Event Planning 101: Fundraising Edition

So, you’re thinking of organizing a fundraiser.

You have a theme. You have a guest list. You have a goal.

The idea of organizing an event sounds like a ton of fun. You get to bring some of your favourite people together, pick out some tasty dishes to serve as hors d’oeuvres and raise money or awareness for a cause you care about. Sounds easy enough, right?

Now, you’re staring a a blank piece of loose leaf/document in Word. You have a plethora of great ideas bobbing about in your head, but where do you begin? In reality, planning an event is no easy task. I, among many of my peers, can speak to this fact. Beyond coming up with a fantastic idea, you need to buckle down and hash out some serious logistics to make your fundraising fantasies a reality.

On top of drafting a plan, critical path and run sheet (here are a few great templates), you also need to consider sponsorship opportunities, budgeting and advertising. Many pieces make up the event planning puzzle, and it’s easy to get pushed to the wayside if you’re not at the top of your game!

So, for anyone considering planning an event in the near future, here are a few takeaways from what I learned planning a large-scale fundraiser.

Plan ahead. Like, way ahead.

Plan. Plan. Plan. Oh, and did I mention plan? I can’t stress how important it is to write out a critical path for what you need to do and when it needs to get done. The most important thing to remember is – stick to it! It’s challenging to stay faithful to deadlines, but try as best as you can to follow what you initially set out to do. Your future self will thank you for it.

Build your sponsorship packages early and start sending them out well ahead of the event date. Some organizations won’t even look at your package if you haven’t sent it to them at least 4-6 months before game day. Contact your venue the second you decide where you want to host it. Depending where you decide to book your event, they may be fully reserved for years in advance. Connect with your performers/emcees/acts well ahead of time to know what their schedules are like. Get to them first before they can commit to anything else.

Use your connections.

No matter how small or large your network is, there’s bound to be someone you know who can contribute to your event. Whether they’re a restaurant owner who can help with catering, a graphic designer who can draft your invitations or a shop owner who can donate a prize, think about who you know and how they can help.

Phone a friend. Or multiple friends.

Hosting an event takes resources. Not only materials, but human aide. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends and ask them if they can help volunteer at your event. Most people (with good hearts) will gladly take part and help out a friend in need. Make sure you let them know well ahead of time, and communicate with them as often as you need to. Although your friends are faithful, they also have lives, so make sure they mark your event in their calendars a couple months before the due date.

Don’t be afraid to ask!

Working with a non-profit organization helped me realize you should never be afraid to ask for anything (considering it’s for a good cause). Yes, it may sometimes be intimidating or tiresome to ask stores for donations. But ask anyway! You’d be surprised by the number of organizations who are willing to give back to the community.

Target your sponsorships.

It’s easy enough to assemble a generic sponsorship letter and package you can flood your outbox with. But being strategic about your sponsorships will get you plenty further than sending dozens upon dozens and hearing back from none. Think about who your target audience is – which organizations are trying to talk to the same people? What can they get out of their investment (i.e. exposure, delivering an important message to their target demographic?). Be selective with who you send your sponsorship packages out to and you’ll be much happier with your ratio of responses.

Keep track of your finances.

This is a given, but make sure you are holding on to all receipts, e-mails and transactions for the event. Through the flurry of juggling a thousand things at once, it’s easy to lose track of where your money is going. It’s handy to have a small clutch or holster in your purse dedicated to these physical receipts. Once you get home, simply punch the numbers into a spreadsheet so you won’t forget to do it later that week.

Excel will quickly become your best friend. Make friends with the spreadsheets. Be one with the spreadsheets.

Be frugal.

When it comes to fundraisers, you have to be somewhat thrifty. Although you want your event to look fabulous, try as best as you can to pinch pennies when it comes to decorations, food and other services. Is renting a projector too pricey for your budget? Perhaps you can seek out a company to sponsor the technology you’re using at the event, or at least give you a discount for rental costs. See a really nice centrepiece you’re dying to have at your tables? Visit your local dollar store and see if you can scrounge up some supplies to make something similar. There are many ways to get around spending an arm and a leg on certain aspects of your fundraiser, and don’t be afraid to mention you’re organizing an event for a non-profit when you shop – many stores offer discounts to fundraising groups.

Have a unique hook.

Sure, you’re doing something great for the community. But having a unique hook, just like any typical journalistic piece, will help you earn points with the media. A standard fundraiser is fantastic, but what are you doing differently? Inviting an exclusive traditional dance group with worldwide accolades? Sharing a personal story about something traumatic you’ve experienced in your life? Raising awareness and attention to a niche group in the community? Your hook can be a number of different things, but the more interesting it is, the easier it’ll be to get attention from the media and a wider audience.

Set realistic expectations.

You want to raise $10,000 for a local non-profit? That’s wonderful! But also make sure you set realistic expectations for yourself. What do you have to work with? What do your expenses look like? How many sponsorships have you confirmed? What is your venue’s capacity? How much do you think people will be willing to spend on purchasing tickets? There are many factors to take into consideration when setting a dollar value or goal for your event. If you have high expectations (and there’s nothing wrong with that!), make sure you are prepped for success and have all the tools necessary to make it happen.

Have multiple back-up plans.

Whether it’s for your venue, performers, emcee, caterer or audio/video files, always have at least one or two back-ups with you at all times. Things come up last minute, and you’ll be surprised by the wide spectrum of reasons preventing your event’s successful execution. When event planning, it’s okay to be be paranoid. Hope for the best, but expect the worst. That’ll guarantee you’ll have all your bases covered.

Last – but not least – have fun!

You’ve invested months (many even years) into pulling off this wonderful event for your family, friends and people in the community. After many sleepless nights, hours spent sending countless e-mails, and days wasted stressing over anything that can possibly go wrong – the time is here. After communicating with all volunteers and making sure everyone knows exactly what they’re doing and where they need to be, it’s finally time to rest, relax and enjoy all your hard work. Take a few minutes to sit down, soak in the positive vibes and pat yourself on the back for your awesome accomplishment! You deserve it!



Image courtesy of http://www.culinariafoodandwine.com/


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