This post was a collaborative piece written by John Haydon, A.j. Steinberg, and Jeff Brooks.
Is your fundraising stuck in low-involvement mode where your best communication efforts with donors are leading to low response rates, low donations, and poor retention? If so, you may need to rethink your approach to fundraising event planning. Strategic fundraising is arguably one of the most important aspects of holding a fundraiser. If you don’t promote your event, how will people know about it? And if no one knows about it, how will you receive donations?
Sometimes, even the best nonprofits sometimes miss the mark when it comes to creating successful fundraisers because they fail to recognize that the secret to successful events isn’t an overinflated budget, a ridiculously large silent auction, or an overly long stage program. You need to focus on properly marketing your nonprofit fundraising event to avoid empty seats and empty donation boxes.
By starting your event planning with these five simple steps, you will be laying a strong foundation that will grow into an event that your organization can be proud of.
Tips for Organizing a Successful Fundraiser
#1 Define your event goals and target demographic
Many organizations consider their fundraising events as a way to raise money and nothing else, but a fundraiser can accomplish so much more. Don’t sell your event short! Each time you host one, you should have five goals in mind: to raise funds, to increase awareness of your organization and your cause, to promote your new program, to inspire donors to take action, and to foster community appreciation of your goals. Write your goals down and let your entire team know what your objectives are for the event.
In order to most effectively achieve your goals and market your event to your audience, decide who your target demographic will be. Who is going to come to your event? You need to figure out the specific characteristics of your desired guests so that you can create an event that appeals directly to them. You’ll need to consider gender, age, income, and personal interests.
#2 Choose a convenient date and location and a realistic ticket price
Unless your support base is scattered throughout a broad geographic area, 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 create competition for your ticket sales. Check your online school, community, and religious calendars to ensure you aren’t choosing a date that has obvious conflicts.
Once you’ve decided on a venue, you can then determine how much to charge for admission. Consider what your supporters and target demographic can afford. Analyze what you are offering them; overcharging is a real turnoff for event-goers. As a rule of thumb, ticket sales should pay for the event’s hard costs, such as food and beverages, venue fees, and rentals. If your target demographic can’t afford $250 per head, then consider a lower-priced venue and event.
#3 Use an event committee to secure sponsors and sell merchandise
Your event committee is a crucial component of your event’s success. The committee can help you plan and can provide you with valuable contacts and resources for the event. Committee members tend to have armies of friends, relatives, and colleagues who want to support your cause in any way they can. They have the power to round up auction donations, solicit sponsorships, and are key to boosting your ticket sales.
You can even work with your event committee to sell custom merchandise and create buzz for your event. Using merchandise is a quick and easy way to raise money and advertise your upcoming event all at once. Product fundraising will kill four birds with one stone by:
- Raising brand awareness: Put your logo and information on a t-shirt, water bottle, or drawstring bag to provide advertise your cause.
- Demonstrating appreciation: Merchandise can serve as a thank you to donors.
- Generating revenue: Sell merchandise to create more revenue and add to your funding.
- Advertising sponsors: Ask your sponsors where you should advertise their brand. Your most supportive sponsor should have the most advertising material. For example, their logo might be on all the signs, tents, and t-shirts, whereas a lower-tier sponsor may have their logo on a water fountain.
As you gain new sponsors through the efforts of your merchandise and your event committee, make sure they have a good experience so they’ll partner with you again in the future. Be upfront with sponsors about the extent of their involvement in your event, and keep them in the loop where necessary. They may request updates on your progress and details about the number of attendees your event expects to bring in.
Don’t forget to demonstrate your gratitude for each of your sponsors. Remember that these are the people who are directly supporting you. Make sure they know you’re not taking them for granted.
#4 Pick your best feature and focus on your cause
Focusing on your cause will help you attract others with similar passions and build lasting relationships. The idea behind your event is to raise awareness about the cause you are passionate about, so be sure to display your efforts so attendees know your organization’s mind and heart are in the right place. This will gain authority for your nonprofit as well. You can display your cause and accomplishments in any of the following ways:
- Slideshow: A slideshow is an easy way to show off your cause. Throw some pictures of your board from previous activities and project the slideshow on a screen at your event.
- Video: A video is a little more engaging than a slideshow because it’ll require more attention at your event. You can display it similarly to a slideshow.
- Guest speaker: Have an executive director or service recipient speak to your past support for the community and for your cause. Stay away from self-congratulatory speeches and focus on your impact in a heartfelt and genuine way.
- Brochure: At your event, you can hand out a packet with information on your nonprofit, its history, and your cause. This way, your attendees can take the information home with them, too.
As you find ways to display your cause, remember the most attractive aspects of your fundraising and focus on those features. Market around these points in order to attract the most attendees. You can do all this by:
- Writing an event mission statement: You’ll want to assess what’s really important to your nonprofit and why you’re holding the event. Think about how this event is going to impact your cause. Why does your event matter?
- Marketing your big-ticket item: Advertise the most exciting aspect of your event, whatever that may be. For example, if the event is a concert, advertise the most well-known band performing. Show off what will bring the most people to your event.
- Telling participants the next steps to get involved: As the day of the event draws nearer, you can suggest that supporters join your email list, which can give them a countdown to the event and other updates to keep them interested in your nonprofit’s work. Find a way to get them involved in your nonprofit community.
- Picking out your best features: A focus on your organization’s best features will draw more attendees to your event, giving both your nonprofit and your cause more exposure. This can lead to more donations and overall support, so it’s important to understand your intent and to market your best-selling aspects to potential attendees.
#5 Plan a fantastic followup strategy
Even once your event is over, your event work isn’t done yet. You still need to thank everyone for their attendance within three days of the event, especially your attendees, donors, fundraisers, and anyone else who contributed to your cause. You can send thank-you emails or letters, or you can reach out personally by phone.
Your donors will want to know how they’ve positively impacted your nonprofit. You can easily give them this information through your emailed newsletter. Let them know how much you raised and update them on your cause. Your follow-up strategy is key for donor retention. You should look into sending out surveys to further gauge the results of your event. With the feedback from these surveys, you can learn what you should do to improve when planning your next event.
Strategies to Consider While Planning the Event
Now that you know how to effectively market your next event, it’s up to you to take action. But before you get started on your fundraising event planning, you need to know the strategies of engagement fundraising and why you need to use them. Here are some things to consider as you get started.
- Understand that 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your donors, which means that you should focus your fundraising efforts and money on targeting those donors.
- Know that most people donate because it makes them feel good and build your marketing strategies around this universal truth.
- Listen to donors and employ a feedback loop.
- Provide valuable engagement offers; give your donors other ways to contribute to your cause outside of monetary gifts.
- Lead generation efforts and always strive to learn more about your donors by giving them chances to engage with you.
- Keep an open and continuous dialogue with donors to cultivate a healthy long-term relationship.
- Use a dashboard to make your efforts and donor responses easily visible so you can react and respond in time.
- Act with conversion in mind. Ask donors when they’re likely to give.
As you implement these tips and strategies in your fundraising, you’ll be able to generate more funds for your organization, host more successful events, and build lasting relationships with your donors.