is likely that you’ll need to reallocate that money towards promotions and marketing. For example, you may want to invest in a paid social media campaign so you can reach as many prospective attendees as possible. Another thing to consider is that while holding a virtual event can reduce overheads, people are less likely to pay the same amount than they would to attend an in-person event, so this should definitely be a factor in your budgeting.
Step 4 – Define your target audience
It may seem all well and good taking a ‘the more the merrier’ approach to your fundraiser, but it’s best if you concentrate your efforts on appealing to a specific audience. Decide which specific group to strategically focus your efforts on. It’s likely that your target audience already has a shared interest and this should reflect your charity or chosen cause. So we need to delve a little deeper to find a specific group to appeal to. For example, are you looking to attract new long-standing donors, or reach out to past patrons who you’ve lost touch with? This will have a profound impact on exactly what type of message you’re looking to convey with your event.
The type of audience you choose to target will affect the type of event you hold. For example, to appeal to an older, more corporate audience, consider organising a small, black-tie event with an exclusive, invite-only entrance. Alternatively, you can attract millennials with a more hands-on community-based fundraiser that’s jam-packed with activities. Millennials are the age demographic that attends the most events, and they have a disposable income that they are willing to spend on experiences rather than simply material things. This makes them a lucrative target market for charity event organisers. It’s also worth noting that millennials are also the most tech-savvy generation, so making use of the latest digital gadgets can also be a huge hit.
Your target audience will also depend on what type of platform you use to promote your event. For example, if you anticipate that your cause will resonate strongly with a younger demographic, then perhaps promote your events on Instagram or TikTok. More and more non-profit organisations are looking to leverage the booming popularity of TikTok, to the extent that the platform has launched a program called TikTok for Good to help organisations raise awareness and encourage collective action. However, if your fundraising event aims to attract an older crowd, then maybe stick to Facebook or Twitter.
Step 5 – Create an experience
Although millennials may be the ‘experience generation’, regardless of your target audience’s demographic, they’ll want your event to be a positive and rewarding experience. An easy way to create an experiential event is to give it an overarching theme. This can also be seen as ‘branding’ your event – making sure the event name, logo, colours, and activities all work together to create an overall ambience. This will help you create consistent messages for your promotion later on.
The theme should also ideally tie in with your chosen cause and your overall goal. For example, is your goal to maximise donations and identify lucrative new patronage opportunities? If so, a high-end auction or a black-tie fundraiser may be more appropriate, providing that you are able to keep a firm hand on costs. Alternatively, if you’re aiming to raise awareness or re-engage past donors, then think about holding an event that allows attendees to meet and connect with people that have benefitted from your charity’s work. A person hearing first-hand how their contribution can make a real impact is an experience that’s worth its weight in gold.
As well as the look and feel of your event, you should make sure that the finer details fit in with your wider theme too. Your guest speakers, promotional items and entertainment should be consistent with the experience you want to create. If your fundraising event is a truly immersive experience for your guests, they’ll be more likely to donate more money on top of the original ticket price. To get your creative juices flowing, here are some Weird and Wonderful Fundraising Ideas to get you started.
Step 6 – Find a venue
Now that you’ve set your budget and have begun to plan how you’re going to bring your fundraiser to life, it’s time to set the scene. If you’ve decided to plan an in-person fundraising event you’ll need to choose an appropriate space. Find a venue to host your event that fits your theme and can accommodate your audience, then decide on the date and time.
You should decide on the date and venue for your fundraiser at least 6 months in advance to give you plenty of time to organise the rest of the event and start promoting it to your target audience. When choosing dates, consider days and times which will work better for your potential attendees. For example, weekends might work well to attract millennials to a city-centre event, but not for families who might spend the weekends away from the city, likewise for corporates. The same goes for virtual fundraising events. Even though people will not have to travel to attend your event, they will still have prior commitments that will affect their availability. If you intend to hold your fundraising event during the week, remember that your attendees may be working remotely. They will likely want a break from looking at a screen, so avoid scheduling your event for immediately after the working day ends.
It’s worth finding out if some venues that are willing to donate their space for your fundraising event in exchange for promotion alongside your cause. If you have a corporate partner, why not see if they can pull a few strings and help you secure a venue, or maybe they have a space that you could use. Both of these options will help you save on costs which can be put towards making the event even better.
Step 7 – Create a host committee
An effective way to reach a wider audience for your event is through influential members of your host committee. Create a host committee made up of people who already support your cause, such as corporate partners, long-term donors or philanthropists. Involving them in the planning of your event will not only help to strengthen your current relationships with them, but might also mean you can benefit from the resources that they can offer. They will also provide a wider circle of contacts to who they can reach out to about your event.
Sep 8 – Get promotional
No one is going to know about your event unless you tell them about it. When it comes to promoting your event, it’s vital to get the word out in the best ways possible for your specific audience as opposed to trying to cover every channel. Email, content marketing, advertising, social media. They are all different ways to reach out to your donors and let them know about your event.
The thing to keep in mind is whichever