Eight Fundamental Concepts for Successful Non-Profit Fundraising Events

by Joe Garecht

Fundraising Events

Fundraising events are a staple part of non-profit development programs worldwide. Your goal as a fundraiser is to make sure that you are maximizing your events to raise as much money as possible, without wasting valuable time and resources.

As you plan your fundraising events large, small and in-between, there are eight fundamental concepts that you should keep in mind to ensure that you are raising as much as possible:

#1: Fundraising events are still fundraising.

Many non-profits focus on the event part of fundraising events – they find a great headliner, hire a nice band, find a good venue and print up nice invitations. Then, they expect the money to come flowing in. When the revenue doesn’t come, they wonder why.

Fundraising events are still fundraising, and all of the rules of fundraising apply. You need to build relationships (with sponsors, auction donors, guests, etc.) You need to cultivate your donors. You need to make asks (even… gasp!… in person and over the phone). The fundamental rules of fundraising don’t disappear just because you are raising money through an event.

#2: Who you have on your team matters.

What is your event committee / host committee focusing on? If it’s logistics instead of fundraising, you’re in trouble. The same goes for your board. If you don’t have folks on your team who are committed to fundraising and have large enough personal networks to help raise money, it is unlikely that you will hit your event fundraising goals.

Seek out host committee members and board members who will take ownership of some of the fundraising for the event by selling sponsorships and tickets. Then, provide them with the training and materials they need to do so.

#3: Money saved is money earned.

The revenue goal for your event should be thought of in terms of “net revenue,” not “gross revenue.” Gross revenue is all of the money you bring in at an event, without regard to event costs. Net revenue is the money you raise at an event minus the event costs. Your non-profit needs money to pay for programs and organizational overhead – the only money that you will be able to spend on those items is the money that is left over from the event after you deduct the event costs. Thus, you should focus on net revenue.

Money saved at your event is money earned for your non-profit. Think of it this way: if you hold a nice event for your organization that raises $25,000 and spend $15,000 on the venue, catering, collateral materials, etc., you will end up with $10,000 in net revenue that goes to your organization.

On the other hand, perhaps you can get some of your materials donated and go with a slightly less expensive, though still nice menu. In that case, you raise $25,000 and spend $10,000 on the event. This means you end up with $15,000 in net revenue that goes to your organization… that’s a 50% increase in fundraising revenue to your bottom line!

Spend most of your time focused on bringing in money for the event, but remember to take a hard look at costs and possible in-kind donations so that you can keep more of the money that the event raises.

#4: Don’t get distracted by the sideshow.

There’s a lot of “sideshow” with non profit events. There are color schemes to pick, wine baskets to put together, event favors to package, floral arrangements to choose. Don’t get sucked in. What matters for your event is fundraising.

Sure, you should have a nice event. Yes, you should choose a color scheme and floral arrangements. But do you need a committee of 5 spending an hour to do so? Or could you just pick one that looks nice and be done with it? I’d rather have a staff member spend 50 minutes making sponsorship calls and 10 minutes choosing floral arrangements than vice versa.

#5: Sponsorships > Ticket Sales > Added Revenue Streams

Focus on sponsorships. Then focus on ticket sales. Then focus on added revenue streams. In that order. Most of your event efforts should be focused on fundraising, and most of your fundraising efforts should be focused on selling sponsorships. A smaller amount of time should be spent on ticket sales, and even less on added revenue streams.

Use the 80 / 20 rule. Focus 80% of your time on the 20% of activities that will raise the majority of the money for your event.

#6: The year’s biggest event requires a year-long effort.

Do you hold a large, all-hands-on-deck fundraising event each year, like a gala or annual dinner? If so, your big annual event requires a year-long effort in order to raise the maximum amount of money.

I once worked at a non-profit that held one major dinner per year. It raised a significant portion of the organization’s annual budget. When I arrived at the office the next day, one of my staff members said, “That was a really great event, but I’m glad it’s over. It was so much work! When will we have to start working on next year’s event? A couple of months?” My answer was, “Enjoy today. We’ll start working on next year’s event tomorrow.”

He though I was exaggerating, but I wasn’t. Big annual events require big annual efforts. You need to start cultivating this year’s event donors for next year’s event. You need to go see them. Thank them. Ask them who else might be interested in sponsoring the event. Stay in touch with them. Steward them. Add new prospects. Build new relationships. All before you make your renewal asks for the event, which should be 4-6 months out from the event. It’s a year-long endeavor.

#7: Relationships matter.

Fundraising is all about relationships. Fundraising events are all about relationships too. Many non-profits have corporate sponsors that donate to events year after year, but yet the organization never cultivates a relationship with anyone at the company. Similarly, many charities never reach out to event attendees or silent auction item donors after the event, at least not until it comes time to make an ask for next year’s event.

The best way to exponentially grow your fundraising event revenue is to start cultivating your event donors in a systemized way. Do meetings. Make phone calls. Add them to your mailing list. Hold a thank-you event for your silent auction item donors. Ask your event guests to join your volunteer committee. Cultivate your event donors and you will grow not only next year’s event revenue, but your overall donor base as well.

#8: Event revenue grows over time.

If you are launching an event and hope to make it an annual event (either a large annual gala or a small, simple yearly event) understand that event revenue generally grows year over year, at least until you reach a plateau point. This means that if you hold an event this year that raises $50,000 and do all the right things to grow the event (i.e. the things that we will talk about in this class), next year you may raise $60,000… and the following year $75,000… and the fourth year $100,000.

This is because events, when properly run, show a compounding effect. If you hold a great event, your guests will tell their friends and bring them to the event next year. If your silent auction gets press coverage, more businesses will want to be featured in the auction next year. If you treat sponsors really well and cultivate them over the course of the year, they will introduce you to other businesses in their network that may want to sponsor your event. Treat your donors and guests right, and you will see your event revenue grow year after year.

Photo Credits: The Birmingham Hippodrome

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