The 10-Step Guide to Nonprofit Event Planning

Fundraising is on the rise worldwide. Research shows that individual willingness to donate to nonprofit organizations is increasing annually, as are the contribution amounts. Double the Donation, a leading donation matching tool, reported that Americans gave almost $500 billion in donations in 2022.. As the desire to commit charitable deeds increases, so does the need for aid in many areas. From online community awareness campaigns to out-of-the-box nonprofit event planning ideas, thoughtful preparation can help increase the success of fundraising activities.

In this guide, we walk you through the process of planning a nonprofit event step-by-step. From outlining event goals to post-event donor follow-up, this guide takes organizers of all levels through the nonprofit planning process from start to finish. Whether you’re new to the industry, tackling your first nonprofit event planning gig, or a seasoned planner working with a large team, you’ll find tips, tricks, and tools to improve your strategy in the list below.

Master nonprofit event planning in 10 simple steps

1. Determine event goals and objectives

Before you start planning the details of your event, such as when and where it will take place, define your event goals and objectives. Meet with representatives from the benefiting nonprofit to get a better understanding of their mission, values, and purpose. Before the meeting, create a list of big-picture topics to discuss and questions to ask, including:

  • How much money are you hoping to raise at this event?
  • Are you working toward a flat figure or striving to increase YOY donations?
  • What type of event will it be: live, virtual, or hybrid?
  • Is the event a black tie gala, charity golf tournament, auction, or something else?
  • Will the event require sponsors?
  • Are you selling tickets to the event? How much will they cost?
  • Will the event require security?
  • What is the ideal event date?
  • How long is your planning window?
  • Are you working with volunteers or hiring a planning team?

2. Establish an event budget

Confirm your budget, as it will inform every decision you make throughout the remainder of the planning process. Discuss event details with the organization, especially if you’re working with a strict budget. Provide a budget outline that breaks the total down into specific categories like venue costs, presentation tech, F&B, entertainment, decorations, and security. Include hidden event costs like guest count attrition, conference calls, credit card fees, and venue amenity expenses.

Discuss your budgeting allocation with charity leaders to ensure everyone is on the same page from the beginning. A tight budget may require tough decisions; a firm understanding of the organization’s priorities will help you make them. Don’t be afraid to ask, “Which parts of the fundraiser are most important to you?”

3. Assemble a dream event planning team

Planning a nonprofit event can be a monumental undertaking, requiring detailed organization and task management to run smoothly. Working with a stellar event planning team can help speed up the process, ensuring everything gets done in time. Consider assigning specific planning roles to team members, such as:

  • Event Coordinator: This position may fall in your hands as the planning team leader. An event coordinator is the head organizer, overseeing the team, keeping costs in line, and delegating responsibilities.
  • Communications Manager: The communications manager is in charge of marketing for the event. They will connect with the press, generate buzz for the fundraiser, send invitations, create email campaigns, and advertise the event (both online and offline).
  • Program Manager: A position that requires a passion for fundraising, the program manager is responsible for planning and executing the fundraising aspects of your event. They oversee fundraising activities, individual events, donor outreach, and recruiting event volunteers. From silent auctions to donor dinners, the program manager will ensure that all fundraising efforts are tasteful, effective, and legitimate.
  • Operations Manager: An event operations manager oversees vendor communication. Operations managers negotiate prices, book vendors, place supply orders, and communicate vendor details between the planning team, venue, and benefiting organization. They research services, collect event quotes, and execute event contracts.

Create a project plan or master checklist that you can easily update as plans change or responsibilities shift. Schedule regular meetings to check in with team members and evaluate how the nonprofit event planning process is progressing. Use event project management software to streamline communications, track planning to-dos, highlight upcoming deadlines, and enable remote collaboration with team members.

Optimize nonprofit event planning efficiency by organizing all communications in one place. Set up a communication channel where emails, updates, vendor notes, and other important event information is accessible to all team members. Tools like Asana work with Outlook, Gmail, and other email providers, allowing users to seamlessly add emails from their inbox to a shared event account.

4. Create a planning timeline

Create a long-term event planning timeline to help keep the team on track and the planning process running smoothly. Set deadlines or “due dates” for nonprofit planning tasks, such as:

  • Securing an event venue
  • Hiring vendors (e.g., caterer, decorator, entertainment)
  • Landing sponsors
  • Paying venue and vendor deposits
  • Booking speakers and special guests
  • Beginning/end of ticket sales
  • Final guest count due date

Color-code a team calendar or design a dry-erase to-do list to create a visual planning guide. Share timeline updates, assign new responsibilities, and set upcoming task reminders using free, collaborative event planning software.

5. Secure an event venue

Find an event venue that meets your style, objectives, and budget. Use interactive 3D event diagramming software to plan the layout. Some tools will let you quickly change event setup, appropriately space attendee seating, and more. Planning teams can use diagramming tools to see 3D recreation of their event detailing how every aspect of the layout will look, including:  

  • Attendee check-in
  • Audience seating
  • Multiple floor plans
  • Catering area
  • Breakout session spaces
  • Handwashing stations
  • Event stage design

If you’re hosting a virtual or hybrid event, choose an integrated virtual event platform that can process registrations, track attendance, and capture audience insights.

6. Collect and evaluate vendor bids

Reach out to area vendors and request proposals for your nonprofit event. Collect bids from multiple vendors for each required service, such as bartenders, caterers, DJs, live music, and other entertainment. If your event layout requires equipment or furniture outside of what the venue provides, request quotes from event rental companies nearby. Compare decoration, signage, and other expenses to find the best deals for your event.

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7. Build an event website

If an established domain doesn’t already exist, design an event website that interested audience members can visit to learn more about the organization and upcoming events. If you have an existing page or plan on making this event an annual gathering, make sure it’s updated to include the most current information. Include images of past events, compelling video content, and the organization’s origin story. Create an event-specific landing page where you can direct potential attendees to register and purchase event tickets. Connect ticket sales to the main event page using an online ticketing or fundraising platform, but confirm which payment methods the site accepts before launching ticket sales.

Various free fundraising sites, like GiveButter, accept multiple payment methods, making them convenient for planners and attendees. Donors can purchase event tickets through credit card payments, bank-to-bank direct deposits, and e-transfers with apps like Venmo and Apple Pay. After confirming accepted payment methods and testing the site’s functionality, announce the launch of ticket sales. If registration starts slowly, promote early bird registration specials or limited-time exclusive offers.  

8. Promote the event

Once your event website is set up, and tickets are ready to sell, kick off your marketing efforts. To widen your audience reach, advertise through a variety of different marketing channels, including:  

  • Press events   

Host a PR event to announce the upcoming affair or draw up an event press release for local media sources. Book a venue for the press conference and serve refreshments. Invite local media outlets, such as city and local press, to attend the event or join a social media Livestream. Use the event as an opportunity to build relationships with community leaders, journalists, and potential donors. Nonprofit event planning teams without the time or resources to host a PR event can send an event press release instead.

  • Email campaigns

Design an eye-catching and compelling email marketing campaign to generate interest in the event. Include former and repeat donors in your email list, and add any new email addresses from interested parties as you receive them. Create an attention-grabbing email campaign highlighting donors’ effect on the organization and the impact individual contributions have had on the real world. Draft targeted emails that demonstrate gratitude and communicate a clear call to action to recipients.

  • Media outlets

Contact local radio stations, news programs, and regional media sources to discuss nonprofit marketing opportunities. If your budget allows, consider partnering with nearby media outlets to promote the event through radio ads, commercials, interviews, or live guest segments.

  • Community cross-promotion

Reach out to influential local figures like business leaders, social media stars, and community representatives for help advertising your nonprofit event. Connect with your local Chamber of Commerce or hospitality and tourism office to uncover partnership opportunities, local interest levels, and regional marketing channels. Highlight cross-promotion partners on social media, in printed event materials, and live at the event.

  • Social media marketing

Running automated social media campaigns allows nonprofit event planning team members to quickly design, plan, and schedule future advertisements. Research audience demographics to help determine which platform your target audience is most likely to interact with. Popular social media marketing channels include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and LinkedIn. Create and schedule social media marketing posts to go live automatically across multiple platforms.

  • Print marketing

Although it may feel like everything happens online nowadays, print marketing is still a vital component of nonprofit event success. 70% of households with an annual income higher than $100,000 hold newspaper readers, so if you’re on the hunt for major donors, consider advertising in local newspapers. Don’t forget about other forms of print marketing either; promote the event with flyers, stickers, postcards, and decals.

  • Peer-to-peer marketing (P2P)

Encourage previous event attendees to participate in your marketing and fundraising efforts, as they can significantly impact bottom-line donations. Revenue raised from peer-to-peer fundraising efforts grew 30% year-over-year from 2020 to 2021, according to PeerToPeer’s “Digital-First Peer-to-Peer Fundraising” study. The nine-fold increase in P2P donations demonstrates how sharing personal stories and experiences can impact non-profit fundraising efforts.

9. Host a pre-event preparatory meeting

As the event date approaches, host a rehearsal session. Practice running through the entire event with speakers, staff, and the nonprofit event planning team. Ensure that all AV equipment works properly, practice speaker transitions, and listen to speeches for length and content. Confirm the final agenda and discuss any outstanding last-minute issues that need attention. Answer any outstanding questions that linger, such as:  

  • How many attendees have registered?
  • Will you have name badges, cards, or lanyards to help attendees identify one another?
  • Will alcohol be served at the event? Will attendees pay for drinks? How will staff monitor consumption?
  • Will there be any changes to the event stage design?
  • Have you received dietary notes or requests the caterer needs to know about?
  • Which day-of responsibilities is each team member tackling?

After hammering out last-minute details and finalizing the setup, create and share the event itinerary with registrants via email. Reiterate the event date, location, and time. Promote fun event activities, new speaker additions, event swag, or behind-the-scenes footage of your rehearsal to build one last burst of energy for the big day.

10. Manage day-of event details

On the event date, arrive at the venue early to verify that everything is ready and that each diligently planned detail meets your standards. Confirm that event signage is working, parking areas are prepared, and the check-in desk is set up for success. Use an event ticketing app to speed up check-in and prevent crowding at the event entrance. As the press arrives, show them where to set up and share a few exciting event details. Double-check that planning committee members are available to greet all VIP guests and assist major donors.

Nonprofit event planning best practices

To provide planners and organizers additional guidance, we compiled a brief list of helpful best practices to follow in your nonprofit event planning journey, including:

  • Widen your audience reach and boost attendance by engaging with attendees before, during, and after the event.
  • When hiring event staff, search for candidates passionate about public service, fundraising, or community outreach. Hiring staff with similar values helps guarantee that every event team member is working toward the same game.
  • Include interactive presentation ideas in the agenda to mix things up and keep attendees engaged throughout the entire event.
  • Follow up with attendees after the event with a post-event survey. Ask attendees what they enjoyed most about the event, which part made the strongest impression, and what they would like to see at future nonprofit events.
  • Host an event debriefing session after the nonprofit event ends. Gather with the planning team to discuss what worked, what didn’t work, missed opportunities, total funds raised, and other details.
  • Provide an event report to the benefiting organization detailing attendance, ticket sales, marketing channel performance, event ROI, audience reach, and additional information they can use to improve future fundraisers.

Still have questions about nonprofit event planning?

1. What is a nonprofit event press release?

An event press release is a short document that provides essential information about the event, such as the date, time, location, purpose, and keynote speaker details. At the end of the release, invite journalists to attend the event. Outline how to live stream event coverage for those unable to make it.

2. What is the best time to host a nonprofit fundraiser?

According to research from Double the Donation, a donation matching platform, “30% of annual giving happens in December, with about 10% of all annual donations coming in the last three days of the year.” Whatever date you decide, avoid busy holidays, peak travel times, and dates that overlap with popular area events.

3. How long does it take to plan a nonprofit event?

Depending on the size and scale of your event, it can take anywhere from 2-6 months to plan successful nonprofit events. If you’re planning an event that requires finding a venue, hiring vendors, and juggling many moving parts, start the planning process 4-6 months in advance.

Take nonprofit event planning to the next level!

Now that you know how to plan nonprofit events that attract attention and donations, you’re ready to start organizing your next fundraiser. If you struggle to find volunteers or plan the desired event within your budget limitations, consider soliciting sponsorships to assist in funding the event.

Next, we explore strategies fundraisers and planning professionals can use to land bigger, better sponsors. From locating the right sponsorships for your organization to creating compelling sponsor proposals, learn tips and tactics to help you land more sponsors for your event.