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Charity Events

How to organize a fundraising event for a nonprofit organization.

April 5, 2023

Organizing a charity event—not to mention actually hosting a fundraising event—isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. Yes, a successful fundraising event is a good way to raise money for your nonprofit while growing your donor base but, it’s also a lot of work. And, the hardest part is knowing where to start.

We’ve put together this fundraising event planning guide to help your nonprofit or charity get the most out of it’s next fundraising event.

A nonprofit fundraising event planning checklist.

Maybe you’re a checklist person and maybe you’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants person. If you’re a checklist person, this section’s for you. If not, we definitely recommend taking a look anyways.

Our checklist isn’t meant to be set in stone. Use it as a guideline to get started:

We’re not going to break down each of these steps, but we will go over a few of the more, lets call them, involved steps.

How to organize a fundraiser: Clearly define your goals, audience and budget.

This one might sound obvious, but it’s worth a friendly reminder.

What are your fundraising goals?

What’s the purpose of your fundraising event? Are you looking to raise money, promote awareness about your cause, or engage with donors? A gala with 300 guests might raise lots of money, but if your organization only needs a small boost, then something easier to coordinate might make more sense. On the other hand, you might be more concerned with spreading the word about your cause—in which case, a Walk-A-Thon or BBQ would be better at getting exposure while attracting new donors.

Once you’ve defined your goals clearly it will be easier to create a plan that makes sense.

Who’s your fundraiser for?

Are you looking to appeal to individual donors, businesses, or both? Do you want to involve the local community? Encourage existing donors to participate more or attract new donors to your cause? Knowing your audience's interests and preferences will help you plan everything else. You can have more than one audience in mind, but prioritizing them will help focus your messaging, theme, activities and spending.

Try to think of events that would appeal to your supporters and that are in line with your nonprofit’s mission. If you’re part of an educational or athletic organization, then a sports tournament to raise money for new equipment might be a good idea. On the other hand, if your focus is the environment, then a bike race ending at a scenic location could be a great way to get people excited about your nonprofit.

Keep in mind the demographics of your supporters, where they’re located, and the venues and locales you have near by.

How much do you want to invest in your fundraising event?

Knowing your budget will help you prioritize every other decision. You’ll need to invest some of your organization’s capital up front in order to get your nonprofit fundraising event off the ground and knowing how much you have to invest will make prioritizing how much to spend on what, easier. To ensure you get a return on investment, create a detailed budget of where funds will be allocated. Can you afford to pay for a venue? Will there be activities or entertainment? Will food be included or available for purchase? Can you pre-order merchandise? How many tickets will be sold? Do you need sponsors? This list can get pretty long, really quickly. Creating a spreadsheet with different service providers can be a great way to track and compare costs—not to mention help keep you sane. Oh, and don’t forget to include a little extra in your budget to cover any unexpected costs.

Location, location, location. Successful fundraising events are all about the right location.

A big part of planning a fundraising event is figuring out where it’s going to take place and how to reserve it in advance. A restaurant might just take a quick phone call to get the discussion going. A community centre might save you a lot of money, but it might not send the right message. A public park might need you to apply for multiple permits. Closing roads for a marathon or bike ride definitely requires permits.

Knowing your city or community makes finding and booking a location a lot easier. But, if you’re new or need some help finding a venue for your fundraiser, ChatGPT can come in handy. We’ve even written an article about it: ChatGPT can help plan your next fundraising event.

How to promote a nonprofit event?

Knowing how to organize a fundraising event is definitely a big part of actually hosting a charity event, the other part is promoting it.

Once you’ve got a handle on the planning of your fundraising event, it’s time to start thinking about promoting it. (We know, there really is too much do to.) After all, an event needs guests.

A solid marketing strategy usually includes multiple avenues of communication: social media posts, website promotion, radio ads, email newsletters, posters in local stores, and maybe even some good old snail mail. Oh, and don’t forget word-of-mouth.

If you use Zeffy’s donor management system (or any charity event management system), take a look to get an idea of what forms of communication have worked for you in the past. For example, if most of your donations still come in the form of checks or cash, then physical invitations might work better than an email. Or, if you have a lot of traffic on your website, featuring the event on your homepage is probably a great way to promote it.

Make the most of your nonprofit or charity fundraising event.

In addition to packing the house, promoting your event is as good of an excuse as any to contact not only your current donors, but potential donors and sponsors as well.

Having even one sponsor for your fundraising event can help ease the burden of the total cost. And, sponsorships don’t have to be all about the money. A local restaurant can donate their time or food, a sporting goods store could help with the cost of any equipment, and municipalities or governments can help add credibility. Sponsorships are a win-win for both parties (There’s a reason the for-profit sector owns the naming rights to almost every stadium ever built.)—the sponsor gets exposure and a tax deduction, while you secure additional resources and expertise for your fundraising event.

Try contacting local businesses or community figures for sponsorship. The absolute worst that will happen is they say no, not this time. But, hey, even if they say no, you’ve still told one more person about your nonprofit’s fundraising event.

Delegate. Delegate. Delegate. Or: Surviving your nonprofit’s fundraising event.

When it comes to organizing a nonprofit or charity fundraising event, asking for help is key to success and not loosing your mind. Depending on the event you’re planning, there can be a lot to do: booking and setting up the venue, arranging catering, booking entertainment, marketing, ticket sales, clean up, permits and licenses, sponsorships, etc. The list gets really long, really fast and it can be helpful to delegate specific tasks to make sure they’re all properly taken care of—and not by you.

How to set up ticket sales for your fundraising event:

We really should have put this section a little further up. But, here we are. Tickets and ticket sales can be a headache for any fundraising event. Luckily, there are some online platforms out there that can help make selling and managing your ticket sales a lot easier. Off the top of our head, we’ve heard good things about Zeffy’s nonprofit event management features like online ticket sales for fundraisers. But, that’s just one idea.

Whether or not you plan on selling tickets at the door, you’ll probably want to include an online option as well. Not only can these tickets be purchased in advance to help you plan, but they make things like tracking, issuing tax receipts and following up with your attendees a lot easier. (Yes, Zeffy’s online ticket sales for nonprofits let’s you do all of that.)

Zeffy’s online ticketing also makes it easier to have multiple ticketing options and add-ons. In addition to general admission tickets, you can create a discounted option for members of your organization, a VIP package for top spenders, or give your donors the option to add an additional donation to your organization.

We know what you’re thinking, and Zeffy might sound expensive, but it’s 100% free (we even pay the transaction fees). So go ahead, create custom ticketing forms, automatically send tax receipts to all your attendees, and follow up with them after the event—it’s all free for nonprofits.

What to do after your fundraising event.

Your event might be over, but in typical nonprofit fashion, your work is not.

A huge perk of hosting fundraising events is the connections they help you make. Make the most of your newly made potential donors by following up after the event and thanking all your guests for their support and participation.

Post-fundraising event is also an excellent time to update your supporters on the progress of your nonprofit or charity.

A few ideas to include in your fundraising event thank you email:

Phew! That’s it. We hope you’re next fundraising event is a huge success. And, as always, if you need any help setting up your ticketing form, peer-to-peer campaign, or following up with a thank you email, we’re here to help!

A few more fundraising event planning tools:

ChatGPT can help plan your next fundraising event.

Top 3 no-cost ways to promote nonprofit fundraising events

8 Steps to Prepare for Any Charity Gala Event

6 Summer FUNdraising Ideas for Nonprofits

Your Nonprofit Can Start Getting More Corporate Sponsors Now – Here’s How!