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Nonprofit guides

How to Organize a Fundraising Event: 8 Steps for Nonprofits

December 27, 2023

Regardless of your nonprofit’s goals or mission, the process of planning and executing a successful fundraising event requires careful consideration and strategic thinking. And if not executed well, your nonprofit might lose out on crucial funds, or important supporters.

From setting clear goals to engaging your attendees, this guide will walk you through eight essential steps to help your nonprofit learn how to organize a fundraiser, including how to:

  1. Determine mission and goals
  2. Choose a fundraiser
  3. Assess your resources
  4. Assemble a team 
  5. Secure sponsors
  6. Spread the word
  7. Engage attendees
  8. Follow up and give thanks
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8 easy steps to plan your fundraising event

Step 1: Determine goals and mission

Before jumping into any of the details of running a successful event, it’s crucial that your nonprofit first identify your goals for hosting the event itself. The goals you establish will not only guide the planning process, and your fundraising efforts, but also serve as a compass, ensuring that every aspect of your event aligns with your organization's mission.

Your goals can be fundraising goals or objectives around raising money. Or, it could focus on bringing in new donors or event attendance, trying to spread awareness about a specific project, or creating lasting relationships with supporters.

Regardless of your objectives, it's important to make them SMART, or specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound:

  • Specific: When it comes to a fundraising event, clearly state what you want to achieve by hosting one. Be sure to avoid vague or ambiguous language.
  • Measurable: Determine a goal that can be measured, so you can track and quantify your progress.
  • Achievable: Setting goals that are too challenging may lead to frustration and demotivation. Assess the resources, skills, and time available to determine if the goal is achievable.

  • Relevant: Ensure that the goal is relevant to your organization's broader aspirations and contributes meaningfully to your mission.

  • Time-bound: Goals should have a defined timeframe for completion. This helps create a sense of urgency and provides a deadline for working toward the objective. 

💡 Examples of SMART goals:

  • Bring in $30,000 online donations during our gala event to fund 10 scholarships.
  • Recruit 50 event volunteers for our upcoming 5K fundraiser race within the next 6 weeks.
  • Secure 5 sponsorships within the next 4 weeks to cover auction expenses.

Learn more about SMART goals for nonprofits and download our free fundraising calendar template here →

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Step 2: Asses your resources

Before you can jump into event planning, you’ll need to evaluate what you have available to you, like:

  • A detailed budget: Consider how much money you have to fund this event. Consider estimated costs of venue, promotional materials, event staff salaries, and more. Plus, budget for unexpected expenses.

  • Staff: Consider whether or not you have enough manpower to host the event successfully. If not, you might need to recruit volunteers or board members to chip in.

  • Tools: Assess what kinds of tools you have or might need. These might include a donation platform, event ticketing tool, or even a nonprofit CRM or donor database to organize all giving activities.

Step 3: Choose a fundraising idea

Ideas for fundraising

There are hundreds of different kinds of fundraising ideas to choose from. Depending on your mission, audience, and resources, some might be better suited to your needs than others. Consider some event ideas like:

  • Peer-to-peer fundraising: Tap into passionate supporters by encouraging them to raise money for your cause through a peer-to-peer fundraiser. Each person creates their own fundraising page and asks friends and personal connections for donations.

  • Events: Host a fancy party that helps raise money for your cause. Offer good food, fun activities, and even entertainment like guest speakers. You’ll raise money through ticket sales or other fundraising activities at the event. Or host something really entertaining like a benefit concert.

  • Auction: Host a live auction, or even consider silent auctions, where people bid money to win things like art, trips, or unique experiences. You'll raise funds with this type of event through your nonprofit's ability to sell tickets, collect donations at the event, and of course, through item bidding.

→ Check out our fundraising ideas in these articles :

Step 4: Assemble a team

Hands of a team united for fundraising

To prepare for a fundraising event, you’ll need to gather a team of trusted supporters or staff. To make organizing the event as stress-free as possible, create and assign roles and responsibilities. These might include:

  • Marketing and promotion coordinator: Someone who will handle creating and disseminating marketing materials about the event, as well as outreach efforts. This might include email marketing, social media ads, or even direct mail campaigns. Or, think outside the box and contact local newspapers to get the word out.

  • Event coordinator: Allow one person to handle all event coordination. This might include communicating with vendors, venue setup, and handling the careful planning of the event. The event coordinator might even do a practice run to make sure the event runs smoothly.

  • Technology coordinator: For large-scale events, it's crucial to use high-tech tools. Delegate one person on the event team to handle the coordination of any technology.

  • Community engagement coordinator: Once the fundraising event begins, the work isn’t over. One person should be responsible for connecting with attendees and generating ongoing excitement within the event space.

  • Entertainment and activities coordinator: Most fundraising events include more than one activity. Designate one person to take charge of ensuring every game or piece of entertainment (or the other events within the main event!) is taken care of. They'll encourage people to join in on the fun.

  • Volunteer coordinator: If you’re relying on the help of volunteers to run your event — whether it's a few people or a lot — ask one person to spearhead all coordination of their efforts. They'll communicate with volunteers to make sure everyone is on the same page to ensure a successful event.

Step 5: Secure sponsors 

Securing sponsors is one of the most important steps to event fundraising. Corporate sponsorships can help:

  • Cover event costs
  • Provide in-kind donations
  • Spread the word about your event
  • Boost credibility 
  • Bring in more volunteers 

 To secure potential sponsors, be sure to:

  • Identify your target audience: Consider local businesses, corporations, or organizations with a demonstrated interest in your cause. Or, search for sponsors by demographics like job, giving capacity, etc.

  • Create sponsorship levels: Provide flexibility in sponsorship levels with corresponding perks, such as logo placement, booth space, or exclusive mentions.

  • Create your proposal and pitch: Create a compelling sponsorship proposal outlining the details of your event, its purpose, and the benefits sponsors will receive. Then, send them out to prospective sponsors.
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Step 6: Spread the word

Marketing of a fundraising event

One of the most crucial parts of organizing a fundraising event is marketing it. If supporters don’t know about your event, they're not likely to come. When considering how to spread the word, be sure to use multiple channels of communication. This might include:

  • Social media: Post about your upcoming event on Instagram, Facebook, X, or even Linkedin, depending on where your audience is. Plus, consider working with influencers to reach a wider audience.

  • Email: Send personalized or mass emails to alert supporters of your event. These should include details of how to buy tickets, an agenda, and more. Check out our Mailchimp alternatives if you are looking for an emailing platform.

  • Texting: Create an SMS campaign with a link to your event website for ticketing.

  • Direct mail: Send personalized letters or pamphlets with a QR code for supporters to buy tickets and RSVP.

  • Website: Create a dedicated event page where supporters can RSVP easily.

Learn about the top 3 no-cost ways to promote nonprofit fundraising events →

Step 7: Engage attendees

The planning that occurs before the event is usually the most effortful. However, the work isn’t over once the event has started. To keep attendees engaged, having fun — and donating — be sure to include a few extra games and surprises at the event like:

  • Raffles and lotteries: Encourage attendees to enter a raffle or participate in the lottery. (Learn how to do a raffle here)

  • Live fund-a-need appeal: Invite attendees to give on the spot to your charitable cause with an emotional appeal.

  • Networking opportunities: Offer networking “speed dating” or particular areas of the event where professionals can connect.

  • Goods for sale: Offer custom t-shirts, hats, or for example, that attendees can buy. Or, extra food (like including mini bake sales) and beverages that are off the menu.
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Step 8: Follow up and give thanks

Once the event is wrapped up, the event management work isn't done. Be sure to thank all participants and donors for such a successful fundraiser, and for their financial support. Expressing gratitude is one of the best ways to make donors feel good, and even encourage future giving.

  • Social media posts: Post pictures from your nonprofit event, note the impact, and express gratitude to supporters. You might even let them know if you met your fundraising event goals.

  • Personalized thanks: Send a tailored email, or give a supporter a direct call to thank them for attending. (Check out our thank-you letters templates here)

  • Send receipts: If your supporters gave at the event, be sure they receive a donation receipt with the necessary tax information.

6 common pitfalls to avoid when organizing a fundraiser

1. Not showcasing impact

Failing to clearly communicate the impact of donations and how they contribute to the mission can result in a lack of motivation for potential donors. They want to understand the tangible outcomes of their contributions.

How to showcase impact:

  • Clearly articulate the direct and positive effects 
  • Use stories, visuals, and data 
  • Bring in beneficiaries to give a testimonial.
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2. Not using donor-centric language

When fundraising for your nonprofit, using language that focuses solely on the organization's needs rather than emphasizing the donor's role and impact can lead to a lack of connection with potential supporters. 

Donors want to feel valued and understand how their contributions make a difference. Language that centers on the organization may feel impersonal and may not resonate with the audience.

How to use donor-centric language: Use phrases like "you make this possible" to show appreciation for their contributions.

3. Not offer multiple ways to give

Donor payment options

Restricting donation options to a single method or platform may limit accessibility for potential donors who have preferences or constraints. People have different preferences for how they contribute, and limiting options may discourage potential donors.

How to offer multiple ways to give: Use payment processing that accepts a variety of donation methods. This might include Apple Pay, Google Pay, or even Venmo. Plus, be sure that your nonprofit offers several different channels for giving. This might include online fundraising platforms, mobile apps, text-to-give, and other options.

4. Not doing prospect research ahead of time

Neglecting to research potential donors can cost your nonprofit crucial support. Personalized and targeted appeals are more likely to resonate with donors. Without prospect research, organizers may miss opportunities to engage donors effectively.

How to do prospect research: Conduct thorough prospect research with tools like iWave and DonorSearch to understand the background, interests, and giving capacity of potential donors.

5. Not connecting the event to the mission

Disconnecting the fundraising event from the organization's mission can lead to confusion and a lack of clarity regarding the purpose of the funds raised. Donors are more likely to support a cause when they understand how their contributions align with the organization's overall mission and goals.

How to tie the event to the mission: In all marking materials, clearly articulate the connection between the fundraising event and the organization's mission. Outline exactly how funds raised will help the cause.

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6. Not using the right tools

Ignoring helpful nonprofits tools and technology can make things harder, limit how many people you can reach, and make you miss chances to connect with donors.  If you don't use these tools, you might waste time and miss chances to connect with people.

How to find and use the right tools for your fundraising: Use a platform that offers marketing and communication tools, event ticketing, online donation forms, and more. Plus, be sure to choose a platform that offers great customer service and usability so you can navigate any mishaps.

Organize a fundraising event for free with Zeffy

Organizing a fundraising event takes lots of time and energy. But with the right plan and tools, your nonprofit can create a memorable experience for everyone. Plus, bring in some major donations, and make lasting connections with supporters.

Whether your nonprofit is looking to host a gala or an auction, Zeffy is the best, completely free all-in-one event planning and fundraising software. Packed with tools for donor management, marketing and communication, hosting raffles and lotteries, and selling tickets, nonprofits can handle all of their fundraising in one central place.

Unlike other platforms, Zeffy is the only platform that doesn’t charge nonprofits platform or processing fees. That means, when a donor gives $100, $100 goes right to your cause — and not a cent less. User-friendly and loved for its great customer service, hundreds of nonprofits use Zeffy every day to help make the world a better place.

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