Fundraising events can bolster your nonprofit’s giving strategy if you plan and execute them effectively. Drive donor engagement, retention, and, ultimately, giving to your organization with our fundraising event tips.

The status of fundraising events as giving vehicles may have started shifting in recent years. According to the 2024 CCS Philanthropy Pulse, events are in slight decline as a source of fundraising dollars despite the proficiency of fundraising staff in event planning, and inviting current donors to regular in-person events is the second highest-ranked tactic for donor retention.

While the immediate return on investment of fundraising events may be hard to see, they can undoubtedly strengthen bonds between an organization, its stakeholders, and its current and prospective donor pool. A successful fundraising event depends on effective planning and execution. Whether your organization is considering a new event or reevaluating the efficacy of a recurring one, consider the following tips for your fundraising success.

1. Identify and articulate the goal of your fundraising event

Hosting a fundraising event without a clear purpose can be a trap. While your constituency may love annual events, these can also become unmanageable for an organization, so it’s important to identify your event’s exact purpose and determine its success metrics. Your goals must be specific, measurable, and ongoing.

While raising awareness for your cause or mission might seem like a logical goal, it’s not specific enough to measure success. Setting more precise objectives, such as showcasing a new or existing facility’s capabilities, broadening the reach of your communication platforms, or fostering dialogue between stakeholders and experts, allows you to assess your event’s impact more effectively.

You can measure your event’s success by establishing activation points—where attendees derive value from your event—as you design or evaluate your event. Activation points may include when attendees:

Establishing activation points makes it easier to demonstrate your event’s utility for your organization and note what improvements are needed in future iterations.

2. ask good questions ahead of your fundraising event

If your fundraising event aims to engage with a specific community, use this group to refine your event. Consider interviewing a key group of individuals about what would motivate them to attend and engage with your organization further. A widely shared survey can also help inform how to create a successful event, but be mindful of question design—open-ended questions can produce more nuanced opinions, but the answers are more challenging to synthesize on a larger scale. Spend time considering what information would be most useful rather than most interesting. Asking survey participants what event type they would be most excited to attend, what specific factors prevent their attendance, or what offerings would appeal most can give you more actionable insights from your intended audience.

3. Assemble your dream team to plan and run the event

Creating the right group is crucial for designing and implementing any fundraising event. While there is no formula for determining your event committee’s right size and makeup, at the very least, you should assemble a group who can collectively contribute the following:

As you create your list of individuals you would like to invite to be on your committee, remember the following:

Inside -> Out. Top -> Down.

Start with individuals within your organization you want to include and invite your highest priority members to the committee first. This will start your committee with those already aligned with your mission and allow you to accommodate higher-priority committee prospects.

4. design your fundraising event with intention

Whether creating a new fundraising event from scratch or reevaluating an existing one, create a detailed list of relevant events in your organization’s region to help you quickly determine if certain event types are overrepresented in your community or where new opportunities may exist.

Collect information on events that might compete with you directly or indirectly. Professional or collegiate sports may not seem to interfere with the success of a gala or charity auction, but if they are sure to generate traffic or monopolize hotel rooms nearby, you should consider them while picking a date. You will also want to consider the scale of events as you create your list—one month may only have a few events taking place, but if they are larger, it may be more detrimental than a month with several smaller events.

Make Your Event Unique

As you design your event, consider substantive ways to make it unique, especially if similar events occur in your region. A specific theme or unique location is a great way to make your event stand out. Be sure to avoid confusing a unique event for an overly complicated one. Including too many components to stand out can soon make your event unwieldy and likely less cost-effective. It is good to be ambitious with new events, but it is essential to leave room to grow.

Throughout the design process, ensure the event aligns with your organization’s mission. An elaborate event can engage the public, but if it contrasts with your organization’s mission, you risk alienating your stakeholders.

5. engage your leadership in the fundraising event

Engage your organization’s leadership to participate in your fundraising event as early as possible. As soon as you have a date, ensure it’s on their calendar to avoid scheduling conflicts. Encourage them to invite guests who might elevate the event. If you are aware of personal or professional connections they may have with potential sponsors or organizations that would be valuable partners for your event, solicit them to set up an introduction.

As the date approaches, provide your leadership team with a simple bullet-pointed memo outlining answers to attendees’ potential questions, necessary event details, exciting developments within your organization, or relevant milestones. If leadership is engaged effectively, they can bolster the return on investment of your event and facilitate touchpoints with prospective donors.

6. Remember post-event engagement

Extend your fundraising event production timeline beyond the event to maximize its value. Develop a post-event communication plan throughout the event design process and share it in advance so all relevant parties know what is expected of them. Check in with all staff and committee members for feedback on their experience. If there were relevant interactions with prospective or current donors during the event, ensure they have been documented for your development team. Distribute personalized thank you messages promptly after the event to express gratitude and share the event’s successes. Assemble the event committee and discuss the successes, challenges, and necessary changes that must be considered for the next iteration.

A Thoughtfully Planned fundraising Event Can Engage New Donors and Ignite Current Donors

Fundraising events allow new and prospective donors to learn more about your nonprofit’s mission and impact. Even as new fundraising initiatives emerge, events will likely remain a popular engagement tactic. Implement our six tips to ensure your event’s success.

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