Planning fundraising events successfully comes with it’s own unique strategy and plenty of moving parts. In this guest post, Accelevents co-founder and COO Zach Hagopian breaks down the five most crucial tips he’s learned from his own experience organizing an annual event in Boston.
As a fundraising enthusiast, I’ve worked with thousands of fundraising events of all sizes to help create an incredible donor experience and raise more money. I even organize my own annual fundraiser, hosting over 1,000 attendees every year to support cancer research and treatment.
Over the course of helping with these events, I’ve noticed certain strategies and tips are common among the most successful events. The result: Our list of 5 Tips for Creating Incredible Fundraising Events.
Follow these 5 tips for fantastic fundraising events.
1. Build a great team.
My first tip is to start by building an amazing team. Regardless of how productive you may be, running a successful fundraising event is a team effort. To start, it’s important to find team members that feel passionate about your cause. This passion will be the driving force behind the long hours and commitment needed to execute a memorable event.
As you begin recruiting people from your network to join your fundraising team (aka your “committee”), it’s important to focus on specific roles within the team. But remember, while we recommend building a team around these functions, most committee members will pitch in and participate in roles across each function at certain points.
The marketing team will focus on event promotion, communicating with attendees and donors, and generating buzz around the big day or night. This team plays an integral role in creating the voice behind your event and will help convey your committee’s passion to further a great cause. As your event approaches, the marketing team may focus specifically on creating press releases, working with local publications to extend reach, social media promotion, and implementing an email communication strategy to foster pre-event engagement.
Pro tip: While not a requirement, we’ve seen great success in recruiting committee members that already hold a full-time role in marketing or public relations.
Your logistics team will be responsible for the execution of the event. This team will get deep into the details in order to plan every piece — from searching for venues to working with vendors and sponsors. At a granular level, their focus will be on confirming vendors (food and beverage, lighting, A/V), working closely with the venue, and creating a production schedule for the event.
The most creative members of your committee will take over the task of putting together a cohesive look and feel for your event. Typically, this group will also work closely with your marketing team to ensure all communications have a similar voice and aesthetic that align with theme and branding of the event itself. The overall goal is to create an engaging brand persona that wins over potential donors and communicates a sense of authenticity in regards to the cause.
Your sponsorship team will be responsible for designing a sponsorship strategy, identifying potential sponsor targets, and bringing in sponsorship dollars to support your event. For most events, sponsors can be a major revenue source, and the “make or break” between a successful event and one that is less successful. These team members should always be on the lookout for opportunities, leveraging their network and communicative abilities to create opportunities for support.
Pro tip: In our experience, we’ve found that individuals in full-time sales roles do well on in a sponsor-focused role.
The fundraising team focuses on the tactics that will increase proceeds for your fundraising event. Based on their knowledge of your event and its potential audience, the team will be responsible for setting up the fundraising strategy — excluding ticket sales and sponsorship. They may execute silent auctions, raffles, online donation campaign, text-to-give campaigns, live auctions and other methods of generating proceeds.
2. Set your goals.
After you’ve recruited an all-star fundraising committee, it’s time to set your goals and give direction to your strategy. At the end of the day, your goal will be to donate as much money as possible – but what are the major revenue and cost drivers that will determine your final donation number? Typically, we find the following items to have the most significant impact on the monetary success of the event.
- Vendors (decor, AV, F&B, security)
- Entertainment (band/DJ, photographers, activities like photo booth)
- Staff (bartenders, servers, additional support)
- Ticket sales
Once you’ve established your major costs and revenue drivers, you can estimate the numbers associated with each. If this isn’t the first year for your event, use historical data to ensure more accuracy. Once your estimates are in place, you can determine your expected profit or donation amount and use it as your KPI (key performance indicator).
Of course, you can always set smaller goals that roll up to your overall donation goal, like aiming for a certain amount of vendors or services to be at least partially donation-based. Establish theses types of subgoals and assign them to different teams in your committee. This holds everyone accountable and collects data that allows you to optimize goals and performance year over year.
Pro tip: We suggest creating a donation goal a bit over your estimates. This gives your team something to strive for when raising money for your cause.
3. Create a sponsorship strategy.
As we mentioned before, sponsorship can make or break your event. Attracting sponsors to your event enables you to donate more money and lends both credibility and scale to the event each year. While the sponsorship team on your committee will primarily focus on bringing in sponsors, it’s the responsibility of all team members to pitch in here. There are a few keys to creating a viable sponsorship strategy, and you can find more detailed strategies for each in our Ultimate Guide to Fundraiser Sponsorship.
Identify your opportunity.
Identifying potential opportunities for sponsors means looking for those sponsors that fit your event well from a location, size, and demographic standpoint. The event that I organize in Boston has an average attendee age of 28 years old, so we focus on younger companies that are looking to make a splash with our audience locally.
Create your sponsorship package.
The sponsorship package is a document that provides information on your event and the cause it is supporting. It outlines each sponsorship tier, explaining the dollar amounts and promotion opportunities of each. Some common ways to highlight sponsors (depending on tier) include:
Event naming rights – Sponsor recognition through “brought to you by” language or even inclusion in the event name (ex: the “Tostito’s Fiesta Bowl”)
Signage – both digital (website, social, email) and physical (at the event)
Sponsor recognition for pieces of the event – Putting a sponsor’s name on the bar, stage, photo booth, etc.
Dedicated announcements – Calling out sponsors specifically in speeches
VIP tickets – Recognizing sponsors as the driving force behind VIP experiences
Reach out to potential sponsors.
When your sponsorship package is ready to go, you can begin contacting the targets you previously identified. Get creative here and leverage your personal and professional network (and that of your committee) to reach the right people at each potential sponsor organization. For cold outreach, be sure to create an outreach schedule with a consistent cadence of communication touch points.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to try other communication methods besides sending an email! These include phone calls, in-person meetings, and social media messages (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.).
4. Map out the logistics visually.
From where you’re going to stage the raffle to where your VIPs are seated, there are no shortage of moving parts pertaining to a fundraising event. To ensure smooth execution, it’s important to map these out visually and share that vision with staff, stakeholders, and beyond to avoid any mishaps and help with setup.
Modern event technology like Social Tables can make this stage as easy as drag and drop, allowing your logistics team to easily create a to-scale diagram of the event space before it happens. The team can event upload guest lists, seat guests, identify attendee-specific requests like special meals, and check them in quickly and efficiently on the big day.
5. Go mobile with your fundraising.
To ensure that you raise as much money as possible for your cause, new fundraising technologies can give you a big advantage — especially technologies that allow you raise money outside of the in-person event. After all, online donations are growing by the year: 7.6% of all donations in 2017 happened online (a massive 12.1% increase from the year before!). And just as importantly, 21% of these online donations were submitted from a mobile device.
While there are multiple options for mobile fundraising technology, it can give you a big leg up to seek out a solution that:
- Combine event ticketing and mobile fundraising in one platform. (71% of all event tickets are purchased online.)
- Make it as easy as possible to donate by eliminating unnecessary steps and clicks.
- Updates donors about their bid status and event changes via notifications.
- Includes text-to-give technology.
Using technology for your ticketing and fundraising efforts will allow your event to access a larger audience, accept donations for a longer period of time, and give your potential donors an even easier way to donate. In addition to making the donation experience more engaging, mobile fundraising technology will save your team time and allow you to keep all donor information in one place.
Hopefully, these tips put your team on the right track when planning fundraising events and lead to seamless execution. At the heart of success is a great cause, and by tracking performance, integrating the right technology, and finding the right fits for your committee, you’ll be well on your way to making a huge contribution to that cause.
Published August 1, 2018
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Have you had success planning fundraising events in the past? Share some of your own tips in the comments or Tweet ’em for your fellow #eventprofs.
Zach Hagopian is the co-founder and COO at Accelevents, an event ticketing and mobile fundraising platform. An active member in the Boston fundraising community, Zach spends time creating seamless event experiences for his clients. In his free time, he also organizes an 1,000+ person charity event in Boston each year.