Planning a Successful Fundraising Event in 10 Steps: The Updated Guide

There are plenty of ways to raise revenue, but one of the most popular (and let’s face it: fun!) ways to bring in donations and engage supporters is a fundraising event.

There’s no denying that careful planning and hard work go into creating a fundraising event. If you’re looking for best practices on how to get the most from your next event, you’ve come to the right place.

We’ll through the 10 most important steps to create a successful fundraiser:

1. Determine your fundraising event goals.
2. Select the right type of fundraising event.
3. Establish your fundraising event budget.
4. Devise a leadership team for event planning.
5. Set a date and time for your fundraising event.
6. Market your fundraising event effectively.
7. Sell tickets to your fundraising event.
8. Set up for the big day.
9. Enjoy your fundraising event.
10. Follow up with attendees after your event.

These are the ten critical steps to planning your fundraising event—hit them all and you’ll be on your way to a great event that goes off without a hitch.

1. Determine your fundraising event goals.

In order to host a successful event, you’ll first need to determine what success means to your organization. Setting goals ensure you can track and measure your fundraising success.

It’s important to quantify exactly how much revenue you want to bring in. This goal will inform much of your planning strategy. 

To find the right monetary goal, you’ll need to look to your larger fundraising strategy and figure out where an event makes the most sense. Look for months where you aren’t competing with other campaigns, asks, or public-facing donor initiatives.

In addition to raising money, you might also want to see “engagement or awareness goals” such as:

  • Acquiring new donors.
  • Promoting your cause or gaining publicity.
  • Stewarding existing donors.
  • Engaging prospective major donors.
  • Reconnecting with lapsed supporters.
  • Recognizing volunteers or recurring donors.

No matter what your goals are, make sure that you can quantify them. When you have a metric for success clearly outline, it’s easier to measure how well your event does and target areas to improve going forward.

Cross this off your list when…

You’ve set at least one measurable goal for your event, such as a dollar amount you’d like to raise or a number of guests you’d like to attend.

2. Select the Right Type of Event Fundraiser

Now that you know what you’d like your event to accomplish, you’ll need to figure out what type of event will engage the most supporters.

It’s important that you understand both your donors and your fundraising goals. Look to your donor database to get a picture of the kind of event your donors might be interested in. Start with questions like the following:

  • How do your supporters prefer to get involved? Have a strong volunteer base? Consider planning an event with a community service component. Database full of text-givers? Try a text-to-donate blitz event!
  • Where do your donors live? If your supporters are spread across the country, tying in a virtual component, like an online auction or a livestream of the festivities, would be the most inclusive move.
  • Will weather impact your event? An outdoor fundraising event might draw in more attendees in the spring or summer when it’s warm. An indoor charity gala, on the other hand, can be hosted year-round.
  • Does your cause have a specific demographic? If you’re raising money for a nonprofit camp or school, for example, an all-ages event such as a family-friendly cookout or field day may be more successful than a parents-only evening event.

Your fundraising goals should also heavily inform the kind of event you host.

Keep in mind that the type of event you choose to host will also influence the kind of venue you select. While some events (like a silent auction) work well in several different types of spaces, others require certain parameters. For example, if you’re hosting a talent show or concert, you’ll need a large stage as well as the right lighting and sound equipment for your performers.

Bonus: Need fundraising inspiration? Check out our list of amazing fundraising event ideas to find an event that matches perfectly with your audience and goals.

Cross this off your list when…

You’ve decided on the type of event you’ll host based on your donor demographic and fundraising goals.

3. Establish your fundraising event budget.

While fundraising events can be major money-makers, let’s not forget that you’ll have to invest some of your own capital in order to make the event happen.

To make sure you’re on top of all costs, craft a detailed budget before you start planning. Every event is different, but here are a few examples of what you should include in your budget:

  • Event space or venue.
  • Entertainment.
  • Fundraising software or mobile bidding tools.
  • Catering or refreshments.
  • Event planning or auction software.
  • Invitations.
  • Tables, chairs, dishes, and cutlery.
  • Staff.
  • Sound or lighting equipment, if not provided by the venue.
  • Promotional items.

Make a spreadsheet with all the items you’ll need, and do some research to find the average prices for your budget items. You’ll also want to add some padding to your budget for any unexpected costs.

Don’t forget to consider potential sponsors at this stage, too. If you can work with your supporters and local businesses who’d love to help, you can abate some of the expenses and build lasting relationships in the community, too.

Cross this off your list when…

You’ve put together a detailed budget to account for all the items you’ll need, with some room for unexpected expenses.

4. Devise a leadership team for fundraising event planning.

We’ve been talking about all the different elements of event-planning, but we haven’t actually specified who is taking care of all these logistics.

Before you get too far into the planning process, determine who’ll be in charge of the different components of your fundraising event. 

Usually, nonprofits hire a Director of Development who helps develop different fundraising event ideas and handle the budget for various fundraisers. Though many nonprofits do and can successfully operate with a volunteer or PTA/PTO fundraising structures.

Having a leader that’s head of planning means that other team members will have someone to direct questions to and they can keep your team on the right path to accomplish your goals. 

Since “event planning” is such a broad term, it’s a good idea to consider the many facets of your event and delegate a person (or a few people) to tackle specific aspects, such as:

  • Venue/Catering
  • Sponsorships
  • Marketing and promotions.
  • Ticket sales or registration.
  • Volunteer management.
  • Major donor involvement.
  • Venue setup.
  • Auction item procurement.
  • Event follow-up.

When you plan out your event leadership strategy, you minimize the risk of miscommunication and ensure that all staff and volunteers know exactly what their role will be in the success of your event.

Cross this off your list when…

Everyone on your event team has a clear role in planning and executing your fundraising event.

5. Set a date and time for your fundraising event.

Before you can start booking entertainment and contacting potential venues, you need to know one more important detail: when your event will take place!  Keep the following questions in mind as you consult your calendar:

  • Are we planning far enough in advance? Planning an event too close can make it tough to secure a venue, and also gives guests less time to RSVP.
  • Is this an annual event? If you’re hosting an annual event, keep your timing consistent each year so that donors know when to expect it.
  • Does our fundraiser conflict with any other major events? Keep holidays in mind as well as national or local events.
  • Should our event be on a weeknight or weekend? If you’re hosting a daytime event, opt for weekend when donors are more likely to be free. If your event takes place in the evening, you’ll likely find a better deal on a venue on a weeknight, but donors will be less likely to stay late.

Cross this off your list when…

You’ve picked a date that provides plenty of time to finalize plans and secure RSVPs.

6. Market your fundraising event efficiently.

You’ve started to pin down the details for your perfect event, but something’s missing—your guests!

To get the word out to your constituents and guarantee a packed house, you’ll need some kind of marketing strategy.  

The most effective promotional plans involve multiple channels of communication, both online and off. Let’s look at a few of the many ways you can spread the word about your upcoming event:

  • Direct mail (including invitations).
  • Flyers.
  • Print ads in local newspapers.
  • Your event website.
  • Email newsletters.
  • Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc).

To maximize your promotional potential and most efficiently catch supporters’ eyes, use your CRM to target what donors respond or engage on what channels. That way, you are targeting the right donor bases, with the right advertisements, on the right channels.

Additionally, be strategic in how you plan out your approach to each marketing channel.

For example, post a PDF version of your event flyer on your website so that supporters can print it out and spread the word themselves. Then, convert the same image to a JPG to share on social media. When you create a cohesive, adaptable set of materials, you’ll widen your appeal and showcase your brand in a professional manner.

Cross this off your list when…

You’ve put together a multichannel marketing strategy to promote your event to your supporters and community.

7. Sell tickets to your fundraising event.

Now that you’ve begun marketing your event, you’ll need to figure out how you’ll handle ticket sales or registrations.

You should start selling tickets to your event as soon as possible. Before you hit the “go on sale” button, there are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • Will you charge a flat price or offer different ticket packages? You might sell a VIP ticket option for a higher price or offer discounts for groups or families. Additionally, you could price your tickets by date of purchase to reward those who buy early.
  • Where will you sell tickets? Make sure donors know how to purchase tickets by providing a clear option on your event fundraising site. Clearly lay out prices and packages so that there’s no confusion.
  • How will you manage attendee information? If you’re handling tickets or event registrations online, you’ll be collecting a lot of donor information with each purchase. The best way to manage this data is to integrate your event fundraising software with your nonprofit CRM so that all data flows seamlessly into your donor database.

Keep in mind that creating an easy registration process will help keep the planning and ticketing seamless for your donors. Make sure you try the ticketing from your own site, as if you were a guest. That will help you weed out any issues or “gotchas” before you go live!

If you’re not sure where to start with event registration, looking into event management software can be a good place to start. With the right tools at your disposal, your organization will be able to create and design event fundraising that captures your donors’ key information.

Additionally, event management software can help you set up multiple packages (think: VIP and discounted rates) so that all your donors have an option that’s within their price range. 

Even better? Event management software can make checking in quick and simple. Donors can show their tickets at the donor via a printed copy or mobile phone.

Bonus: The best way to streamline the ticketing process is to work with event fundraising software that makes selling tickets or setting up event registrations simple. If you’re in need of software, take the OneCause tour today.

Cross this off your list when…

You have a procedure in place for managing ticket sales and collecting attendee data.

8. Set up for the big day.

It’s time to put all your preparation to work on the big day (or night) of your fundraising event.

Before you open the doors, put all the final touches in place:

  • CoordinatE with entertainment (i.e., when to arrive, where to park, when rehearsals/sound-checks will take place).
  • Decorate the venue.
  • Schedule and organize volunteers.
  • Arrange day-of ticket sales or registration.
  • Place auction item displays.
  • Prepare refreshments.

For complex or large-scale events, make sure you create clear day-of guidelines for everyone involved. A clear plan of action will ensure that all members of your team—from full-time fundraisers to event volunteers—are aware of their responsibilities and prepared to pull off a successful event.

Your event team will need to know when and where to arrive, what to wear, what tasks they’ll be performing, and how long they can expect their shift to last. Send out these details well in advance to provide ample time for answering questions or dealing with unforeseen issues. Remember: the more prep work you put in, the less you’ll have to worry about on the day of your fundraiser!

It might be a good idea to do a practice run-through with your technology and volunteers. That way everyone involved can feel confident that your fundraising event will go off without a hitch, and you can work through any issues before the big day (or night).

Cross this off your list when…

Your event venue, entertainment, technology, and volunteers are all ready for guests to arrive, and you’ve done a practice run of the festivities just to be safe.

9. Enjoy your fundraising event!

By the time the big day actually rolls around, you might be tempted to check out or consider all your hard work done. While you can (and should!) relax a little, there’s still a few best practices to help you get the most on event day!

During your event, be sure to:

  • Engage with guests. Use your event as an opportunity to get face time with donors and supporters. Check in with them and make sure they’re enjoying the event!
  • Broadcast your event online. For those who couldn’t make it, take the party online! Livestream your event on social media or use a designated hashtag to make social engagements easy to track.
  • Have fun! Show your donors how excited you are to have put together such a successful event (and how grateful you are for their attendance!). Smile, have fun, mix and mingle when you can.

Cross this off your list when…

You’re excited to mingle with guests and enjoy the fruits of all your hard work and event planning.

10. Follow up with attendees after your fundraising event.

The event might be over, but your work is not.

Don’t leave guests hanging after event doors close; follow up and thank your attendees for their support! 

Promptly send thank-you notes to everyone who was involved with your event, including sponsors, guests, and volunteers. Don’t forget to update your supporters on your progress, too. They’ll want to know how this fundraising event impacted your cause, so be as detailed as possible.

To get supporters’ feedback on your event, send out a survey to all who attended. Here are some examples of questions you can include in your survey:

  • In what ways was the event successful, and in what ways was it unsuccessful?
  • How did you hear about the event?
  • Do you think this type of event is an appropriate way to raise funds/awareness for this cause?
  • Can you remember any specific details about the event that you feel made you more or less likely to donate?
  • How can we make our next event better?

Learning more about your donors after each fundraiser ensures that your events will keep improving and your fundraising dollars will keep climbing!

Cross this off your list when…

You’ve closed out your event by sending thank-you notes to your supporters and creating a survey to get donors’ feedback on your fundraiser.

Getting Started with OneCause

Whew! That was a lot of information to cover. No one said planning an event fundraiser was easy, but with the right strategies and software, anyone can plan an event that’s memorable, profitable, and a whole lot of fun for donors.

That’s why we created the OneCause Fundraising Platform, designed to make giving modern, flexible, and seamless to drive deeper engagement and grow your fundraising. Take a look at this versatile all-in-one fundraising software that meets the expectations of today’s donor, supporting any event, in-person, virtual, or hybrid!

All New OneCause Fundraising Platform


Wrapping Up

For more information and advice on nonprofit topics, including fundraising event planning, be sure to check out these additional resources:

  1. Silent Auction Planning Guide – One of the most popular fundraising events, silent auctions can be a lucrative way to raise money and engage donors. Learn how to plan a great silent auction today!
  2. Event Fundraising Software  – No event is complete without software to streamline every aspect. Check out the OneCause solution!
  3. Text-to-Give Guide – Using text-to-give is an effective way to raise money during events because donors can easily give in the moment. Learn about incorporating text-to-give into your fundraising events.