Whether it’s a school bake sale or a gala dinner, a fundraising event is a big undertaking. For many charities and non-profits fundraising events are relied upon to generate significant revenue for their cause.
To maximise returns it’s vital that each charity fundraising event runs as smoothly as possible. However, having been involved with hundreds of events, we've seen what can go wrong. So, here's a little bit of hindsight to help make sure your fundraiser avoids any bumps in the road:
It can be heartbreaking to commit to raise money for charity, spend hours and hours organising a fundraising event and then nobody (or only a very few people) show up to support your efforts.
Avoid running a poorly attended event by planning a comprehensive advertising schedule. Start early with save-the-date notices then send regular reminders and notices as event date approaches.
Utilise a mix of channels to spreadthe word. Social media, electronic direct mail, outdoor posters and even newspaper stories will make sure news of your fundraising event reaches a wide audience. If you have their support, linking up with influencers and/or bloggersis a great way to reach a specific audience.
Encourage existing supporters to bring family and friends to your event. Not only does this increase attendance but it also may generate new long-term supporters for your cause.
Of course you want to create a fabulous event that will deliver an exceptional experience for your guests. But if the event costs outweigh the funds raised, there’s an obvious problem.
It’s simple and obvious but a budget (and sticking to it) is the key to making sure your event doesn’t eat into your charity fundraising. It requires a bit of work upfront but detailing every cost will make sure there are no nasty surprises later down the line. There are lots of event budgeting tools available online. This post is a good guide and provides a detailed breakdown of the costs you need to consider.
Connected to the above, an unrealistic fundraising target can derail your event budget and leave organisers and supporters deflated. You may have a good idea of the amount you need to raise but that isn’t the same as what you can realistically raise.
Pinpointing a realistic fundraising target may not be an exact science, but it is possible to calculate a figure that’s likely. Past history is a good starting point. If this is your first event don’t be afraid to contact organisations that have run similar events to see how much they raised. External providers may also be able to help. For example a digital auction platform provider is likely to have helped with many similar events.
Number of event attendees, their expected giving capacity, general cause awareness and number of existing supporters will also help to shape target expectations.
Sponsors are vital to many events and help ensure that whatever you raise goes straight to your cause. Without sponsors any money your raise through tickets sales and other fundraising elements will have to cover the event.
Getting sponsors on board can be a time consuming process but the effort is well worth it. Start with local businesses that have a community connection. Further afield, look for well known brands that may have a personal connection or that are aligned values-wise to your charity or cause e.g. a dog food manufacturer may be interested in supporting a fundraiser for a homeless animal shelter.
While cause advocates are keen to lend their support, a fundraising event can be expensive. Making ticket prices too high will deter people from coming along, especially with the expectation that they’ll be asked to donate or participate in additional fundraising.
Knowing your sponsor base will go along way to help determine your ticket price point. In fact, it’s one of the first things to consider when planning an event. Who are your supporters? What kind of event will they enjoy? What’s their likely budget? Having a good idea of what your guests will consider reasonable will make sure your don’t price them out of your event. More tips on event pricing can be found here (https://www.thegalateam.com/ourblog/how-to-price-tickets-to-your-fundraising-event)
Leave your guests wanting more, not looking at their watch and counting down the minutes until they can leave. People who are bored and disengaged are less likely to leave your event with positive expectations for the next one.
Keep your event running time on the shorter side. Your event may be packed with a glittering array of entertainment but you can only hold guests’ attention for so long. Around four hours is ample time to entertain and raise money for your charity.
Speeches are an important part of any fundraising event. They help underscore the value of people's support and the cause itself. However, too many speeches that go on for too long can interrupt the flow of the event and turn off the audience. Guests can get bored, drift off to the bar or worse, home.
Keep your speeches short and engaging. Make sure your speakers can deliver a sparkling address with lots of heart. Use your speeches to introduce the event then leave them off the agenda until the event closes for a final thank-you and goodbye.
Your fundraising may receive a dent if the top people in your organisation are not visible at your event. Supporters want to give to trusted organisations. If your cause leaders are not present at your fundraising event, it undermines its ability credibility and potentially limits people’s support.
Simple, make sure the public face of your organisation attend your event. Whether it’s your school principal, charity ambassador or the organisation’s CEO, their presence will make a difference. A keynote speech is an obvious way for them to underline the importance of the event but they can also introduce guest speakers, roam the floor to meet guests or announce and congratulate prize-winners.
Last minute no-shows are rare but they can happen. You may have booked a celebrity speaker/MC well in advance, however, if illness or an unforeseen issue occurs they may be forced to pull out at the last minute.
There’s a reason why theatre shows have understudies! Make sure you have a stand-in if the worst happens. It can be another representative from your organisation who’s prepped and ready to go or you can link up with a talent agency who are used to arranging emergency stand-ins for celebrity appearances.
You've got an awesome venue, a range of great prizes and enthusiastic guests - but no auction bids. It can send even the coolest of fundraisers into a hot panic.
Before the event starts make sure you have a range of prizes with broad appeal. A variety of price points will also encourage maximum participation. Be wary of starting the bidding too high, a lower start price is more likely to get the bidding competition fired-up. And don't forget to give your guests ample opportunity to view the prize table before the auction kicks-off. If bids are slow or non-existent after the auction starts, use your MC to get things moving. Encourage guests to start bidding by reminding them why they are there and the importance of the cause.
If you're using a digital silent platform for your live or silent auction, video story telling, project showcasing or fundraising updates a Wi-Fi interruption could cause major headaches.
While this is a tricky one to remedy on the spot, taking the time to clarify and test the venue's Wi-Fi connection ahead of time will give you valuable peace of mind. This is particularly important for rural or isolated event locations where you may not have access to high-speed networks as back up.
Does your gut-feel tell you that signed and framed photo of Kim Kardashian may not be genuine? You could be right. Without a genuine certificate of authenticity you may be offering your guests a dud deal. There are plenty of cunning forgeries and knock-offs around to dupe unsuspecting fundraising organisers. And you can bet your guests will be very unhappy if they discover their prize memorabilia item isn’t what it seems.
Only source prize items from reputable suppliers, particularly memorabilia and artwork, and insist that it comes with a genuine certificate of authenticity. Get supplier recommendations from experienced and respected charities and non-profits.
Volunteers are the life-blood of many non-profit organisations. This is extends to fundraising events too. Without enlisting volunteers to help on fundraising events you may incur additional costs for paid staff and miss an opportunity to engage with your guests.
Put an early call-out for volunteers well in advance of your event. Have a wide range of roles to suit different skill-sets and personalities e.g. bookkeeping, bar staff, front-of-house etc. Volunteers are also excellent for helping guests with any fundraising technology and encouraging tables and individuals to participate in auctions and donation drives.
This is a very delicate issue and needs to be handled sensitively. There is a risk (particularly at fundraising auctions where alcohol is consumed) of bidders or donors changing their mind. It could be that they got carried away with the competition or were under the influence of alcohol, but the next day they have a change of heart and want to retract their winning bid or donation.
It may be that under the terms and conditions of the fundraiser, they are legally obligated to honour their bid or donation. Whether you choose to pursue this is up to you. Reminding guests of the terms and conditions before the auction starts may help. If you opt to allow the bidder to rescind their bid, think about contacting underbidders and offering the prize to the next highest bidders.
What may seem obvious to fundraising organisations may not be so clear for supporters. While a fundraising event suggests that guests are there to help raise money, it may not be obvious how. Are guests doing enough merely by buying a ticket? They may think so.
Be specific about how much you need and what people can do to get you there. Talk about the projects that require funding, important initiatives and case studies that show where fundraising has made a real difference. Ask for cash donations during the event and encourage participation in auctions and raffles (an MC is a great way to drive action). Think about having a visual tally chart that shows the amount raised moving towards the final goal over the course of the event – it’s a good way to inspire people to give a little bit extra to hit the target.
Of course you’re thankful for the huge effort by everyone involved in your fundraiser, but after all that hard work and organisation sometimes actually saying thank-you can fall off the list. If you don’t acknowledgment people’s support they may be less inclined to show their support at your next event.
Plan to say thank-you. Preparing a schedule in advance will take the pressure off post-event. Prep your MC and/or visible leader to deliver a generous thank-you in the event wrap-up. Make specific mention of key volunteers, donors and guests. Within 48 hours of the event, follow-up with an email to say ‘thank-you’ to everyone who participated. In addition, make personal phone calls and/or send personalised letters to any individuals who made significant contributions.
After a few months send a further update with how the money raised is being spent and the difference it’s making to those supported by your cause.
Running a charity fundraising event can be complicated and stressful, but understanding where problems can arise will help you plan to avoid potential headaches and maximise your event success.