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Your Ultimate Guide to Throwing the Perfect Nonprofit Fundraising Event

March 21, 2022
14 minutes

If you want to throw the mot awesome fundraising event ever, you’re going to have to put in the effort. Events are a big part of nonprofit fundraising, plus, they build community and awareness. And great events, whether in-person or (as of late) virtual, take time, patience, creativity, and planning. But fear not: Funraise has your back! We’re here to ensure your every event goes off with barely a hitch with this here series of event-centric tips, tricks, and tidbits. 

So put on your best heels and/or your snazziest tie, and let’s get to wining, dining, and celebrating.

10 Foolproof Ways to Make Your Nonprofit Event a Smash

10 purple Elvises shaking their hips

Whether you're an old hand at charity fundraising events or this is your first-ever nonprofit event, there are basics when it comes successful fundraising events. Design an event based on your organizational goals. Create (and stick to) a budget. Host an auction related to your nonprofit’s work. Be creative!

Once you’ve checked off the must-do’s above, we've got some jack-out-of-the-box ideas to try at your next black-tie gala, nonprofit fun run, or lunar landing.

1. Be on time.

Seriously. Michael Scott taught us, "Only really good friends show up early. Ergo de facto, if you wanna become good friends with somebody, show up to the party really early." And yes, that's going to happen at your event, so you want to be there. Plus, you're gonna feel so much more in control if you're around when the wrong ice sculpture arrives.

2. Check in guests as they arrive.

We mean, obv. But do it with some panache! Funraise's nonprofit event management software allows you to snap a pic of a QR code on your mobile device, which means no more clipboards with stacks of "alphabetized" attendee names. It also means no more post-event data entry.

3. Don't put on music you love.

Here's the thing. We all love Sir Mix-a-Lot, but nobody wants to be the donor dropping it low in evening wear. (Or do we?) Put on some fancy instrumental masterpieces and people will feel like it's time to dish the dollars. (At least play an orchestral version of Baby Got Back.) 

4. Have your team wear a "uniform".

If your event is black tie, have your team wear red ties. Dress in your org's brand colors so you know who to look for in a crowd—that's what Queen Elizabeth does! The idea is to never have to stress over where your team is when you need them, so make it easy for them to stand out. 

5. Wear a really tall hat or hairstyle to be seen amongst the crowd.

Speaking of standing out, as the event coordinator, you're gonna get pulled in a million directions during the event; make it easy for staff and very important attendees to spot you from a mile away. Marge Simpson had the right idea to get found anywhere in a crowd: have really tall, colorful hair. If you don't want to wear a wig, maybe take a page from the Cat in the Hat's book. (pun intended.)

6a. Accept donations at the event.

There's no better way to capitalize on the momentum your event's drumming up and no better time to make an ask than when you're face to face with your supporters. And listen, you don't need to carry a tote to hold all the cash, just use Funraise App and swipe donors' cards then and there. (Then make sure they know they can send themselves receipts and manage their donations with our other app, Giving byFunraise.) 

6b. Buuuut...

Wear something with pockets. Just in case someone wants to give you a wad of cash! Just in case.

7. Make your food feed-worthy

Yes, we're making a play on words here. These days, people love showing their whole social network what they're eating. So if you bring in something unique and delicious-looking, your food may be the most photographed star of the event, meaning a whole new audience is gonna see that your nonprofit has great taste! (Yep, that's another play on words.)

Seriously... use that social capital to your advantage. Get Funraise's Facebook and Instagram integrations set up ahead of time, and encourage attendees to make linked fundraisers—since they're getting their social networks anyway.

8. Celebrate hitting your fundraising goal with a special surprise for your guests.

Did you know that you can stream your fundraising progress so your guests can see it live? Yeah, Funraise is behind that. When you hit your fundraising goal, it's time to celebrate! Pop champagne for a toast or let some doves fly or something. Hand out kazoos and have everyone tootle their congratulations.

9. Hire an impersonator to show up as a "special guest.”

Who wouldn't want to support a cause that gets Elvis to show up from beyond the grave? Or donate to a cause that tamed King Kong? "Adele-o-grams" never fail to impress. (Maybe she can sing Baby Got Back?)

10. Arrange a rideshare pickup spot so people can get home easily and safely.

If people have fun at your event, they may need a ride home. Make it easy with a designated rideshare pickup location, complete with signs directing drivers as well as ushers to get tired guests into the correct cars.

There you have it: awesome event ideas! If we went to an event that used all these tips, we think it'd be the most successful event ever. And, more importantly, we'd want to come back. 

7 Fundraising Event Themes that Never Go Out of Style

Fundraising events don't have to be boring or predictable, despite what many people think. And you may be thinking of nonprofit fundraising event themes to stay away from, but there are also a lot of themes that will take you from the roaring 20's to infinity and beyond.

A sea of hand-drawn slices of cake. A cake-lover's dream

Classic. Eternal. Timeless. 

Yes, we're describing your _-a-thon. Walk-a-thon, Bowl-a-thon, Dance-a-thon, Shop-a-thon, Sleep-a-thon, all the a-thons. 

How do you take something as *done* as an a-thon and turn it from So-Last-Season to Cooler-Than-Cool? Come, let us show you the path to re-using and re-re-invigorating all those events that once made you shiver with not-coolery. 

You will have the coolest classic fundraising event around, trust. 

1. Holidays

You're never going to get away from holiday-related events, and you shouldn't try! But look at the holidays differently than the way you always have. If your annual event is a Christmas-time gala with swags of greenery and bowls full of jelly, switch up the theme. Make up your own holiday figure and start a new tradition that's yours alone, like pre-selling holiday cakes and delivering them at the event. 

2. Competition

Ahhh, competition. The sweet sweat of great gaming. You can turn literally anything into a competition. Take eating, for example. Or speed shoe-lacing. Or window cleaning. Make an obstacle course out of home improvements. Or give a prize to the best cheerer-on-er. Whatever you do, make sure you schedule time to emphasize everyone's accomplishments instead of kicking 'em out as soon as the competition's done, cuz people love to win, but even more, they love to celebrate!

3. Great outdoors

They don't call it "The Great Outdoors" because it's the worst. Planning an outdoor event is gonna be different depending on your location, the season, and your attendees, but relying on Mother Nature's unique venue and decorating is one way to make the most of your budget.

Pinterest has plenty of romantic/quirky/colorful ideas, but we encourage you to think of outdoor events as more than just one-off themed events. Choose a location and grow your decor over the years... think it's possible to grow vines in the shape of chairs? 

4. Carnival

The word "carnival" evokes different things for different people, but we would bet a donation to your org that, most often, a carnival vision is colorful, active, and full of food. Putting on a carnival, therefore, while fun, is a big ol' mess of planning. If you want the carnival feel without the carnival hassle, bring on the funnel cake to your gala and have just one midway game. Or replace all the prizes with something that goes directly to your constituents. Take that one element that resonates and go big.

Illustration of cake with a prize-winning ribbon on it.

5. Costume party

Who doesn't love a costume party? It's one of those things that allows everyone to be someone different just for a night. It can be family-friendly, a competition (see: "You can make literally anything into a competition."), themed to your organization, and... cheap! Obviously, this is going to be an eternal favorite, but its value to you is that you set the theme and then the attendees do most of the work—costumes combine to be both decor and entertainment!

6. Casino night

We've been to a lot of casino night events (a lot) and we will always go when we're invited (invite us!!) because there's such a sense of possibility at these events. Keep the sense of anticipation and excitement but make it new by keeping it low key instead of James Bond-formal. Finger foods aren't usually the way to go when people are handling cards and chips, so bring your attendees a new experience by offering barbeque and games that can handle the mess. 

Obviously, if you're a nonprofit addressing addiction, this may be one to stay away from. That's ok, your event is going to be amazing in some other way.

7. _-a-thon

Did we grab your attention earlier when we suggested some a-thons? Think of something that doesn't cost you a bundle and that your attendees are able to do, and run with it! We suggest asking a-thoners to bring in their own tools, like their video game systems or dancing poles, and setting them off to the races. You just provide food and encouragement. And don't forget to take pictures! 

Bonus: Got an event that, despite your best efforts, is being railroaded into uncool territory (ahem, that board member who just. doesn't. get it.)? Get a great speaker or entertainer—it doesn't have to be Queen Bey, just check locally and get someone who makes everyone laugh. 

Bonus-Bonus: If you're still teetering on the edge—maybe you've got an old, outdated video that you can't get out of showing or your fashion show is turning into a leisurewear expo—lean into it! Seriously, don't take yourself so seriously. During the video, serve up a classic corn-and-cheese casserole and announce that the video is so cheesy and corny that only this recipe would do for the salad course. (And ask for funds to update the video, obv.) 

Fawcett up your models' hair, rename the fashion show "At Your Leisure", and provide passed hors d'oeuvres from your local 1972 Junior League cookbook while looks are walking the runway. See what we mean? Whatever you have to work with, take it alllll the way.

There's a small segment of event themes that are perpetually appealing in the nonprofit world. We still continue to work 'em and make them unique, and that's why they'll never go out of style. 

5 Ideas to Encourage Your Community to Attend a Virtual Event

A purple calendar with one date highlighted and arrows pointing at it

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many nonprofit organizations were exploring the possibilities of virtual events. But now, they’re the norm—and they’re certainly inspiring event creativity! For example, there are lots of nonprofits that took their previously scheduled fundraising walks and turned them into virtual events. 

The great thing about holding virtual events is that your nonprofit has the opportunity to build community beyond your local area. Lucky for you, Funraise has amazing tools that make virtual events not only possible but super easy. 

But after multiple pandemic years, a lot of folks are feeling virtual burnout. So, whether you want to host a virtual event for community members near or far, how can you get them to show up? A combo of savvy marketing and communication can help your nonprofit maximize its virtual event audience.  

1. Pick the right platform

Set your virtual event up for success right from the start by picking the right platform. Now, we don’t mean that you should pick the trendiest platform for your event; Justin Wheeler shares, “Your choice of livestream channel should be driven by your audience.” If your goal is encouraging your community to attend the virtual event, choose a platform they already use and spend a lot of time on. 

Take inventory of your current platforms. Where does your nonprofit see the most engagement? Where do you have the largest following? These are good indicators that it’s the right platform for your audience. 

In addition to picking a platform that’s right for your audience, you may want to consider a platform that’s right for your team. Take into consideration which platforms your team is most comfortable using. Less tech stress means one less thing to worry about! 

2. Think direct response

We’re not talking about direct mail here. Nope! To inform and encourage your community to attend your virtual event, you need to share basic event information with them. You can absolutely post this information on your social channels, but as you well know, not everyone sees your posts because of the ever-changing algorithms. 

What you can do to make sure the most people possible get information about your virtual event is turn to direct response channels. Think email and phone. These are channels where you stand a better chance of getting in front of your audience and them seeing the information. 

3. Find your communications cadence 

Nonprofit friends, you already know that donors need to see an appeal more than one time to make a donation. Similarly, your community will need to see information about your virtual event more than once to attend; you need a mini-marketing plan to remind people to attend. 

Here’s what that could look like:

  • Two weeks before the event—Send an email and share social posts about the virtual event
  • One week before the event—Send another email about the virtual event. 
  • One day before the event—Send a reminder that the virtual event is tomorrow
  • Day of the event—One final reminder to attend

Not sold on the idea of communicating so far in advance of your virtual event? According to Adobe, virtual event registration tends to be the highest 2 to 3 weeks in advance of an event. 

4. Get it on their calendars

We all use digital calendars in this day and age. Whether it’s iCal, Outlook, or Google Calendar, many of us run our lives through our digital calendars. And if it’s not on the calendar, it’s not happening. If you have an online registration process for your virtual event (P.S., you should), you can add a feature to add the event information directly to attendees’ calendars. 

5. Work with influencers 

You don’t need to work with a major Insta influencer to harness the power of influencer marketing. You just need to find the right people to be your messengers. 

Here are a few places to look:

  • Well-connected donors that already love your organization and have a solid local network that you can tap into.
  • Microinfluencers have niche audiences that often have better engagement than big-time influencers with audiences of over 1 million followers. 
  • Board members can act as influencers in their personal networks. Equip them with pre-written content to rock their role as ambassadors.
  • If you have speakers for your virtual event, they can double as influencers and event ambassadors. 

As Justin Wheeler, Funraise CEO, shared during a recent virtual events Q&A session, “Everyone is craving outside connection during this time. A virtual event fundraising event is a great way to help people feel connected.” Of course, virtual events open up a world of opportunities for your nonprofit. Think expanded reach beyond your backyard that can help you reach some of your biggest strategic goals. Virtual events are great for your nonprofit and your audience. 

Be the savvy marketer we know you are and creatively use these ideas to encourage more of your community to attend your next virtual event.

7 Ways to Incorporate Accessibility Into Your Next Fundraising Event

A colorful, stylized "Welcome" sign on a blue background

Planning nonprofit fundraising events can be a wild ride because there are a million different things to think about when it comes to creating a great attendee experience. In the midst of all the planning, though, make sure you don't forget to think about accessibility and inclusivity.

When you think of accessibility and inclusivity, you might immediately think of wheelchair ramps and emergency exits, etc. And yeah, those things are extremely important, but there's a whole world of things to consider to ensure your event is truly accessible and inclusive for ev-ery-one. 

Check out these seven ways your nonprofit can incorporate accessibility and inclusivity into your next fundraising event.

1. Themeing

Before you start planning, lay out the puzzle pieces of your ideal nonprofit fundraising event. What type of people do you want to attend? What time of year is your event? Is it inside or outside? Will you be serving food, and what food are you imagining? 

As you put the pieces together, think about things that could have a cultural impact on your attendees. These are the people who are providing financial assistance to your org, so showing them that you're keeping their cultural values in mind will keep them feeling very warm toward your cause.

Here are some examples: If you're planning a food-based event, consider different religious celebrations. Muslims fast during Ramadan and many Catholics don't eat meat during Lent. If you're planning entertainment, like a traditional dance troupe, do your research to make sure that you're hiring entertainers who celebrate and honor that culture rather than just putting on costumes. And if you're planning an athletic event, like a fun run, consider people who don't look like your typical heteronormative donor—those who use different athletic gear, who may need more time or assistance to finish the race, or who may need a special cheering section.

2. Invitations

Of course, your event invite should be visually awesome and provide all of the appropriate details and stories that entice people to buy tickets (With Funraise Events & Ticketing, they also have the option to donate), but are you making sure that your teaser video has closed captioning and/or subtitles? Are you providing a clear way for people to communicate that they need additional assistance in buying a ticket, or special accommodations at the venue, like food preference? If you're not taking these things into consideration, it's time to revamp your event planning strategy.

3. Vendors

Selecting vendors for your event is one of the most important decisions you can make. Instead of going with the usual suspects, why not check out local vendors to decorate, design, or provide security at your event? Here's one better: find local vendors that are minority- or women-owned businesses. 

When selecting caterers, it's also important to take into consideration people who have food sensitivities and allergies. If you want to be environmentally conscious, choose an event planner that uses sustainable eco-friendly materials and hires locally. If you're really serious about inclusive hiring year-round, look into AskEarn.org to learn about best practices and resources.

4. Transit

Traffic and congestion are the pits. Especially when you're trying to get to an event on time. Consider hosting your event near public transportation hubs. This can be extremely helpful for those who may not have access to a car, and also gives an environmentally safe option for those who are ozone layer warriors. Promoting carpooling is also an option. Searching for parking or paying for parking is often a huge deterrent when it comes to events, so make it easier for your attendees by partnering with ridesharing companies to provide discount codes. Remember, the easier you make it for people to attend your events, the more people will come, increasing donation opportunities for your cause. Score!

5. Venue

Location. Location. Location. Finding an event venue is often one of the most challenging event planning activities. Finding an affordable space that holds all of your guests is probably at the top of your list, but another very important thing to consider when selecting a venue is making sure it's accessible for people with physical impairments. This means ensuring doorways are wide enough and ramps are properly placed, but it also means ensuring that the audio/visual equipment is up-to-date, that the lighting is sensitive to those who may have visual impairments, and that service animals are permitted.

6. Signage

From the moment someone walks into your event, they should have no trouble reading or deciphering your event materials. This includes making sure the copy is large enough to read on the signage at check-in, any marketing materials handouts about your org, donation pledge forms, silent auction signs, sponsorship materials. The whole shebang!

7. Program

The moment every nonprofit prepares for is the event program. This is when you'll be talking about all the great world-changing stuff your org is doing, telling your impact stories, and asking donors for the big bucks. But, can everyone hear and/or see you? Is there a designated area in case someone needs wheelchair access? Are there closed captions on the screen? Did you hire a translator for those who may have requested it? Taking the time to make sure everyone in attendance can hear your message and is comfortable should be of the utmost importance.

We understand that fundraising events take a lot of work, but making sure that all your constituents, donors, supporters, and guests are welcomed and happy is worth it! You got this.  

8 Resources to Help You Plan Your Next Nonprofit Event, Both Big and Small

A pink and red 8 with multi-colored Funraise happy face logo buttons

Despite everything–the late nights, the endless phone calls, the last-minute dash–planning events is fun. You get to come up with an event idea to bring in beaucoup bucks; a rockin', on-trend theme; and you get to treat people to a fun experience that benefits a cause near to your heart.  

After pursuing our handy-dandy guide, you’re ready to plan a super-spiffy, mega-memorable event. All that’s left to do is have it all go smoothly, on budget, and on time. (Yeah, we're also laughing.)

But wait! If you're looking for those special ideas and resources to help you do just that, we’ve got you covered there, too. 

Resource #1: Event Calculator

First up, food. Because everything else can go completely cattywampus, but if your food and drinks are plentiful and delicious, a lot will be forgiven. Start by being realistic about the amount that you need—if it helps you, remember that food waste is a huge problem and calculating food and drink ahead of time is a small way to contribute to the planet.

Resource #2: Stickers

Don't forget the swag! Whether it's small stuff everyone can take or a few big things that are up for raffle, you need to have some branding, somewhere! If you're prioritizing inclusivity—and of course you are—think in terms of unisex garments, items that don't exclude teetotalers, and steer clear of holiday-themed items. 

You can still get creative, though! If you need something eye-catching and cheap, light and portable, branded and ubiquitous, you can't go wrong with stickers. (This resource is our favorite crew; over at Sticker Mule, they custom print vinyl stickers like complete bosses.)

Resource #3: Facebook groups for event planners

  • Eventovation
  • Event Planners Club
  • BizBash Event Planners Gather

As you plan your event, you'll need to lean on your support system, friend. And if you don't have anyone to vent to or to relay your successes to, things can get real lonely, real fast. Join a group or two for event planners like yourself and remember that whatever got bungled, someone can relate to (and probably one-up) your story. 

Resource #4: Funraise Events and Ticketing

Now that you've got a date set and a venue booked, it's time to start selling tickets. Ok, so you've got to get your ticketing page connected to your donation page, linked to your database, hooked to your payment processor, wired to your email sending provider... It's a pain, we know. Or you could just use Funraise and have all that and more set up with a few clicks. 

Resource #5: Winspire

Starting on the event too late to get *good* auction items? Think again, we've got the resource to end all resources for you. Click on the link below, choose a few  R A D I C A L  auction items, and anticipate the oohs and aahs. Yes, we're sure that you won't lose a buncha monies on fancy trips or experiences because you only pay for the stuff that you auction off. 

Bonus: Eventually, you'll be known for having theee most amazing auction items, building your returning attendees.  

Resource #6: Babysitters, companion care, and special needs carers

Make it a fun event for everyone, including your attendees who are carers. Our recommendation is that you find a place at or near your venue where you'll have a babysitter or two keeping the kids entertained. Depending on your attendees, you may want to arrange for special needs or companion carers in addition to or in lieu of childcare. 

Yes, we know it's an additional cost. But in our experience, attendees who would otherwise have to pay for a carer are happy to donate extra, especially when they're able to check in on their beloved Taylor.

Resource #7: A good place to start is Official Black Wall Street, both the app and web version. 

And we're sure you're already thinking it, but obv, shop local when you can. Even better, find those small businesses that are owned and run by marginalized populations (maybe including your constituents?) and let them work some magic spinning up your swag, food, programs, and more! There are lots of directories for businesses owned by POC, queer, and other communities, so get to Googling. 

Resource #8: Plan, Raise, Engage 10-Day Event Strategy Course by your friends at Funraise.

Finally, if you're looking for a tip-to-tail toolkit, jump in with both feet and grab our Plan, Raise, Engage 10-Day Event Strategy Course—with tips, strategies, and downloadable worksheets, it's exactly what you need to put on the classiest, funnest, fun-draisiest event ever.

So, there you have it! Some of our favorite resources to help you manage your events with ease. Now, go forth and fundraise! Funraise has your back. 

*None of these resources are affiliate links or purchased mentions.

If you follow the tips above, you’ll be planning your best event ever in no time! (Also your most original, since it will have seven different themes … but hey, who are we to judge?). Good luck, and may your next event be a time to remember. 

Nonprofit Fundraising Events: Key Takeaways

  • Events are a great way to raise money and build awareness for your cause.
  • Many organizations are pivoting to virtual or hybrid events due to COVID-19. Virtual events often have the benefit of being more accessible and costing less to host.
  • First things first: When you begin planning your event, create your budget and book your vendors.
  • Always make a contingency plan—for COVID, for inclement weather, and for technology issues.
  • As soon as you have a general idea of your event, start promoting. Plan your marketing up until the day of the event to ensure you get the word out.
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