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Organizing a Successful Fundraising Event: Five Helpful Tips

A common way to raise funds is to hold a large annual event or perhaps a series of smaller quarterly events related to a seasonal theme. The challenge for all organizations—schools, charities, faith-based groups, cultural institutions—is managing these events so that they succeed in achieving their goals. These basic tips will help any organization plan a successful fundraising event.

1. Start planning early!

Never underestimate the length of time it takes to put on a successful event. The sooner you start planning, the better the odds that you’ll minimize all the risks and variables that will come along. Remember that you’re competing for resources and donations with every good cause that has a website and an e-mail list. You’re also competing for event space with every wedding, birthday, and anniversary party in your area. If you’re seeking complimentary or in-kind donations of food, beverages, or other items, remember that most businesses establish their charitable contribution budgets a year in advance.

2. Choose an event that fits your organization

The chances are that your organization has built-in advantages that will guide your choice of events. Are you an arts organization? A silent auction is a natural fit. An organization with a large volunteer base can choose to mount a people-intensive event like a gala or festival. Organizations with large brick-and-mortar facilities might want to consider an onsite event that incorporates tours and demonstrations. Use what you already have at your disposal for maximum return on your investment.

3. A crowded room is better than an empty space

When you’ve decided on the type of event you want to have, the next step is choosing an appropriate venue. While cost should be a key factor, keep in mind that the last thing your organization needs is to give the impression that the event is suffering from poor attendance. If this is your first attempt at a fundraising event, you should underestimate the number of attendees with the understanding that you can always grow in the future.

4. Seek in-kind donations in exchange for promotion

Just about every item you need for your event can be donated in exchange for promotional consideration. Ways to reward donors include special mention in all electronic and print advertising, special seating at the event, free admission for a select number of that company’s employees, an opportunity to speak at the event, or special recognition for any of the donor’s employees in attendance.

5. Levels and premiums offer incentive to give

Don’t be afraid to reward sponsors and attendees who give more. For corporate sponsors, differentiating by levels is customary—Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze sponsorships with corresponding levels of promotion are expected. For individual donors, use titles such as patron, supporter, or friend. In all such cases, offering escalating benefits before, during, and after your event can serve as a real incentive to potential sponsors and donors.

Each fundraising event presents its own set of challenges. In addition to these tips, check with other groups or nonprofit marketing associations for suggestions and best practices.