How to organise an event to raise money / awareness for your organisation
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Events can form an important aspect of a non-profit organisation’s fundraising programme. Small-scale events have been a staple of fundraising for decades. However running them can be time-consuming and possibly risky. Successful events depend on having the right skills and know-how as to what works, having the appropriate resources to plan and manage them and marketing the event effectively to the target audience.
Why do you want to run an event?
Whether large or small, the common objectives in running events are generating income and raising awareness of a particular message or area of work. To be successful an event needs an underlying strategy and clear objectives for what it should achieve. It is essential to be absolutely clear about the purpose of the event.
Ideally, there should be a single clear objective which will help inform decisions about the venue, invitation lists, ticket price, media involvement and promotion as well as resources needed to organise and carry out the event.
But it is sometimes appropriate and indeed possible to plan an event which fits into more than one of the following categories, in which case you should prioritise them so that everyone is clear which is the primary objective and which are secondary.
In the main, there are three types of events.
1. Enlistment and profile raising
- To attract media attention and establish the reputation of your charity.
- To promote a new service or expand existing services.
- To launch a specific Appeal.
- To persuade potential patrons that your charity is worthy of support.
- To recruit volunteers to help with fundraising or service delivery.
In some cases it might be appropriate for such an event to be cost-free to those attending, particularly if you want to enlist their support in the future. Whilst not raising significant funds at the time, you are investing in the future.
2. Raising money directly
- Indoor or outdoor events.
- One-off events or regular dates in the fundraising calendar.
- Anything from Savoy Balls to Pub Quizzes.
These are aimed at generating the maximum income both from ticket sales and other activities on the night – auctions, raffles, product sales – it is essential to pitch the ticket price appropriately and market extensively to the target audience.
Above all the event must be cost-effective. Have a clear budget from the outset. Any event will always include an element of financial risk, but these can be minimised if you:
- consider all the potential costs
- include hidden costs, such as staff time
- include additional fundraising opportunities during the event
- calculate the break-even point.
3. Acknowledging support
Whilst all fundraisers are aware of the importance of thanking donors whether by letter, email or a personal telephone call, sometimes their support deserves a more public form of recognition. This can be very well served by an event marking a particular milestone or significant voluntary effort.
- Completion of a major Appeal.
- Thanking supporters.
- Recognising volunteers.
- Showcasing the work of the charity.
- Involving service users and beneficiaries.
"We need to be as diligent in saying 'thank you' as we are in saying 'please'"
Checklist for deciding on your event
- Set a clear objective for the event.
- Agree primary objective and, if appropriate, secondary ones.
- Agree achievable results and future outcomes.
- Be clear about your target audience.
What type of event?
Examples of events abound – there are plenty of useful resources to give you ideas, as well as looking around to see what has already proved successful in your local community and within your own organisation. But above all the event must be marketable, saleable and profitable – whether generating income directly at the event, or through enlisting future support.
What resources will you need?
- What are your existing resources in terms of staff and volunteers?
- What others will you need?
- Where can you find them?
- What about clearing up afterwards, when all your helpers are anxious to get away?
- What new promotional materials will you need?
- How can you utilise what you already have?
- What can you afford to spend on advertising?
The most appropriate venue may not be the one which is immediately to hand but will depend upon your primary and secondary objective as well as budgetary considerations. Beware of accepting the offer of a venue and building an event around it. Plan the event first and find the best venue in which to hold it, taking into account such practical matters as adequate car parking or access by public transport. Will you have sole use of the venue or might you be competing with other activities claiming car parking, or increasing the ambient noise level?
Events offer a range of advantages and promotional opportunities that can attract sponsorship which will significantly reduce your risk and defray costs. It can also be an opportunity to recruit corporate sponsors who may become involved with your organisation beyond the event itself.
The best events can be those which are fully sponsored, resulting in no cost to your organisation.
In approaching potential sponsors, have a clear idea as to how much money you are expecting from them and what you can give in return.
Start with an understanding of who you are wanting to attract and who is likely to want to come – in other words your target market.
If the event is of general interest, begin by targeting your existing warm contacts to see if they would be likely to support it. If your friends don’t want to come, why should strangers?
One way of helping with promotion is to feature celebrities who may be willing to attend. For many individuals the attraction of a special event is to be seen with celebrities. Alternatively you can invite a celebrity to act as compere, to open the event, or to present awards. This may be a celebrity who is already supporting your cause or who may be persuaded to do so if properly approached.
Selling tickets can be extremely hard work and a complete non-starter if you have not already identified your audience and are confident that they will be interested in attending. There is little point in securing high value prizes for an auction if the audience can’t afford to bid for them!
Improve your chances by:
- presenting a really attractive event
- contacting a readily identifiable and reachable target audience
- appropriately pitching your ticket price
- recruiting plenty of ticket sellers.
Spin offs and follow ups
There are many examples of regular, similarly themed events run by organisations whose profile is greatly enhanced by being associated with them.
A great advantage of a successful event is the opportunity to build up a clientele for future support. Make sure that the names and addresses of all those taking part or attending are recorded and can be used again for your organisation – providing a good mailing list for donations or just for invitations to future events.
For many events, programmes and souvenir brochures are a worthwhile expense, but even if this is too costly for your small event, make sure that everyone who attends goes away with a piece of literature that they can keep, containing one new message about your organisation.
Look to the future!
- Tried and Tested Ideas for local fundraising events (DSC publication)
- Organising Special Events (DSC publication)
- Complete Fundraising Handbook (DSC publication)
- Events fundraising code of practice (Institute of Fundraising)
- Rules about raffles and lotteries from the Institute of Fundraising
- Your guide to organising a street party or fete (Communities.gov) - includes form and checklist.
Have your say
What events have you organised? What worked well? What didn't? Maybe you have a question about the best way to set something up? Talk to others on our fundraising forum.