Large or mid-sized fund raising events, such as concerts, golf tournaments, auctions, dinners, walks and runs, can sometimes be an effective way to raise money for a nonprofit organization. However, there is nothing simple, easy or low-cost about any of them. Even a small event at your house or in your yard, with just your friends has some costs and requires at least some planning. Larger events require even more planning, as well as coordination with other organizations as well.
In addition, community events -- carnivals, performances, day camps, lockins and other activities -- also come with many costs and require a lot of planning and coordination with other organizations in order to be successful.
This page is meant to provide details of what it takes to create a successful fund raising or community event -- one that actually raises money for a nonprofit or charity or provides some kind of community benefit. Most of the suggestions are for mid-sized and large events. There's an entire section on small, very simple fund raising activities as well.
Permission from the Organization
You will need written permission from the organization to hold a fund raiser or any event on its behalf. Contact the organization and tell them exactly what it is you want to do regarding this event, their rules for money management and advertising, and any other policies they may have.
If you want to hold an event for a person or family (to cover medical bills, to cover funeral expenses, etc.) make sure you have permission by the person or family to do so.
If the event is to help children, the elderly or any other group, it's best to do such an event through an existing organization, to add legitimacy for your activity and provide the expertise and guidance you probably don't have on your own.
Why Will People Want to Attend?
To make the event worthwhile, you must have lots of attendees. And for a fundraising event, these must be paying attendess.
People do not attend fundraising events where the reason is: "This poor nonprofit is desperately in need of funds, please come give some money!"
People's time is at a premium. There is a lot of competition out there for people's spare time. Why would they want to spend their precious spare time at your event? Answering these questions can help:
- What do you envision as being the results of your event, beyond money raised, and how will you confirm/prove these results?
- What is important about the organization or population that this event will benefit, and how will attendees know this or become more energized about this by the event? What will happen at the event that will achieve this?
- What's unique about your event, as opposed to all of the many, many other charitable events happening?
- Are there already charitable golf tournaments, walks or concerts or similar events happening in your area? Will those organizing these other, existing events resent your efforts? How will you assure the organizers of already-established events that you are not trying to take their donors, sponsors and volunteers or compete with their efforts?
Costs for Mid-Size to Large Events
No event is ever free. There are a number of things someone must pay for, or have donated. These include some or all of the following, depending on the size of the event and the venue (most of these won't apply to a small event at your house or in your yard, with just your friends):
In addition to all of the aforementioned costs related to the venue, you will have other costs, depending on what you are going to do at the event, such as:
- Rental cost for the venue
- Liability insurance
- Utlities/energy costs (lights, electricity, heat/air conditioning, etc.)
- Sound system
- Janitorial services
- Food and drinks (many venues will NOT allow you to bring in outside food and drink; they may require you to contract with their food services exclusively)
- Dishes and cutlery
- Tables and chairs
- Onsite paid staff (to supervise or manage all of the above and related services, and even to manage volunteers)
Not all events will have the same costs. If you are going to have a 10K walk, it's not going to have the same costs as a benefit concert. A bowl-a-thon isn't going to have the same costs as a car wash. And a small event at your house or in your yard, with just your friends, is going to have even less costs.
- Performers/celebrities (not only their fees, but things like transportation and accommodation)
- Qualified staff to lead activities
- Criminal background checks and screening of all staff, including volunteers, particularly those who will interact with children or vulnerable populations, who will handle money, who will have access to contact information about participants (their credit card numbers, their home addresses, etc.)
- Legal permits
- Printed programs
- Swag (t-shirts, pins, pens, mugs, etc.)
A good way to anticipate all costs is to mentally imagine the event, from start to finish, as an attendee. Picture the person arriving at the event, and then everything that person will see and experience. As you picture each scenario, think "who will pay for that? who will provide that? who will be in charge of that? who will make that happen?"
Asking for donated services is easier said than done. Bars, restaurants, halls, venues, theaters, golf courses, parks and various other venues are asked constantly to have their facilities donated, and most refuse; they might have a reduced rate for a nonprofit event, but there will still probably be a rental fee.
The nonprofit organization or charity you are going to help with this event does NOT want to be asked to fund any of the costs of the event, including advertising. If you think the organization is going to pay for anything at all associated with the event, such as postage for a mailing about the event, you need to have this agreement made in writing.
You will have to do a lot of research to determine where you will be holding the event. Budget will probably be the determining factor. What you actually want to do during the event will also influence your decision.
Logistics & Responsibilities
Even the most simple fund raising events don't magically happen without much work. Hours and hours of work takes place just so that an event begins on time. Again, you need to mentally imagine the event, from start to finish, as an attendee. Picture the person arriving at the event (even if its something simple at your house), parking, walking through the front door, and everything that person will see and experience. As you picture each scenario, think "who will make sure that happens? what will need to be done to make sure that's where it's supposed to be?"
Make a list of absolutely everything that needs to be done, and who will do each activity. Be as detailed as possible!
You will also need to do a detailed schedule of what needs to happen when. What will happen an hour before the event and who will do what? Two hours before the event? The morning of the event? The night before the event? The week before the event? Two weeks before the event?
How will you know each activity has been done? You must answer this question to ensure that everything is taken care of!
Sponsors are asked to pay a fee that helps cover the costs to hold the fundraising event, so that more of the funds paid by attendees go to the nonprofit or charity. Your goal with sponsors is to get enough money from them to pay for all costs of the event, so that 100% of the money generated by individual attendees goes to the charity or nonprofit.
Most of the organizations you approach to sponsor an event will have already received dozens, maybe hundreds, maybe even thousands, of requests to sponsor events. How will you distinguish your fundraising event from all those others such that a sponsor would want to fund your event?
What sponsors are looking for:
Sponsors will also want to know how you will be publicizing their support of the event. If you promise them a banner with their name on it at the event, how big will the banner be, and who will pay for it? If you are going to put the company's logo in the program, how big will it be, and on what page?
- a high-profile event that will generate a great deal of media and public attention (television coverage, chatter on online social networks, thousands of people attending, etc.)
- a high-impact event that has the potential to greatly raise awareness, even change perceptions or beliefs, regarding a particular cause
- a well-managed event with a documented system for how all costs and income will be accounted for and documentation on all logistics
- a very detailed budget for the event
- a projection of how much money, at minimum, you hope to raise for the organization
- all of the above proven in writing, in a detailed proposal
To find sponsors, you need to do a LOT of research about what companies are represented in your area and (1) what their charitable focus has been in the last 12 - 24 months and (2) what information they have online about their philanthropic activities. Your local library can help you find this information. You will use this information to make a list of potential sponsors. You then need to ask the nonprofit you are assisting and all volunteers who will be helping out if they have any connection to these companies in some way. Use these existing connections (friends and family of co-workers, past employees, etc.) to find out whom to contact at the organization regarding sponsorships. You may have to call the companies yourself, "cold", with no one to introduce you, to find out who sponsorship proposals should go to (it will be someone in the human resources, marketing or public affairs department if it's a large corporation).
Marketing the event is the easy part! For a large or mid-sized event (rather than one you will have at your house, for instance), you can:
- Make posters and ask area businesses and organizations to display them in their windows
- Buy a mailing list and mail flyers to the addresses through regular postal mail
- Take out ads in newspapers
- Insert flyers into the bulletins of communities of faith (churches, temples and mosques)
- Create PSAs for local radio
- Send press releases to all local radio, TV, newspaper and community bloggers
- Ask all volunteers to post about the event to their online social networking profiles (FaceBook, MySpace, etc.) and to their blogs, and to email their friends and family about the event
- Create a group on online social networking sites (FaceBook, MySpace, etc.) and ask all volunteers to join the group and to encourage their friends and family to join such too
Marketing for a mid-size or large event needs to get out early and often. People need to hear about the event, no matter the size, months in advance, and then again weeks in advance, and then again days in advance.
Track EVERY Donation In Writing
Keep a notebook or a spreadsheet and write down the name of every person who donates, and how much they donate. Thank these people after their donation with a card or postcard via postal mail. Keep them updated about your fundraising efforts and the work of the organization you fundraised on behalf of.
After the Experience
A few days after completion of the event, ask everyone involved in putting on the event about their experience. Bring them together for lunch for an informal discussion, or have all group members complete a survey on SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang. What did they like? What did they learn? What do they wish had been different? Document these results and think about how these results could be shared with others to ensure future events work as well or even better.
If you are involving volunteers to pull off this event, how will you thank the volunteers for their efforts? Are there any costs associated with your volunteer recognition, and who will cover those costs?
Simple, Easy, Low-Cost Fund-Raising Events
So, you've read the above and you have become completely overwhelmed. You have realized there is no way you have the time and resources to do a large fundraising event. Don't give up: there are simple, easy, low-cost fund-raising events you can do. While they have a much lower profile and won't bring in thousands of dollars, they will bring in money and create excitement for an organization and its cause. They work on a very personal level, and people appreciate their personal feel. Remember: you must have permission from the organization before you raise money on its behalf or try to speak on its behalf:
Credits & Copyright
- Tell everyone via your FaceBook or MySpace profile, via email, at a social event, etc., that, during a particular week, you will donate a certain percent of the money you make to the organization, and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Have them pledge to do so in a public way, such as on their own FaceBook or MySpace profile. When someone makes a pledge, call them and email them, thank them, and work out how you will collect the money for the organization.
- Get a group of friends to work a series of jobs in the informal sector (walk dogs, pet sit, provide child care/baby sit, do yard work for neighbors and friends, wash cars, etc.) to raise money for the organization or cause. Be up front with neighbors, friends and family about why you are doing these jobs and where the money will go. When someone hires you or anyone on your team to do one of these jobs, call them and email them, thank them, and work out how you will collect the money for the organization. Tell everyone via your FaceBook or MySpace profile, via email, at a social event, etc., that you are undertaking this activity and encourage them to hire one of your team for informal work.
- Have a garage sale. Ask friends, relatives, neighbors and others to donate items for your sale. Have large signs at the garage sale that say you are raising money for a particular organization or cause, and have flyers from the organization so people can learn more about it. Tell everyone via your FaceBook or MySpace profile, via email, at a social event, etc., that you are undertaking this activity.
- Sell items on eBay. Ask friends, relatives, neighbors and others to donate items for your sale. Tell everyone via your FaceBook or MySpace profile, via email, at a social event, etc., that you are undertaking this activity and encourage them to have a look at what you are selling, and to tell their own networks.
- Turn your birthday party into a fundraiser. Invite friends to your house or to a restaurant, and ask in your invitation that, in lieu of gifts, people make donations to the organization or cause.
- Host a party, cookout or reception at your home, invite your friends (and encourage them to invite their friends), and show a film or documentary relating to the organization you want to raise money for. Or, the film could simply be a movie you and your friends really love. In your invitation, note clearly that this is a fundraiser for a particular organization and that you will be asking for donations; do NOT wait until the party, cookout or reception to tell invitees that you have invited them there in order to ask for donations. At the event, make a brief speech that you are raising money for the organization, and have flyers from the organization so people can learn more about it.
- Hold a fundraiser at a local bar, with the local bar's permission. Don't rent the facility; simply ask the bar if there is a slow day or night that you could use as a fundraiser for your cause. Tell everyone via your FaceBook or MySpace profile, via email, at a social event, etc., that you are undertaking this activity and encourage them to attend and to share the information via their own networks as well. Ask a band or friends who sing to provide entertainment (with permission from the bar owner or manager), create a big wall display about the organization, have information to pass out, and make a five-minute speech before and in the middle of the event saying what the event is about and how people can donate.
- Sell home-made, baked goods at a small event, with permission of the event organizers. Large events require those who want to sell food to meet government health and safety standards, so if you can't do that, stick to small events (a career day at a school, an open house, etc.). Tell everyone via your FaceBook or MySpace profile, via email, at a social event, etc., that you are undertaking this activity and encourage them to attend and tell their friends. Have information about the organization to pass out and a sign that lets people know where their money is going.
- Invite your friends to your house, back yard or park for a shred or burn your grudge day. OR, make it a public event (but you will have to get permission to do this activity if it's open to the public and will take place in a public area). Each person can write down on a piece of paper ONE bad thing that has happened to him or her in the previous year, or ever - a bad break-up, a negative experience on the job, losing a job, a missed opportunity, a disappointment - and, for a small donation for each grudge ($1? $5?), you shread the grudge in a paper shredder or burn it. If you make this a public event, you could end up with some media coverage for it.
- Have your group sell performing telegrams -- singing telegrams, Shakespearean telegrams, etc. You will need to get costumes somehow (ask friends and relatives). Advertise via your FaceBook and MySpace profiles, via email, in fliers, in the bulletin of your community of faith (church, temple, mosque), etc., and always note that this is a fundraiser for a particular group or cause. Encourage people to hire you or your group's members to deliver in-person birthday, anniversary, or other greetings. Don't make it an official business -- don't take out advertising, for instance -- because official businesses need to be officially registered, taxed, etc.
Here's what a simple, fun fundraising activity can look like (example from my blog).
Fundraising for Nonprofits: Special Events
The 10 Steps to a Successful Fundraising Event
How to Hold FUN Fundraising Events: Ideas for Success | eHow.com
How to Hold a Fundraising Spaghetti Dinner
How you can advocate for an issue important to you
Fund Raising For a Cause or Organization
Finding Community Service and Volunteering for Teens
How to Find Volunteering Opportunities, a resource for adults who want to volunteer
Advice for Volunteer Groups / Group Volunteering.
Volunteering with Seniors.
Using Your Business Skills for Good - Volunteering Your Business Management Skills, to help people starting or running small businesses / micro enterprises, to help people building businesses in high-poverty areas, and to help people entering or re-entering the work force.
Family Volunteer - Volunteering by Families with Children.
Volunteering To Help After Major Disasters.
How to Make a Difference Internationally/Globally/in Another Country Without Going Abroad
Details on how to quickly fill a community service obligation from a court or school.
Ideas for Leadership Volunteering Activities
These are more than just do-it-yourself volunteering - these are ideas to create or lead a sustainable, lasting benefit to a community, recruiting others to help and to have a leadership role as a volunteer. These can also be activities for the Girl Scouts Gold Award, the Duke of Edinburgh's Award (U.K.), a mitzvah project, or even scholarship consideration.
Ideas for Creating Your Own Volunteering Activity.
Donating Things Instead of Cash or Time (In-Kind Contributions)
Group Volunteering for Atheist and Secular Volunteers
Helping People Address Their Problems with Plastic
How to mobilize a community to clean up plastic bottles, plastic bags and other plastic waste from their environment, and how to reduce their use of such items in the future
Ideas for Funding Your Volunteering Abroad Trip.
Details on volunteering abroad (volunteering internationally).
© 2010-12 by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved. No part of this material can be reproduced in print or in electronic form without express written permission by Jayne Cravens.
Please contact me for permission to reprint, present or distribute these materials.
Planning Special Events (J-B Fund Raising School Series)
Fundraising When Money Is Tight: A Strategic and Practical Guide to Surviving Tough Times and Thriving in the Future (The Mal Warwick Fundraising Series)
199 Fun and Effective Fundraising Events for Nonprofit Organizations
Raising More Money: The Ask Event Handbook
Doing Good Together: 101 Easy, Meaningful Service Projects for Families, Schools, and Communities
Engage Every Parent!: Encouraging Families to Sign On, Show Up, and Make a Difference
Legal Answer Book for Fund-Raisers Set, Set Contains:First and Second Legal Answer Books for Fund-Raisers
Start Your Own Event Planning Business