Fundraising events are a great way for organizations to build strong relationships with their current supporters, get to know new potential partners, and raise money all in one go!
Having an annual event (or even a few) that your tribe can count on and look forward to also allows you to stay top of mind by having a platform to share the successes you’ve all created together as a community.
Pretty awesome right? Definitely.
But, before you dive right into booking a venue and making invitations, there are a few things to ask yourself first.
I’m sharing the questions I ask my clients before we start actually planning their event, so that they can get clear on their goals and be set up for success.
Who are you (or your organization)?
What are the values that you’re trying to share with others?
The first step (and usually the first to be skipped) is thinking through what is really important to your organization. In the end you want to find people who get you and vibe the same way right?
Thinking through the kinds partnerships you want to create by starting with your personal and/or organizational values is key to attracting the right crowd.
Who is your tribe? What kind of people do you want to attract to your event?
This goes with the point above, and then gets more specific. The old saying “if you try to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one” definitely applies to events.
Being really specific about who your people are for a particular event saves you tons of time (and money!) spinning your wheels, trying things that might not connect with people.
For a school, this might mean parents. For a national park conservation group, the ideal crowd might be executives of companies that are related to outdoor recreation.
By being really specific about who the audience is, you can focus all your resources on creating a tailored experience just for them, that they rave about!
What are you offering that is valuable to your community?
This could be what work you’re trying to do in the community, but also, what value do others get by supporting you and your work.
Are you offering companies sponsorship perks like recognition in your newsletter, event materials, or in some other way at the event?
Do they get the opportunity to make connections with other like-minded people?
Make sure that you’re leading by offering something that the folks you want to attend care about.
When do you want to have this event?
Many people make the mistake of just choosing a month and going with it.
Really think about your calendar as a whole.
For example, lots of organizations have fundraisers in spring and fall.
This means that typically they’re doing the bulk of the marketing and final planning for their fundraiser in the three months prior to the event.
So if you want to have a fundraiser in March, make sure you have the time and energy to make it a primary focus starting in January.
Also, keep in mind the calendar of the guests you want to be there.
I had a client in education that hosted an annual back to school reception. One year the district moved up the start of school by a month.
Since they usually hosted this event a week before the school year started, they decided to just move the event date up too. No worries right?
Well, the guests for this event were mostly executives at companies, and since to them this was the end of summer, most of their guest list couldn’t come because they were still on vacation!
Another good thing to look at is the calendar for other organizations that have similar communities as you.
If someone is interested in a cause, there’s a high chance that they support more than one group doing that work. The last thing you want is to compete with another event because you have the same donor base.
I’ve called up other related organizations in my client’s area in advance to make sure we don’t have an event on the same day.
Usually folks are happy that you take the time to work together, because they don’t want to compete with you either!
This one step can save you tons of stress and makes a win-win for everybody.
Why do you want to host this event? Why is this a problem worth solving?
Really, what you’re asking yourself here is “Why should other people care?”
Organizations that rush into an event because they need money and THEY think their work matters, usually have a rough time.
The key is to be able to connect your vision with other people and show them why they should care about what you’re doing. Paint the picture of how it affects them, their lives, and the community they live in.
It’s not enough to just think that because you do good work that people should give you their time and money. You have to make it matter to them.
So, how are you going to pull this event off, anyway?
Take a good hard look at your budget to see how much money you have to invest in an event that would appeal to the people you want to come.
On my initial client calls I always ask organizations what their budget for the event is, and if they say some version of “well, we’re hoping to get everything donated” my spidey-senses start tingling.
My next question is “ Alright, some of the big ticket items are usually venue, food, and drinks. Do you have relationships or access to people who can get things like that donated?”
If they say, “well, no not really”, it’s a red flag for me and I usually won’t take them on as a client.
Why? Because people usually don’t go to events hosted by organizations they’ve never heard of before, when no one else they know is going, and unload cash. It’s just not a thing.
You have to build real relationships with your donors so that they have time to get to know you, see if you’re trustworthy, and then and only then, support your cause.
How are you going to engage people once the event is over?
I like to start with the end in mind. What action do you want people to take at the end? Do you want them to join your newsletter, volunteer, or become regular donors?
Choose a specific action you’d like people to take after the event and build up the entire event, from sending out the first invitations on, with that goal in mind.
There you have it. Those are the top questions I work through with my clients to set them up for success before we start planning.
Do any of these surprise you? Do you have others that have helped you lay out a successful fundraiser? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!