Nonprofit fundraising events are a great way to raise money and increase your organization’s profile at the same time. Not only do they allow you to land big donors in person, they also provide a chance to make an impression on important members of your community, enabling you to grow your brand along with your dollars.
Whether you’re planning an elegant cocktail hour at a local restaurant or a low-key barbecue in a supporter’s backyard, the difference between a successful fundraising event and a total failure comes down to one thing: getting engaged and passionate people in the door.
By being well-organized in advance and assembling a well-connected host committee, you can meet your fundraising goals and make your attendees eager to return to next year’s event.
Follow these steps to make sure your event is a fundraising success rather than a financial flop.
1. Set a Fundraising Goal
Set a goal that is ambitious, yet achievable. You should look at how past fundraisers of a similar nature have done. If members of your host committee have held fundraisers in the past, ask what previous events have been able to raise.
Connect the fundraising goal of the event to the real needs of your organization — donors appreciate knowing how their dollars might be spent. Asking for $1,000 to cover a week of tutoring support for an after school program is better than making that ask to “reach our goal for this event.”
Consider including a list like this on your event’s landing page and in-room donation materials. For example, you could let them know what can be accomplished with gifts ranging from $50 to gifts of $5,000. Choose the range based on the giving capacity of your donor base.
Work backward from your fundraising goal to create your budget. Add the total for all the line items for the event (drinks, food, sound equipment, etc) to your net fundraising goal to get a gross dollar amount that needs to be raised from the event. Writing a thorough budget will ensure that your event isn’t derailed by unexpected expenses.
2. Track your RSVPs
An RSVP needs to be more than just a verbal “Sure” from a potential donor. RSVPs need to be carefully recorded and confirmed.
Having your RSVPs in a database is the best way to make sure your event is headed for success. This data will give you real-time knowledge of confirmed attendees, and help you follow up with supporters to make sure you get as many attendees as possible.
Start by getting an event page set up with essential event details (who, what, where, & when). The page should include information about the organization, the event agenda, and a form to gather contact details from RSVPs. This page will serve as the focal point for all your outreach efforts, whether through personal outreach, social media, or email blasts.
The event page's form should feed contact data into a CRM (Contact Relationship Management system) or event management software. Good software will be able to automatically send confirmation emails to RSVPs, as well as updates and reminders that are essential for minimizing attendee drop-off and ensuring people actually attend.
Always get the event page, confirmation emails, and reminders set up well before you start inviting people. Go through the signup process yourself ahead of time to look for typos or other errors. There's no point in losing your first couple of attendees to something like a confirmation email without a subject line, or the wrong date on a reminder email.
3. Recruit your Host Committee and Start Inviting Guests
As you start to plan more events, you’ll find that some of your major donors prefer to give through events. Event donors are most eager to give when they can come together with their community. By providing these donors an incredible experience, you’ll give them the opportunity to socialize, network, and support your mission.
These are the people you want to not only solicit but ask them to join your host committee. Choose wisely. This is a big responsibility and you want a team who is all-in. Members of your host committee need to have a good network and be willing to ask people to attend and give.
You also may ask a member to hold the event in their home or take an active role in planning the evening. When you invite people to join, make sure that they understand the expectations of joining the host committee and get a good gauge on how much work they'll be comfortable doing. Talk on the phone or in person to make sure you're on the page.
Send your executive director and host committee a template email invitation that they can personalize and send to their networks. It’s also a great idea to send along a call script and encourage folks to get on the phone to make personal invitations. Major donors expect this kind of personal touch.
4. Make Your Follow Up Calls
After the invites have been sent out, it’s call time!
The importance of call time cannot be understated. One of the most effective ways to boost the number of attendees is for the executive director, fundraisers, and members of the host committee to get on the phone, and follow up on important invitations.
Call time will help secure commitment, but you should follow up by email with confirmations as well. You can use your CRM software to schedule follow up and reminder emails automatically, but if it's an important donor than a personal email from the executive director or host should be considered.
If an attendee declines the invitation or cancels, make a secondary ask. Ask the supporter if they would consider making a gift or attending a volunteer event. Lower-level asks like these help you get maximum value from the event.
Not everyone is comfortable asking for money over the phone, so be sure to prepare your host committee. Provide them with a quick training, some notes, and encouragement.
5. Send Reminders
Make sure to send reminders to all attendees the day before the event. Use this touch as a chance to remind them to bring their checkbooks or contribute ahead of time online via your donation page.
Once you’ve reminded your attendees, make sure to touch base with your host committee. If they are part of the programming, make sure that they are ready to speak and provide them with a list of people to thank.
6. Prepare your Host Committee and Staff
When the big day arrives, take the time to make sure the staff, volunteers, and host committee members are fully prepared.
The executive director will need a detailed briefing on attendees and the event format. Have someone on your fundraising team create a briefing document with short bios of each attendee (3 sentences will do) along with a photo of each attendee. Make sure the executive director knows who they need to go out of their way to thank.
To avoid a cringe-worthy error make sure that staffers and members of the host committee know all the important attendee’s names (and how to pronounce them). When someone with a challenging name RSVPs, talk to the host committee asap to make sure that someone can share the correct pronunciation of their name. If no one is familiar with the individual, do a quick search online to see if you can find the donor's name in an audio or video clip.
At the event, consider checking in all attendees with name tags — this helps people get acquainted with each other and makes it easier for your host committee and executive director to approach prospective donors. It also makes it easier to track attendance on the day of the event. After sending your final reminder email, print your name tags, but be sure to leave a few blank sheets for those last minute RSVPs and unexpected plus-ones.
In the final hour, make sure all volunteers are properly positioned and aware of their roles and responsibilities. Make sure each person knows whether they’re expected to thank a specific person, staff the check-in desk, take coats and jackets, or even work the bar. You should also make it clear that staff and volunteers should avoid clustering in groups — nothing is less welcoming than staffers huddled in a corner.
7. Follow Up with a Thank You
After the event, the work doesn’t stop. You have so many people to thank — can you imagine having pulled that off alone? Make sure thank you calls are made to the entire host committee and all major donors. Send notes to everyone that chipped in and helped make the event a success. Consider sending flowers to members of your host committee who went above and beyond.
Just like with event invitations, people love to hear from the executive director — so if that’s you, don’t delegate your important thank yous. Make sure as many people hear from the executive director as possible — you’ll need to ask these people to contribute again down the road. Making them feel appreciated now will make them far more receptive in the future. And sometimes an unexpected thank you prompts a follow-up gift right away.
Cheers to your success!