How to Build a Blueprint for a Successful Fundraising Event

It’s probably safe to assume that every nonprofit out there would LOVE to crack the mystery on how to have a successful fundraising event. Success can be measured by how many people show up, how many auction items sell, or even how many people are talking about the event after the fact. But really, THE most important measure of success is whether or not it was profitable. 

Wanna know how to make that happen?

Then stay tuned because this four-part special edition blog series, ‘The Secret Behind a Profitable Fundraising Event: 4 Steps to Success,’ is aimed to do just that. 

It’s gonna set you up with the tried, true, and tested methods that every nonprofit organization planning a fundraising event should follow if they would like to have wildly profitable and sustainable events. 

Are you curious about the following topics:

  • Figuring out how to build a road map that will lead to successful execution
  • Grabbing the attention of sponsors and actually get them to give you big money
  • Selling out your event with donors that really want to be there
  • Score fab volunteers who beg to come back year after year

Well, then this series is absolutely for you because all of the above is what it’s gonna be all about. 

And just so you know, whether an event is virtual, live, or a hybrid of the two, these methods when implemented will provide results for nonprofit organizations every time!

Are you in?

So, Where Do We Begin?

Successful planning starts with a killer blueprint that anyone can pick up, translate, and implement.  

Here’s where the first major No-No usually comes in. 

Your organization decides to host a fundraising event and everyone on the team gets super excited about it. 

A brainstorming meeting is held to get the ball rolling and four hours later all that came out of the chaotic discussion was a loose theme that has something to do with masquerade masks and tapas. Sound familiar?

Here’s the thing, e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e wants to contribute their thoughts on the perfect location, wants a say in the food that will be served, and the creative ones start dreaming about a clever theme and all the corresponding decor but, this is 100% NOT where to begin building a strategy that is gonna lead to success. 

If you just read the above statement and are thinking now wait just a minute, food/decor/theme those are important! Then allow a moment of clarification. Those details are important items to discuss, and can have an important impact on the guest experience, but it is a major red flag if this is where a fundraising committee or team begins preparing for their event. 

Yes, step one is all about the planning, but it’s not gonna start with the type of planning you think. 

So let’s step away from the floral centerpieces for a moment and dive head first into developing a solid strategic plan for profitability and sustainability before getting into the creative details of event planning.

So what does an event fundraising strategic plan look like anyways? 

Earlier it was mentioned successful planning starts with a killer blueprint. So, let’s run with that idea. 

Though it’s possible to start building a home on a piece of land without any direction, consideration of budget, or thought about which way the sun shines, common sense dictates that’s probably not going to turn out very well in the end. Chances are you wouldn’t have even considered it a viable option to just build all willy nilly without some kind of thought process first. 

Building a home involves:

  • research
  • drawings
  • calculations
  • estimates
  • timelines
  • budgets
  • & months & months, sometimes even years, of preparation before ground is even broken.   

Well, a strategic plan for a fundraising event should be seen the same way, as a blueprint for an event. By taking the time to develop a thoughtful plan first, any fundraising event is guaranteed to be set up for success before the event even takes place. 

So where should you start?  This is starting to sound overwhelming.

Don’t worry, it’s not that bad once it’s broken down into smaller, more manageable steps.

Step #1: Review the Financials

A successful event starts with a discussion about the objectives behind having a fundraising event in the first place and there is no better way to start developing realistic goals for growth for a fundraising event than to review the financials. 

The ideal financials to review would be the historical data from the same event in the year’s past.  Keeping a record of and referring to an annual report for a fundraising event is a goldmine of information that allows for easy decision-making moving forward on what goals are realistic to put in place. 

These records should include every nitty-gritty detail, such as:

Every expense incurred, broken down into line item detail

  • Number of tickets sold and what levels (general vs. VIP)
  • Number of tickets comped
  • Number of people that attended compared to how many gave
  • Average level of giving per person
  • Number of sponsors and their perspective levels
  • Estimated total expenses versus actual expenses incurred

Hosting your event for the very first time which means you’re without historical data?

No problem. 

Goal discussion can still begin with a realistic estimate on what the organization needs to raise at a minimum for your event to be considered a success. 

Review where you’re currently at with all your revenue streams, and identify what your goal is when it comes to adding in an event.  

Pro Tip: Start small and crush your goals (focus on your minimum viable profit) VS. being overly ambitious and underperforming (feeling defeated)

Step #2: Define the Goals

With a clear understanding of your prior financials for an event, it’s now time to translate these numbers into goals and objectives for the current year. Of course, everyone wants to “make more money,” but actually doing that can prove to be surprisingly difficult if the financials haven’t been reviewed and some goals haven’t been established to get you there.  

Common goals could include items like:

  • Increase night of fundraising by X number of dollars
  • Increase sponsorship dollars raised by X number of dollars
  • Expand the reach of guests who attend beyond the immediate community
  • Raise enough funds to support a specific new project
  • Find the right volunteers to be the face of the cause
  • Decrease expenses in a specific category

The more specific an organization can be with the goals they would like to achieve, the easier it will be to devise a realistic and attainable strategy to get there. No matter the high-level objectives identified, there should always be an overarching theme that centers around achieving some type of growth. 

Pro Tip: Narrow your goals to your top 3 goals and objectives.  Having too many goals makes it hard to focus on and be effective in accomplishing all of them.  When you have 3 it makes decision making easier especially when there are a lot of people involved.

Step #3: Develop a Strategy

With the financials reviewed and the goals identified, it’s now time to develop a solid strategy that will attract the right people, bring in the right level of sponsorships, and provide the right atmosphere to create the ultimate level of engagement for each attendee. 

Having a strategy in place first, before the creative process allows you control the narrative and the situation by always bringing your goals and objectives to the forefront before planning the next step.  

This is highly effective when working with volunteers and committees to allow for creativity but to always put the creative against the strategy which then helps make decisions and selections much more obvious.  Starting with creativity first, and then making decisions can cause hurt feelings or volunteers to not feel heard, which leads to lack of morale and a deep connection to the cause.

Pro Tip: Contrary to popular belief, nonprofit events that blow their event out of the water with fundraising success do not do so because they are just inherently lucky. They do so because they continually analyze each decision they make in the planning process to ensure it reflects back to their goals and objectives.

Step #4: Design the Big Picture

Once the financials have been reviewed, the goals have been identified, and the strategies set, now is a great time to implement a few best practice next steps that will set the stage for everything that needs to be accomplished between now and the event date. 

Create the entire scope of the event upfront. 

This means holding a brainstorming session for anyone and everyone that has a reason to be involved in an organization’s event to have a say. Now is the time for opinions, ideas, thoughts, concerns, everything that someone would like to share to be put out on the table. This eliminates the uncomfortable discussion later on down the road when someone feels they were excluded from being involved. It also sets a precedent that this is the only time for free forum discussion after this discussion is closed to new ideas that don’t directly affect the goals and objectives.. 

NOW is the time to let loose on the conversations about a theme, decor, food, venue, etc all while respecting the goals and objectives that have already been identified.  See you still get to talk about the “fun” stuff, just at a more appropriate and effective time. 

You know what this also means? Any event ideas that can’t be justified with a connection to a goal, can immediately be addressed and can be provided with a very unemotional response as to why it is a no.  

ProTip:  Volunteers really want to help and they come from a sincere place.  Many times ideas that “get shot down” can be translated as you don’t like their ideas or them.  By connecting ideas to the goals of the organization, can help take the emotion out of the decision making less emotional for the volunteer that it was YOU that said NO, but the goals that said no.  

But it’s important to also be open minded and think ideas through.

Here’s an example. A volunteer may suggest selling t-shirts or merch at your event. But you’ve established that fundraising growth is the primary event objective. goal. Given the added expense, resources, and support involved, you don’t immediately see the return on investment. However, a peer-to-peer t-shirt campaign with Bonfire as an event complement, could turn risk into fundraising opportunity and make one volunteer really happy.

Need more ideas? Learn more at, ‘50+ Best DIY Fundraising Ideas to Raise More for Your Cause.’


Identify the budget 

With the direction of the event now in place, developing a very detailed budget to keep everyone in check should be the next step. This should include every single possible expense the organization will incur in hosting an event. Everything down to small details like credit card fees, wine corkage fees, parking reimbursement for volunteers, ribbon to tie on gifts, postage for invitations, each and every little detail should be accounted for. This is the only way to accurately move on to the third piece of this step. 

Determine sources of revenue

Now that a solid budget has been identified it is time to outline where the events revenue streams will be coming from, set a goal for each area, and strategize how these goals will be obtained. 

Common sources of revenue include:

With the revenue streams identified and a goal outlined, it is important to break this goal down into smaller increments to ensure it is obtainable. Determine how many months, weeks, etc left until the event date, identify checkpoints and continually evaluate these goals weekly to ensure forward progress is being made.

Establishing an action plan and following through, prevents the stressful pressure of attempting to raise all of the funds necessary in the final hour.

Now here’s the best part.  Doing all this upfront work makes executing, decision making, and delegating an easier task because a realistic picture has been painted on what the event is going to cost, who is going to do what and when those action items are due.  Accountability, especially when working with a volunteer team will help your team know exactly what is expected of them and make your life much easier. 

Now what?

Step #5: It’s Time to Get the Event Paid (Before the Event Happens)

Get this handy dandy guide: The First steps to Event sponsorship

It’s time to get your event paid for before a single ticket is sold, and the secret to that lies in sponsorship. 

Hold up, what did you just say?

Pay for the event before you start selling tickets?

Yup, that is correct. 

This is the part of a successful strategic planning equation that might come off as hard to believe at first read. But it is the most valuable and important step to a successfully executed strategic plan. 

Sponsorship is the fastest way to event fundraising success:

  • Enhance event profitability.
  • Create sustainability for a fundraising event.
  • Secure all of the funding needed to pay for your event.

For example:

An organization has gone through steps one through three above and now they’re diving into step four. 

They decide to hold a brainstorming meeting and come up with the entire concept for their event. Anyone and everyone that would like a say in what this event looks like attends the meeting. From this meeting, the core planning committee researches costs, compares this number to what has been spent in prior years, and ultimately gets approval to move forward with this year’s event plan. 

It is determined that the estimated cost to execute the vision will be $50,000. This includes everything from the venue rental, catering costs, bar tab, decorations, rentals, photo booth, etc. This projected cost means it is now the responsibility of the nonprofit to secure $50,000 worth of sponsorship for this event to be paid for.  

Funds for event-related needs are not allowed to come from early donations or advanced ticket sales. Those funds are early icing on the cake that begin building on the profitability of your event. 

This strategy works every single time.

If you’re willing to trust the process you will see how the results will transform your fundraising efforts.  If you follow this process you’ll be in the same boat with other nonprofits that have created sustainable events year after year. 

Check out The Profitable Nonprofit Event ecourse to jumpstart your fundraising and produce wildly profitable events and stay tuned for the next blog all about sponsorship!

Let’s face it, planning and successfully executing a fundraising event is not for the faint of heart. It requires dedication, commitment, creativity, stellar attention to detail, and excellent communication skills. Feeling overwhelmed on where to even start is natural, but with the right mindset, tools, and resources like OneCause it’s sure to be a success!

Now that you’ve got the blueprint on how to get your nonprofit off the ground and on its way to success, you might realize you’re gonna need a little direction on just how to get those sponsors. 

Look for step number two in the series that will cover this exact topic. It’s gonna be all about how to get creative so you can get a true taste of what real revenue growth feels and looks like. 

See you there!

Guest Author

Danielle Snelson

Virtual Event Producer & Event Fundraising Educator

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