10 Key Elements of a Successful Fundraising Event
From celebrity soirées to charitable benefits, there’s a big list of responsibilities that go into creating a fundraising event with a guest experience that will bustle with energy.
For one thing, there’s much more to it than just filling the seats. You need to attract the right people who are motivated to graciously give to the cause. And like anything worthwhile, the devil’s in the details.
Since we’ve been down this road a couple dozen times, we can help steer you in the right direction. Here are our 10 key elements that go into to throwing a successful—and profitable—charitable benefit.
1. Find the Spot
The venue can make or break your event, so choose your location wisely. Certain types of fundraisers call for basic ballrooms that come complete with round tables, white linens, standard lighting and cuisine laced with boredom. To create a truly unique experience, opt for a "ballroom makeover" by incorporating the unexpected—beautiful table linens, fresh flowers, candles, creative centerpieces, colorful lighting, customized staging, props, etc. Pick a place that is out of the ordinary so your prospective guests will look forward to attending.
2. Set the Scene
Instead of a basic rubber chicken dinner, opt for tasty menu options with a fun theme or unique ideas to create an experience that invitees will want to participate in. Think out-of-the-box with interactive entertainment elements that embrace the organization’s mission. Be creative, have fun with it and make it memorable. Guests will be talking about their fabulous time for weeks if you incorporate all the right elements.
3. Money for Nothing
Before determining ticket or table pricing, be sure your guests experience will be commensurate with the asking price. Will they receive a complete meal, or leave hungry after just a few tray passed appetizers? Hosted bar vs. cash bar? Will they bid on auction items that will factor into their overall buying decision? Do they get to enjoy anything special or just talking heads asking for more money?
It’s important to evaluate the overall experience while crunching the numbers and working within budget. But it’s also important to keep in mind that your ultimate goal is to create a fabulous event so your guests will continue to return.
Secondly, your budget for all required expenses (venue, rentals, decor, production, catering, entertainment, publicity, promotion, security, misc. costs, etc.) should take into account the fundraising goal, ensuring that desired funds will be netted after all expenses have been covered. Is the budget too small to fit in everything you want? Get creative! Find partners, vendors, sponsors and brands who will work with you to help stretch your budget for a piece of the action (i.e. promotional consideration, signage on collateral materials, etc.).
4. Name a Hero
The key role of an honoree is to help secure sponsorships and encourage table/ticket sales. Identify somebody who is highly regarded and respected within their professional community. Perhaps it’s a major donor or long-time supporter of the organization’s mission, or a board member who’s gone above and beyond and has tons of admirers. The best honoree is one who will personally reach out to their contacts for support. Additional choices can include public figures/VIPs, athletes and celebrities. Although these people may not be up to soliciting their personal contacts, their status lends credibility to the event, which helps generate interest and, ultimately, can help in achieving your fundraising goals.
5. Give them a Show
Entertainment is key. Few people are so enamored of a cause that they’re willing to be bored by it. So look for an act that works into the theme of the event. It could be music, theater, dance, comedy—anything that captivates an audience. The best gets are when a celebrity or well-known entertainer lends their name and talent to the cause without charging a fee (because they’re passionate about the organization’s mission). Other ideas could include hiring a tribute band or a popular local band that’s looking to make its mark. However you do it, don’t scrimp on the entertainment—it’s a big part of the experience you’re providing.
6. Find your Voice
Local media personalities lend clout and credibility as an event host/emcee. Is there a popular news anchor or sports figure who supports the cause, or an entertainment type who’d be willing to step in given the proper scripting? If they’re affable, well liked and non-controversial, they’ll work well and may even promote their participation on air for you.
7. Stick to the Script
It’s important to keep a tight lid on the program flow. If the event is scheduled for three hours, then be sure to have it completely mapped out with time limits for each element. Limit the amount of talking heads at the podium. Have a "Run of Show" document listing all of the elements and the specific timing at which they are to occur. Don’t forget to do a run-through, so all parties involved will know ahead of time what their responsibilities are, when and where they should be, and how the program is going to flow so that your operation will run smoothly.
8. Enlist Help
The successful outcome of any event depends on the careful planning and organizational skills of the committee. Make sure everyone’s down for the challenge on game day, and recruit smart, engaged volunteers who want to show up and work for the good of the cause. In return, find a way to reward them—with tickets to the event, food, gift bags or a small party afterward. They need to be encouraged to come back, too.
9. Promotion and Publicity
Your planning window begins four to six months in advance, and that includes promotion and publicity. Some turnkey ways to utilize your organization’s network is to get the word out with “save the date” content, press releases, direct mail campaigns, printed invitations, digital and social media content, word of mouth and pre-event inclusion in local media outlets (broadcast news, radio shows, newspapers, calendar listings, etc.). Invite key media contacts, celebrities, influencers, and other VIPs to support the cause and who can help promote it.
At the event, roll out the red carpet and make sure your professional photographers have the proper lighting to capture quality images. Also, in addition to capturing live social media engagements, have your videographer produce a “best of” video packet that can be sent to applicable media outlets for expanded press coverage opportunities. If high-profile guests will be in attendance, consider investing in an experienced video crew to conduct and edit interviews that the organization can repurpose for evergreen marketing content.
10. Thank Yous
Last but not least, don’t forgot to express gratitude for everyone who helped to make your event a success. I can’t tell you how many times we hear from committee members, sponsors, donors, volunteers and other contributors who have worked tirelessly or donated generously, yet don’t feel acknowledged or appreciated by the organization’s leadership. Showing gratitude goes a long way in keeping your key contributors engaged.
There are lots of details to wrangle here, but the rewards can be great. So create your lists, roll up your sleeves, and get to work!
Nikki Pesusich produces integrated media, marketing and public relations initiatives that accelerates brands, drives revenue, and delivers winning results. A founding partner of Coterie Media, she has spent nearly a decade helping national and international nonprofit organizations raise millions of dollars through strategic fundraising campaign efforts.