A New Fundraising Event: Should You Take the Plunge?

by Patrice Loretta, Association Management Division Manager

It’s bound to happen. You receive a great idea for a fundraiser. It might be your idea or an idea given to you from someone who heard about another organization having a great success or attended an event themselves and think it would be a great fit for your organization. It sounds great and is a fresh idea for organization. How do you take full advantage of this idea and milk it for all its worth?

First of all it is a good idea to give the new event a quick litmus test to aid you and your Board in finalizing your decision to take the plunge:

  1. Will you be adding this event as a new ADDITIONAL event to your annual event and meeting calendar or will you be sun setting a current stale event idea and replacing it with this new idea? If adding as a new event, budgeting will need to be carefully considered to ensure that there is a plan in place to secure the necessary additional to absorb the initial outlay for the additional expense.
  2. Will it cost more money than any of your current events? If so, do we anticipate receiving an equal net gain?
  3. Will it provide more visibility in the community and opportunity for press releases?
  4. Will the new idea bring more outsiders into your organization and serve as a friend raiser which will result in potential new members, sponsors or contributors for your organization?

If the answers are YES to 3 out of 4 above the new event is most likely a good fit and might provide a great opportunity for your organization. BUT a note of CAUTION. It's a generally accepted idea among non-profit organizations large and small that fundraising events are THE way to generate revenue. Truth be told, this is not always reality. Fundraising events are labor intensive, require hard working Board members and volunteers, and often end up costing a lot more than anticipated. Even though events may generate net income, the key to making the most profit (i.e. .75 to .80 on the dollar) is budgeting effectively and really watching and managing your budget from the start. (More tips on this in future article but if you need immediate answers email me at mbourdase@pesc.com).

Next is the most crucial part of putting on a successful event; THE PLANNING PHASE. This phase is often overlooked because folks tend to get excited about the new idea and begin to go straight into event execution! To adequately plan an event, a committee needs at least 12 to 18mos lead time. It can be done in less time but for a first time effort, I recommend even MORE time since there are always unexpected issues that crop up and even more with a brand new event as every decision is a new one.

The planning committee should meet monthly until 90 days prior to the event and then increase to weekly meetings so that all details can be mapped out, addressed in advance and smoothly executed. The farther in advance you begin, the more you can ably navigate unexpected challenges and work them out to your best advantage. Making decisions under crisis or pressure is never pleasant and generally adds expenses that can’t be offset because there is no time to raise the additional monies to cover them and quickly burns out hard working volunteers. Advance planning also provides a good 6 months of lead time to gather that crucial sponsorship support to help underwrite the event cost and achieve the maximum net income.

The Planning Phase which is generally 2 weeks to 30 days includes:

  • Naming the Committee Chair
    This needs to be a true leader, someone who can pull the entire Committee towards the finish line.
  • Recruiting and Organizing the Event Committee Members
    The event committee should be comprised of Board members but also tap into your membership and beyond to get new faces engaged and involved with the organization
  • Creating the Budget
    Detail out both income and expenses as much as possible and identify desired net income objective.
  • Define Measure of Event Success
    Beyond dollars and cents what other metrics will define success for the event? (i.e. number of attendees, number of sponsors, media attention)
  • Setting up a Deadline Dates Calendar
    This would be done either by the Committee Chair or Events Planner (if you are using one.) Working backwards from the date of event to present, begin mapping out the deadlines building in time buffers for each main phase of the project. (i.e. Selecting venue and event date, when will sponsorship packages be created and distributed, when do tickets go on sale, how will event be promoted to members and general public, etc.)

After the Planning Phase it is simply a matter of working the plan since you have thoughtfully mapped out each major task in sequential order and sticking to the deadlines and budget (or thinking of creative solutions when not!) Mapping out the deadline dates this makes each committee meeting so much easier as the agenda basically writes itself since you’ll be organizing each meeting around the upcoming planning calendar tasks to be accomplished and focusing on the main key areas of the event.

One more plus for advance planning is that it gives the Committee time to balance the creative and fun components with the practical elements so that an improved end result is truly apparent.

We’ll have more tips in future articles but being that is at the beginning of the year it might be a good time to think about planning next year’s events! Happy Fundraising!