THE TAKEAWAY: There are many types of events, and many reasons for staging events, but there is one constant: if your event is supposed to raise money, make sure it makes money. Never EVER run at a loss.
Special events are a fundraising staple of for most not-for-profit organisations.
There are many different types of special events. Each has its own level of complexity and will call on different skills, experience, contacts and capacities.
Some of the more common types of special events are:
- Awards nights
- Grand opening/Launches
- Record attempts and ‘thons
OUR TIP: Whatever type of event you’re planning on holding, make sure you pile on plenty of secondary fundraisers – if you’re having a trivia night, have a raffle and have a membership sign-up table as well. If you’re having an awards night, charge for entry and sell drinks and Jaffas at the door.
There are a number of reasons to run a special event. They include:
- To raise money
Obviously, the first and often most important reason to run a special event is to generate income. In many cases, a fundraising special event is designed or even timed to provide a significant boost to your organisation’s coffers so it can undertake a new project or continue operations in the coming year.
- To get publicity
Staging a successful and noteworthy special event can also attract positive publicity for your group. That publicity, if used well, can then be turned into more money for your group.
- To raise awareness
A well-run and well-publicised special event can raise awareness for your cause that in turn will help you attract more members, supporters and donors.
- To improve reputation
A well-run special event can add to your reputation as an efficient, effective, well-organised group. Again, this can help your future fundraising efforts.
- To say thanks
Special events can give you the opportunity to recognise staff, volunteers or supporters who have made a significiant contribution, or to mark particular organisational successes or milestones.
Whatever your reason for staging a special event, it’s important to be clear about one major point: If your event is supposed to raise money, make sure it makes money.
Don’t throw a lot of effort into staging an event that is only going to break even (or – worse – run at a loss). You’ll burn out your volunteers, and exhaust the goodwill of your members.
OUR TIP: If there is one key ingredient to producing a successful special event, it is planning. Put your most organised, most efficient person in charge, and give them plenty of time to pull it off.
Planning a Fundraising Event
THE TAKEAWAY: Failure to plan is to plan for failure. Put in the time now and you’ll save yourself lots of heartache later.
The following list of planning points is not meant to be definitive. Each event is different.
Adapt this list to your own needs and work through the categories specific to
- Refer to your review of last year’s event, and be sure you know the components of that event which were most successful and unsuccessful.
- Research which other community events – or events that could compete for support – were scheduled last year for around the proposed date of your event, and examine if any such events will be on at this time this year. If you’re unsure, pick up the phone and ask.
- Are there any other major events (not necessarily in your local community) planned for that date – for example, a grand final or an election?
- Estimate the number of willing and competent volunteers you have for planning and administrative and hands-on work.
- Check available funds.
- Estimate the extent of donated goods and services.
- Set out the components of the event. Break up the tasks involved for each and then identify the steps necessary to complete each task. It may be a good idea to work with a team to do this. Include every tiny detail – even those things that you are sure no one would forget.
- Assign each step the amount of time necessary to carry it out. Add 20%.
- Assign costs and resources to each step, as well as estimating income at each step (and noting any assumptions – e.g. That “3000 people will buy tickets to the event”).
- Work backwards from the event date, putting in the starting and finishing dates of each step. When putting in place this schedule, also set benchmarks at intervals to remind you to check if the work is on schedule.
- Check that the total resources (including time – if you burn out your volunteers too early, you’re in trouble) that will be required at any step aren’t outside your capability.
- Add up the total costs, and the total estimated income, across all steps. Add up the time costs as well so you can factor them into your cost-benefit analysis.
- Make sure you know what the purposes of the event are – is it purely about fundraising, or are there awareness-raising and profile/publicity components as well?
- Look at projected net profit figure for the event (projected income less projected costs). Remember any factors that may impact on this figure.
- Estimate what proportion of your year’s staff/volunteer/board fundraising time will be taken up by the event. Is it realistic? Is it reasonable? Is it achievable?
- Approve/reject/rework event.
- Go back to your planning list and arrange it into chronological order so that you have a list of things that need to be done in the order you will need to do them. Assign tasks to reliable people, along with timelines.
- Assign a team of skilful generalists who will look after any emergencies.
- Create a master calendar to plot the progress of your special event planning.
More Fundraising Resources
- The Seven Pillars of Fundraising
- Fundraising Strategy and Planning
- Fundraising Checklist – How to win grants funding
- How to get started with Crowdfunding