Tips and Tools: Planning a Fundraising Event
Warmer weather brings many social events: why not use some of those events to support your fundraising! Before you do, however, Fractured Atlas would like to remind you of some of the best practices for planning your fundraising events. We’ve talked about planning, marketing, and running a fundraising event before, so now felt like a great time to revisit some of the best tips and tools for your reference.
First and foremost, you need to know why you’re throwing this event, and what you’re aiming to accomplish. Are you hoping to raise money? Are you cultivating new donors? Are you looking for corporate sponsors? Are you sharing news about your upcoming work?
Of course, an event can have more than one goal. But it’s important to sit down and iron out what those goals are before you begin planning the specifics — the goal comes first, and the details of the event will follow.
Once you know why you’re throwing the event, you’ll need to start making decisions for how it’s going to all play out, and a big part of that is thinking through the potential costs. A complete budget should consider the cost of space, food and drinks, equipment rentals (tables, chairs, linens), entertainment, transportation, invitations, and any other supplies you might need for the party. If you don’t have a lot of money to spend, think of creative ways to curb some of these costs — asking for a donation of space or food can significantly decrease the cost of running an event. It’s essential to determine how much you’re willing and able to spend, and then how to make the party happen within that framework.
Pro Tip: Be sure to leave room for unanticipated costs, because when you have to take a last minute cab home to grab the crate of wine you forgot, you’ll be glad you built a contingency into your budget.
Bonus Tip: A successful fundraising event should not just break even! The event needs to bring in more (two- to three-times more) than it cost to be a success. Budget accordingly.
Event planning takes time (a lot of time!), so before things get too far underway, figure out your to-do list and the timeline for tackling the items on it. Consider when the invitations should be sent, when the DJ should be hired, when the catering menu should be finalized. This will help you stay on track in the months, weeks, and days leading up to your party. If you’re soliciting businesses for in-kind donations for the event, find out whether they have an application process, and how long it will take to apply.
Pro Tip: Be sure to also create a timeline for the day of the event. What do you need to do the morning of the event — print the programs or pick-up the food? What time can you get into the space? What do you need to do to set up? Write it all out — it may seem like overkill, but it will help you make the most of your time on what is already a busy day!
This may seem straight forward, but it is imperative if you want to have a surplus of funds after the event. “Suggested donations” can be great, but they can also hurt you in the long run, because you will inevitably have many donors who will not offer the suggested donation amount for admission. Your patrons want to be there, so they will pay to come.
Pro Tip: Tickets can only be tax-deductible for the amount greater than any goods or services that were received. Consider what you’re offering to your patrons when setting your ticket prices. Remember that selling tickets as earned income is a viable option: your event still gets the funds and you don’t have to worry about deducting the fair market value of anything you’re offering.
This one may seem obvious, but it’s an easy one for event hosts to overlook, despite the fact that it’s arguably the most crucial tip on this list. Trying to plan a big event alone will only bring tremendous stress to you and your company, and unless you’re a literal superhero (“The Event Planner” doesn’t have much ring to it), it simply won’t be possible. So don’t plan a big event alone! Use your network to help make your event a success. Reach out to local businesses for in-kind contributions, empower your board to invite their friends to attend, and enlist your friends to volunteer during the event. People will help — you just have to ask.
At a donation station, you should have a person who is there to accept donations by check. They should also be able to provide instructions for your donors to give online after the event. This gives your donors the opportunity to donate at their leisure.
Pro Tip: Check the venue for Internet connectivity before you get started! And ensure that whoever is working the donation station is knowledgeable about your work and the donation process.
Warning: Sometimes too many donations at the same time from the same IP address can trigger fraud protection on donors’ cards. Prioritize taking check donations at live events and provide clear, concise instructions for online giving at a later time.
Ok, maybe this is the most important tip on the list. After the event, it’s essential that you thank everyone who was there — attendees, volunteers, staff, donors, and any vendors. Because whether your goal is to raise money, bring in new supporters, or celebrate your membership, an event is about the people who are there. You’ll want to show your appreciation for their presence, no matter what the ultimate outcome of the event might be.
Pro Tip: Draft your thank you materials ahead of time, and add anecdotes from the event before sending out your thanks. This will allow you to send your thanks immediately after the event, when the excitement of the day is still fresh in everyone’s minds.
Planning an event is undeniably a ton of work, but it’s also a ton of fun. Staying organized throughout the planning process will allow you to reap the benefits of the event, and most importantly, have a good time with the people who have gathered together to celebrate your work with you.
About Courtney Harge
Courtney Harge is a producer, director, and professional arts administrator originally from Saginaw, MI. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of Colloquy Collective, a theater company based out of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. She has worked for the Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center, Theater for the New City, The Public Theater, Gibney Dance, and, most recently, the New York Foundation for the Arts with a focus on institutional fundraising, crowdfunding, and fiscal sponsorship. She holds a Masters of Professional Studies, with Distinction, in Arts and Cultural Management from Pratt Institute and a Bachelors of Fine Arts with Honors from the University of Michigan in Theater Performance. Her credo (#HustlingKeepsYouSexy) is not merely a hashtag; it’s a way of life.