Your fundraising event is a huge amount of work, and it takes countless hours of volunteer and staff time.
Let’s make sure all this work pays off – so that you make as much money as possible from your event!
These tips will help you be businesslike and deliberate as you plan and execute your special event:
198 tips to help you take your nonprofit fundraising event into the stratosphere!
- Decide what your true objective is for your event. Is it to raise money?? Or to raise awareness for your cause? If you want to raise money, then deliberately set up your event up to accomplish that objective.
- Don’t be shy or embarrassed about the fact that you are raising important funding for your mission.
- Connect all your communications – emails, invitations, etc – directly to your nonprofit’s mission.
- Identify a specific project that your event will help fund. You’ll raise more money.
- Once you identify your project, then talk about what you are raising money for. This will help you turn event attendees into mission-focused donors.
- Have your event on a Saturday night. Pros say that you’ll raise more.
Create an Event Plan and a Timeline for your Fundraising Event
- Create a detailed written plan and a timeline at the very beginning. This will help you figure out the specifics early and will help get everyone on the same page. Who is doing what?
- Plan at least 9 months out. 12 months is better.
- In your plan, consider the ROI – return on your investment. Every single thing you do or spend needs to have a return on the investment of time and energy.
- Download my event planning template here.
Every Nonprofit Fundraising Event Needs a Budget
- Set ambitious but achievable revenue goals.
- My favorite financial model is this: Set the ticket price to cover the actual costs of the event. Then your sponsor and auction revenue will fall directly to the bottom line.
- Set participation goals such as the number of attendees you want or tickets you want to sell.
- Focus your energy on the big three revenue items: Sponsorships, ticket sales and your auction/raffle.
- Manage your expense budget carefully. Sometimes volunteer committees can get carried away!
- Cover some of your bigger expenses with in-kind donations: food, wine, bar, printing, the venue itself, flowers, publicity, deejay or band.
- Nonprofit fundraising events don’t need to spend a lot of money on entertainment, celebrity speakers, flowers and décor. They won’t help you raise money.
- Do spend money on your professional auctioneer, sound system. They WILL help you raise much more money.
How to Successfully Promote Your Nonprofit Fundraising Event
- Create an event promotional plan with a timeline, planned messaging, and audiences you want to reach.
- Enlist volunteers with media, marketing, or advertising experience.
- Give your event a fun, creative name and BRAND – it will help add pizazz, generate interest and sell more tickets.
- Plan pre-event promotions and news to put your event on everyone’s radar screen.
- Create a well-designed, eye-catching logo, and use it widely to help promote your event.
- Find a local celebrity to be your event headliner to attract more people. Celebrities can be a huge draw!
- Have a local professional or college team come to your event – and publicize it ahead of time.
- Engage your own nonprofit community and stakeholders in the event and in spreading the word
- Honor someone or have an honorary event chairperson to enhance your brand, who will attend and “bless” your event.
- Create a fun social media campaign to promote your event.
- Create an event website and/or separate Facebook page for the event itself. Start posting pictures and comments letting everyone know how the planning is coming along.
- Set up a Facebook CTA (Call to Action Button) on your nonprofit’s Facebook page to direct your followers to your event page and encourage them to buy tickets.
- Consider adding a popup to your nonprofit’s website promoting the event.
- Publicize your event, your tickets, your brand, and your items thru multiple channels and every possible venue:
- Make phone calls to important supporters putting the event on their calendar.
- Put flyers in key places like on your nonprofit’s home page, on all online channels, in email signatures, on social media cover photos, in newsletters. Use outreach to local media.
- Get local reporters to attend by giving them complimentary tickets.
- When people purchase a ticket, respond with a happy thank you and remind them about the good work your event will be funding.
How to Leverage Your Event Planning Committee
- Create a large gala committee that pulls from different demographics, social circles and parts of your community. It will help bring more people to the event.
- Choose committee members who have large personal networks, are donors or past volunteers, have connections with potential sponsors. They are the “social branding” for your event.
- Get committee members who have auction experience. They will make smarter decisions based on experience.
- Choose subcommittee chairs and then let them help recruit other members who will work with them.
- Create subcommittees for sponsorships, live auction, silent auction, registration, clean up, décor, ticket sales, VIP’s, table sales, social media/publicity, logistics and/or post event follow-up.
- Set selling tickets to be an important job of the entire committee.
- If you are having an auction, make SURE you have potential buyers in the audience who will spend money. (!!)
- Motivate and encourage your committee members.
- Involve people on your committee who deeply care about your mission. They will work harder.
- Create fun for your committee by fostering a competitive spirit. Form teams for certain tasks, and you’ll quickly find them competing playfully.
- Be sure your committee members feel honored and appreciated, and they’ll work even harder.
- Make sure your committee meetings are fun – that good energy will spill over into the event itself.
- Create a schedule of committee meetings and publicize it in advance. Then volunteers are more likely to attend.
How to Nail Large Sponsorships for Your Nonprofit Fundraising Event
- Seeking sponsorships is hard work. Make it count by targeting your approach carefully.
- Do plan your business sponsorship sales from a sales/marketing approach. You are not appealing to company’s philanthropy, but instead to their marketing department.
- Ditch your traditional sponsorship package offering Gold, Silver and Bronze levels. Be more flexible.
- Ditch the pre-defined benefits for the various levels.
- Do not mail out sponsorship packages and wait for a response. Those packages go in the trash.
- Do begin your sponsorship effort by creating a LONG list (inventory) of ever opportunity you are willing to have sponsored: the event email list, speaking at the podium; ability to give out free samples, sineage, visibility in front of your attendees.
- Put a monetary value, as best you can, on each item in your inventory that you can offer a sponsor. Consider how much sponsors might spend in advertising to reach an audience like yours.
- Don’t forget to add a value to all your sponsorship inventory items that reflects the general “goodwill” of your brand.
- Do evaluate your audience demographics and find sponsors who want to get in front of your particular audience. Do you have soccer moms attending? Or do you have mostly boomers? Who wants to reach them?
- You need to know the products you’re selling (your inventory) and who your customer is before you walk in the door to see a sponsorship prospect.
- Research your sponsor prospects just like you would a major donor. You want to know a lot about them before you walk in the door.
- Always talk to someone at the company before you submit a sponsorship proposal.
- When you first go in to meet with a potential sponsor, do not bring any materials! Instead make it a listening visit and find out what your sponsor wants.
- Ask your sponsor prospect:
- Who is your target audience?
- How do you normally engage in sponsorships?
- What does your target market value?
- What can you tell me about your sales goals for the coming year?
- What would you consider to be the most important elements of a sponsorship proposal?
- Be willing to work out a set of benefits that your sponsor wants. Most large dollar sponsorship packages are negotiated. Be willing to be creative.
A Great Venue Can Make Or Break Your Nonprofit Fundraising Event
- Find a new or fun venue that will attract attendees that they would like to see. You’ll get better attendance at your event.
- Check out your event venue carefully – I mean really carefully.
- Does it have adequate parking?
- Don’t make your guests unhappy by making them wait forever for their car at the end of the night.
- Don’t have a venue too large for your crowd. Otherwise your event won’t have a sense of energy and excitement.
Non-Profit Fundraising Event: Your VIP Ticket Strategy
- Create a special strategy to get VIP’s to attend your event.
- Host a private pre-event reception for VIP’s and sponsors. This is one of my favorite strategies to make sure the VIP’s actually come. They love the exclusivity!
- If a VIP tells you they are not sure they can attend, encourage them by telling them that you have a special table for them or you have some special people for them to meet.
- By all means, CALL or email your VIP’s and encourage them to attend. Sometimes a little nudge is all it takes.
- Arrange for a Party Van to go around and actually pick up VIP’s. They will love the special treatment.
- Assign board members as hosts to make sure your VIP’s have a good time. You don’t want your VIP’s to feel like wallflowers!
How-To Primer on Fundraising Ticket Sales
- Ticket selling will be an important source of revenue. Organize EARLY and carefully.
- Reach out to past attendees with a personalized email reminding them, and perhaps offering a sweetener to them for coming again.
- Extend “special” invitations to:
- Your donors
- Past attendees
- Past and current board members
- Subscribers to your various lists
- Friends, family and personal networks of everyone above
- Offer tickets at various levels: a premium ticket (with perks,) an early-bird discount and a something for people who can’t attend but who want to support you.
- Organize table sales with a separate committee.
- Send a save the date postcard that allows people to purchase at an early-bird discount.
- Start your ticket selling process early by organizing your event committee.
- Get your host committee to start selling to their network early.
- Get tickets sold to people close to your organization first – even before the invitation goes out.
- Ask some die-hard supporters to take leadership roles in selling tickets.
- Use an online ticket-selling platform and launch it as early as you can.
- Generate excitement about ticket sales with frequent cheerful progress updates.
- Ask board members to purchase early and to commit to sell a certain number of tickets.
- Honor someone important in your community – and their friends and associates will come.
- Once your invitations are mailed, organize volunteers to make follow-up phone calls.
- If you’d like more help selling out your event, find ticket guru Joe Garecht’s amazing ticket-selling strategies here.
Table Sponsors Add Revenue and Clout
- As part of your ticket selling strategy, create a Table Sponsor level where one person or business purchases an entire table.
- Give table sponsors special visibility in the center of the tables and elsewhere.
Turn Your Fundraising Event into a True Party
- A “party” cares about your guests and the experience they are having. Be a great host.
- Enlist a greeting committee to welcome guests at the door like they are lost friends.
- Turn the music up at the beginning of the evening to create a sense of energy and excitement. Then turn it down later.
- Bring in some young people as hosts. The older guests love it.
- Don’t make getting a drink a laborious effort. Make it easy to get the bar. Your guests will head there first.
- Studies show that people will spend more money if they are greeted at the door with an alcoholic drink. :)
- Be a good host and work to introduce people to each other. That’s good manners and makes you into a social connector. It’s a great job for board members!
- Turn the lights down during cocktail hour, and turn them up for the auction. Lower lights create atmosphere.
Hire A Professional Benefit Auctioneer For Your Next Event
- Do, without a doubt, hire a professional benefit auctioneer – this person will entertain your audience and can help you double or even triple your auction sales.
- Don’t use a volunteer auctioneer who will miss easy revenue opportunities. You need someone with experience who can romance your mission and encourage the audience to give.
- Don’t use an auctioneer from a commercial house. Their training is to liquidate items quickly at any price, NOT encourage donations. They are not particularly good at “romancing” your mission.
- Don’t pre-set the opening bids for the live auction. Let the professional auctioneer do this.
Tips for a Profitable Live Auction at Your Nonprofit Fundraising Event
Pre-auction set up and publicity:
- The live auction is where you will raise the most money. Focus your energy there.
- You MUST have people seated for a live auction to be successful. When people are standing, it’s much harder to get their attention.
- Don’t plan to have expensive music after the auction. Many people will leave early and you’ll waste your money.
- Plan to have at least four bid spotters in different sections of the room.
- Promote your items widely BEFORE the event.
- Generate interest in the items via social media, in your nonprofit’s networks.
- When attendees RSVP and register, send them to your event web page with the items and an overview of your mission and project that the event will fund.
Live Auction Items
- The best live auction items are one-of-a-kind experiences, such as a kids birthday party in a special place, or a hunting trip.
- Try to have potential buyers for your bigger live auction items lined up ahead of time.
- Don’t open the auction with a super expensive items or one that will not appeal to many people.
- Do open the auction with something that might have emotional or broad appeal, such an experience for kids, front row seats at graduation, or dinner with your CEO.
- Be sure to promote your live auction items with displays on each table.
- Don’t be talking about “great bargains tonight,” that takes everyone in the wrong direction.
- Don’t place something in the live auction because of who gave it or because they wanted the publicity.
Sound Systems Are Urgently Important
- Do spend the money for a decent sound system. It may be expensive, but you MUST have it, if you want your auction to be successful.
- Do get a sound system that will have speakers on tall stands, at least 6-8 feet tall.
- Do get a sound system that will spread speakers around the room. You want “surround sound.”
- Don’t use the venue’s in-house sound system, which is designed for one person to speak to a quiet group of people in a workshop setting. Your attendees will NOT be quiet – this is a party!
- Don’t assume that the band’s sound system will be adequate. Their speakers will be right up on the stage, and you need speakers that are distributed throughout your venue.
Corporate Table Sponsors
- If corporations purchase seats and do not fill them, then take the initiative and FILL THE TABLEs with bidders who care about your cause.
- Don’t let valuable seats at your auction go empty because of corporate tables that are not full.
- Ask your corporate table sponsors for a list of names, titles and contact info of people attending, so you can email them before and after the event.
Timing of the Auction At Your Fundraising Event
- Do start your live auction as early in the evening as you can. People will start leaving by 9pm.
- Do control your program so that you can hold your live auction on time.
- Create a timeline for the evening down to the minute, and MAKE everyone follow it. Include when dinner is served, when people are at the mic, when dessert is served, who will be speaking when.
- Plan for your live auction to be about 30 minutes.
- It’s ok to hold the live auction during dinner or dessert. Since guests will be eating, you will really need that sound system to be heard over the noise.
- Plan to build excitement during the live auction – and have the most expensive items in the middle or towards the end.
How to Use Bid Numbers
- Set your attendees up ahead of time with bid numbers for each person.
- Register your attendees with their credit card numbers when they enter the event.
- Consider using bidder paddles. I think it adds fun to the evening, and it’s easier for the auctioneer.
- Make the bid paddles into keepsakes.
- Let a sponsor put their ad on the back of your bid paddles.
- Don’t save money by writing the bid number on the back of guests’ auction catalog. Then they can’t read about the items.
Auction Programs for Your Nonprofit Fundraising Event?
- Do create a program for your auction that lists your items.
- Never publish prices or values in your program – for silent or live items. This is the advice of countless auction pros.
- Be sure to thank donors in your program.
- Consider whether selling ads in your program is worth the time and effort. There may be other place where you can make more money from your effort.
- Your program can be a huge suck on your time and energy. Keep it simple.
- Don’t waste money on fancy centerpieces for your nonprofit fundraising event.
- Try using balloons – they are festive and create a fun atmosphere.
Mobile and Online Bidding
- The jury is out regarding mobile bidding devices or setting up a mobile bidding platform for your guests’ phones. Carefully consider whether it’s worth the time and expense.
- Mobile bidding can add an element of fun to your auction and encourage last minute bids on silent auction items.
- It can also enhance your “Fund a Need” at the end of your live auction.
- If you use mobile bidding, you MUST be sure there is enough WiFi coverage at your venue. Consider adding mobile hotspots.
- Mobile bidding can help those who can’t attend still participate in the auction. You’ll have to promote the platform to non-attendees.
Stage a Fund-a-Need Pitch at Your Nonprofit Fundraising Event
- Do stage a well-planned Fund a Need pitch at your auction. This can raise tens of thousands of dollars, if well done.
- Your Fund a Need can add 10-20% or up to 50% to your auction profit, IF pitched by a professional.
- Make sure your auctioneer can romance your mission, your organization and your cause. Give them talking points.
- Have the Fund a Need focus on ONE specific project or issue at your nonprofit. People will give more if they are “sending kids to camp” or funding a specific research project.
- Don’t have pledge cards at the tables for people to fill out during the Fund a Need. It needs to be a live “paddle raise” experience.
- Have the auctioneer start by asking for pledges at the highest amount, and then work down.
- Before the auction engage a big donor to offer a matching gift to any Fund a Need gifts before the auction.
- Engage donors over the phone to participate in the Fund a Need.
- Consider ONLY having a Fund a Need with a professional auctioneer at your event.
Lighting Can Set A Mood at Your Nonprofit Fundraising Event
- Just like your sound system, you need adequate lighting.
- Don’t use spotlights. Do raise up the house lights for the auction. Remember this is a fundraising event, not a dinner party.
Leverage a Silent Auction for More Fundraising Dollars
- Group your silent auction items into 3-4 different sections.
- Make your sections easily identifiable. Consider color-coordinating them.
- Plan to close the silent auction sections at different times.
- Close the most expensive silent auction item section last.
- Do close all sections of the silent auction before the live auction – you don’t want to distract your guests.
- Organize food stations in the midst of the silent auction sections. You’ll sell more!
- Control your item procurement committee. DO NOT have too many items! There’s no need to go to all the trouble. Too many items will NOT yield more money.
- How many items? Plan to have one item for every two people at the event.
- Unique items that don’t have a monetary value sell better.
- Group smaller items together in baskets or units.
- Get your auctioneer to promote some of the silent auction items.
- Keep the lights up on silent auction items.
- Don’t forget to create attractive displays of your silent auction items.
- Don’t have tables with nothing but clipboards!
- Try using bid sheets with minimum bid increments.
- Put the item description in LARGE FONT that can be read at a distance.
- Write up cool descriptions of your items. Romance them.
- Put the descriptions in easy to read bullets.
- Consider having a Buy It Now price on the bid sheet.
- Some auctions not using mobile bidding – print bid sheets in triplicate so they can give the buyer a copy of the sheet.
- Place pens, not pencils at each bid sheet.
- Have reading glasses widely available!!!
- Opening bid for silent items is often set at 40% of its value.
- Traffic flow is important. Make sure there are not bottlenecks or U shaped tables. Avoid traffic jams for popular items!
What To Do After the Event
- Your thank you committee needs to go to work immediately.
- Phone the people who spent the most money and thank them asap.
- Phone your major event sponsors and thank them.
- Ask your board members to thank sponsors.
- Thank your “item” donors.
- Generously thank your hard-working volunteers.
- Prepare a “Fulfillment report” and send to your sponsors. Outline exactly what they purchased, and what they received at the event. Include pictures if possible.
- Have a meeting with your sponsors to debrief. You might be able to sign them up for next year on the spot!
- Ask your sponsors what their experience was and for feedback.
- Recruit next year’s event chairperson immediately after the event while excitement is still high.
- Hold a debriefing meeting with your team to evaluate successes and failures.
- Conduct a systematic evaluation by polling everyone who was involved.
- Write your attendees and offer them early bird purchases of tickets to next years’ event while everyone is happy.
BOTTOM LINE: Nonprofit Fundraising Events can make TONS of money.
. . . If you plan carefully, invest in the right places, and make sure your attendees include people who will buy!
SOURCES FOR SOME OF THE TIPS