5 Simple Steps to Build a Better Event

5 Simple Steps to Build a Better Event

By A.J. Steinberg

Sometimes bad events happen to good organizations. Yes, it’s true.  Even the best nonprofits sometimes miss the mark when it comes to creating successful fundraisers.

After an event flops, executive directors and board members scratch their heads trying to figure out how things got so off track. They wonder what steps could have been taken to better engage guests and raise those much-needed funds.

We can all empathize with these organizations. No one wants their event to have unsold tickets, lackluster stage programs or disappointed guests. We all want to raise money and build strong community bonds, especially after all the time and resources expended in the planning and execution of these events.

As a nonprofit event planner with 20 years of experience, I know the secret to successful events isn’t an overinflated budget, a ridiculously large silent auction or an overly-long stage program.

The secret to successful events is building it right!

By starting your event planning with these five simple steps, you will be laying a strong foundation that will grow into an event of which your organization can be proud.

5 Simple Steps to Building a Better Event

 1.  Define your event’s goals – This critical first step is often overlooked because organizations consider events simply a way to raise funds. Don’t sell your event short! There are five goals you should target for your event. They are:

  • To raise funds
  • To raise awareness
  • To promote a new program
  • A call to action
  • Community appreciation

Once you have identified your event’s goals, write them down! Let your entire team know what your objectives are for the event.

2.  Identify your target demographic – Who is going to come to your event? You need to figure out specific characteristics of your desired guests so that you can create an event that appeals directly to them. Here is what to consider:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Income
  • Personal Interests

3.  Choose a date and location that are convenient Unless your support base is scattered along a broad geographic swath, find a venue for your event that is convenient for your targeted guests. Also, choose a date for your event that doesn’t overlap with other community happenings that could compete for ticket sales. Check your online school, community and religious calendars to ensure you aren’t choosing a date that has obvious conflicts.

4.  Choose a realistic ticket price – Carefully consider what your supporters and target demographic can afford. Analyze what you are offering them – overcharging is a real turnoff for event goers.

My rule of thumb is that ticket sales should pay for the event’s hard costs such as food and beverage, venue fees, and rentals. If your target demographic can’t afford $250 per head, then consider a lower priced venue and event.

5.  Use an event committee Your event committee is a crucial component to ensure your event’s success. The committee not only helps you with the work associated with the planning, but they bring invaluable contacts and resources for your event. Each committee member has an army of friends, relatives and colleagues – all keen to be supportive in any way they can. Committee members round up auction donations, help solicit sponsorships and are key to boosting your ticket sales.

When you start your event out right by following these five steps, the ensuing planning process will be easier and have greater success. As I like to say, “If you build it, they will come. But, if you build it right, they will bring their friends!”

Learn more from A.J., register for her upcoming live webinar How to Plan a Super Successful Special Event – A Step by Step Guide

About the Author

A.J. Steinberg, founder of Queen Bee Fundraising, has been creating outstanding special events since 1999.

In 2015 A.J. created Queen Bee Fundraising which focuses on the art of nonprofit special event management.  Along with producing nonprofit events, A.J. teaches volunteers and professionals the strategies for producing successful fundraising events, along with guidance on how to successfully lead volunteer committees to achieve their goals.

A.J. works with a broad spectrum of nonprofit clients including The Jane Goodall Institute, Cystic Fibrosis, BreatheLA and Union Rescue Mission, A.J. is a leader in the field of committee-based fundraising.

Major Gift Fundraising is Like Dating – 4 Steps to Success

By Kathie Kramer Ryan – Arroyo Fundraising

Would you ask someone to marry you on your first date? Chances are, no way! It’s just as unlikely that you—as a development professional—would ask a prospect to make a major gift to your organization during your first meeting.

If you are planning or implementing a major gifts program, it’s a great time to review these 4 Steps to Fundraising Success.

Step #1: Identify

First, you’ll want to identify prospects who have the potential to become donors to your organization. Prospects may include friends and colleagues of your current donors, board members, committee members and other stakeholders. Consider former board members, event attendees and (if applicable) site-visit participants.

If you work for a school, consider your students’ families, or your alumni. If your organization is a hospital, consider your patients’ families or former patients.

Step #2: Cultivate

You want to cultivate interest in your organization and its mission while building relationships with individual prospects. In our dating/marriage proposal analogy, Cultivation is the dating phase. Cultivation – or relationship-building – occurs anytime you “touch” or communicate with a prospect.

The most effective relationship-building consists of touches that are tailored to your prospect’s interests.

Step #3: Solicit

Next you will solicit a gift. While there are no set rules about how long Cultivation should last before Solicitation begins, you’ll generally spend more time cultivating for a larger ask and less time for a smaller ask.

There are many ways to ask for support, including by email, letter, phone call, or a face-to-face meeting. As a general rule, the larger the gift you are asking for, the more personal your approach should be. In other words, when you ask for a major gift, do it in person. Just like asking someone to marry you!

Step #4: Steward

Finally, steward your donors. Stewardship is thanking your donors and showing them the impact of their gifts, and it’s critical to ensuring this first gift is not the last gift. Effective Stewardship continues to build the relationship between your donor and your organization.

Be sure to join us for our next free webinar “ 7 Steps for Getting Started in Major Gifts (Even in Small Shops).” See you then!

About the Author

Kathie Kramer Ryan, founder of Arroyo Fundraising, has excelled in development and leadership positions in the nonprofit sector for 17 years. Kathie raised over $40 million as a frontline fundraiser and has helped raise millions more as a fundraising coach and consultant. A national expert on donor cultivation and major gift fundraising, Kathie serves thousands of nonprofit professionals annually as a fundraising blogger, speaker and trainer.

Improve the Odds – Ask Face to Face

Most fundraisers would prefer do just about anything than ask someone for money face-to-face. Even for those, experienced or not, who find it somewhat “easy,” it can be awkward and anxiety-inducing. Yet we do it – or we aim to do it – because deep down we know it will end up making a huge impact… and the facts back that up.


Asking in-person is proven to have the highest rate of success among all methods.

Kent Dove of the Indiana University Foundation analyzed different ways of giving. Unsurprisingly, direct mail has the lowest success rate of the traditional fundraising methods –just 1-2%. Phone calls – not cold calls but calls from one’s Alma mater or place of worship – have a 25% success rate.

Face-to-face asks however – 75%! That means three out of four face-to-face meetings result in a charitable gift of some kind. Those are great odds.

The largest gifts from donors always come from asking in-person.

How many of the big donations you read about came from direct mail, special events, or a phonathon? Next to none! Large gifts come about by cultivating donors over time and getting to know them in person, and then finally asking them face-to-face to make a gift.

But why is face-to-face soliciting so successful?

Well, first of all, if someone agrees to even meet with you, that shows a very high interest in donating of some sort. Generally your donors won’t want to meet if they aren’t inclined to give you a gift.

Second, meeting in-person is proven to build the relationship. It causes a deeper level of empathy to develop between you and your donor, which would not be reached otherwise. Being with each other physically and being eye-to-eye creates an immediate bond – a direct desire to come through and be seen as good in the other’s eyes. This solicitation is much more powerful than connecting over the phone or through email.

Brian Saber is President of Asking Matters – a online learning platform that trains people how to ask for money and motivates them to do it! Combining the best low-expense and high quality resources in the field, he promises that Asking Matters will help countless organizations continue to do incredible work for their causes.

View & register for Brian’s upcoming webinars.

Don't Miss Our Free & Premium Webinars!