Once you’ve determined your primary purpose for hosting a fundraiser, you can begin planning with that goal serving as a point of guidance. However, even with your purpose in mind, the planning process can feel overwhelming because of how many details you have to account for. To make things more digestible, let’s break it up into The People, The Place, and The Plan.
When you’re planning a nonprofit fundraising event, you have to involve a substantial number of people in not only the planning process but the execution of the event itself. This includes guests, speakers, emcees, and volunteers as well as vendor, partner, and sponsor contacts. Take these tips into consideration when planning for each group.
Not everyone you invite will be able to attend, so we recommend inviting 25% more guests than you’re realistically planning for. This will offset the attrition rate and give you a well-attended event. At the same time, remember that if your event is free or low-cost to attend, you may have walk-ins. Plan accordingly so that you can accommodate any unexpected arrivals.
Remember, the more guests you have in attendance at your event, the more pledges and gifts you’ll be able to secure. Considering that approximately half of the attendees are likely to give during or shortly following the event, you want to plan for as many attendees as possible. You can enlist volunteers and planning committee members to help build out your guest list. Consider naming volunteers with wide networks as table captains and making them responsible for inviting eight to ten guests each. This will help build a large event by encouraging people to talk about it in the community and consequently building confidence and credibility in the cause.
You have options for what types of speakers you engage for your fundraising event. If your guest list is primarily comprised of a specific audience, it can be wise to choose a speaker who will appeal to their demographics and interests. You may also choose to have a board member or a loyal volunteer speak about their involvement with the organization and their relationship with its mission. Regardless of the specifics of your lineup, it’s best to include at least one testimonial speaker, someone who has directly benefited from the work your nonprofit performs. A testimonial speaker can capture excitement for your mission and evoke an emotional response from your attendees that encourages them to donate more generously.
Your emcees will speak before, between, and after your speakers. They’ll be responsible for moving the event forward and providing updates throughout the event on the amount of money raised. It’s best to select emcees who are comfortable speaking in front of crowds and have high energy to keep your attendees engaged. It’s also great if your emcees have creative ideas to contribute regarding clever and unexpected ways to provide updates on donations in order to bolster excitement levels.
When it comes to volunteers, it’s better to have too many rather than too few. Consider all of the different roles you’ll need people to fill, not only during the event itself, but throughout the planning process as well. Try to engage a variety of people with a range of skills and relationships. Some may be regular supporters of your nonprofit and its mission; others may be new to working with your organization. It’s best to have a mix of experienced and new volunteers to balance reliability and knowledge with networking and exposure.
Partners and Sponsors
When you’re planning an ask event, you can invite businesses within your community to sponsor the event. Having event partners and sponsors is a great way to help offset event costs for things like food, drinks, and entertainment. It’s also a great opportunity for cross-promotion and increased exposure. When approaching potential sponsors, be sure to let them know how it could benefit their business; you’ll likely need to appropriately incentivize them for them to be willing to provide goods and services for free. Let them know how positively it will reflect on them to participate in the event. Tell them how many guests and influential community members will be in attendance; this could be a great branding and exposure opportunity for their business.
In fiction, setting refers not only to a story’s location, but also where in time it occurs. With event planning, setting functions similarly. You need to consider not only where you have your event, but when (and how the where and when may influence fundraiser attendance).
Time and Day
One of the first steps in the fundraiser event planning process is choosing the time and date of your event. Be thoughtful when making your scheduling selections. Think about the time of year, day of the week, time of day, and how all of those will factor into your event attendance. Don’t pick a time of year when it’s popular for your donors to travel or when other community events might divert some of your invitees. Do your best to check for conflicts and schedule the event for a day and time when you expect most invitees to be available.
Most ask events include a social hour during which attendees can mingle, followed by a sit-down presentation. It’s important to select a venue that can accommodate both of these functions. This means accommodation both in terms of flexibility on the part of venue management as well as the allowances of the actual space. Be thoughtful about the size of your venue. You want a large space that can fit a high number of guests, but if you know your guest list will cap out at 150 people, a space that accommodates 400 will be excessive and may give your event the appearance of being poorly attended. To the extent possible, you want to choose a venue that’s appealing to invitees in an effort to increase attendance.
Your area or budget may limit the number of event spaces available to you. That’s okay! You can get creative with your décor and floor plan to cultivate a unique, engaging, and comfortable event experience. When considering venues and décor, think about if you want to have attendees listen to the presentation at tables or in theater-style seating. This question will help you choose the right venue for your needs and decorate it appropriately.
But what about the event itself? What will happen during your fundraiser? How can you orchestrate an event that encourages attendees to donate generously? Let’s take a look at the optimal fundraising event structure, schedule, and agenda.
Typically, a nonprofit fundraising event is divided into two main parts. The first is the social hour, which generally lasts for around 45 minutes. This is a time for your guests to mingle and get comfortable. It also helps prevent late arrivals from walking in during the presentation. Your social hour doesn’t have to last 45 minutes, but this is considered the standard, as less time may be insufficient for guests to arrive, settle in, and chat with their fellow attendees. Conversely, too long of a social hour can engender feelings of frustration within attendees regarding the amount of time they have to wait before the presentation starts. Be thoughtful about how long you schedule for your social hour and set expectations with guests in advance by publicizing the event schedule prior to the day of the fundraiser.
After the social hour, it will be time to transition into the presentation portion of the event. Again, 45 minutes is typically an optimal length of time for this portion of the event to last. If your social hour is shorter or longer than 45 minutes, you may want to adjust the presentation length accordingly. However, 45 minutes is typically enough time to include sufficient substance in the presentation, but not so long that guest interest or attention has the chance to wane. If your presentation will be longer than 45 minutes, consider offering multiple courses to guests during that time.
Once the presentation has concluded, you can transition into another social hour as an after-party or you can end the event. This is up to the discretion of your organization and should be decided based on what makes sense for your nonprofit, the contents of your event, and the sensibilities of your guests.
As for the contents of the presentation, the specifics will depend on your nonprofit and what’s appropriate for your mission. However, we recommend that you start with an introduction from the emcee before transitioning into speeches from your speakers. The introduction should be brief, just to welcome your guests, remind them of the cause they’ve shown up to support, and let them know how they can give at this event. How long each of your speakers is on stage will depend on how many you have, but if you have two to three speakers, plan on them speaking for about five minutes each.
After the speakers have gotten the guests invested, transition to screening a captivating and emotional video that goes further into your organization’s mission, work, and impact. This video should also be approximately five minutes in length and should transition you directly into the main thrust of the presentation, which will be a concise slide deck presentation, lasting up to thirty minutes, given by someone notable in your organization.
Miscellaneous Considerations and Tips
Not all of our nonprofit event planning advice fits neatly into categories. Don’t forget to implement these miscellaneous bonus tips from Spave!
- Prepare a large challenge grant in advance to encourage donors to give as part of the effort to match the challenge. You can restrict the matching challenge to the night of the event or extend the challenge period beyond the event, such as for an additional month.
- Give donors options for how they want to give. Explore give by text and online giving station options. It’s also good to provide pledge cards at the event and distribute collection boxes throughout the venue to accept check and cash donations.
- To make handling literature at the event simple, consider using lanyards with the pledge cards and event program attached so that donors can follow along with the agenda and make pledges with ease.
- Be sure to livestream and record the presentation portion of the event! Livestreaming the event gives non-local supporters the opportunity to get involved and recording the event provides more opportunities for people to watch it at a later time. This can encourage more donations from virtual attendees and those watching the event recording. It’s best to hire a professional to handle livestreaming and recording, as this can be tricky to get right.
- Don’t be shy about promoting your event, but be smart about which promotional strategies you invest in. Flyers, print ads, radio advertisements, sponsor cross-promotion, and local influencer marketing are just some of the options available to you. Whatever strategies you engage, be sure to post about the event on your website and on social media to notify your community and your core audience.