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The 6 Biggest Mistakes Nonprofits Make When Planning a Fundraising Event

An effective fundraising event can generate funds for your nonprofit’s cause, further donor relationships, and attract new donors. But an unorganized event can actually cost your nonprofit money and deter donors who are otherwise willing and able to give (a nonprofit nightmare!).

To prepare your nonprofit for a successful fundraising event, you’ll need a strong planning phase.

That’s why we’ve gathered up the top 6 biggest mistakes nonprofits can make when planning a fundraising event.

Take a look at our top picks below:

  1. Starting the planning phase too late.
  2. Underestimating event costs.
  3. Keeping a loose schedule.
  4. Prioritizing awareness over action.
  5. Depending on your cause to persuade attendees.
  6. Burning out supporters.

By following this article, you’ll learn how to avoid these major mistakes and plan the fundraising event of your dreams (not your nightmares!).

1.Starting the planning phase too late.

Fundraising Event

Planning is the first thing you’ll do in your fundraising event timeline. The planning phase should start at least 6 months prior to the event date.

The Mistake:

Starting the planning phase too late can skew the entire course of your event, causing your team to stress out over last minute details that could’ve been addressed months in advance.

The Fix:

The more time you have, the more you’ll be able to address issues as they arise and prepare for the roadblocks that inevitably pop up.

Follow along with these four categories of event planning, and ask your team these questions to keep your fundraising on track.

#1. Fundraising focus:

  • What goal(s) are you trying to achieve with your event fundraiser?
  • Which specific cause will your event funds support?
  • What is your event budget?

#2. Event details:

  • Which venue will you use for your event?
  • What main attraction will bring donors to your event?
  • What promotional items and merchandise will you sell or give away?

#3. Who’s on board:

  • Who will run your committees and subcommittees?
  • How many volunteers or event staff do you need?
  • Will you recruit sponsors for your event?

#4. Event communications:

  • What avenues will you use to market your event?
  • Who is the target audience that you’ll market toward the most?
  • How will you follow up with attendees after the event?

All of these elements are necessary aspects of planning your event. You’ll want to create an agenda to determine when you’ll address each topic during your planning.

Booster’s event checklist can help you plan your event by breaking down your tasks into a timeline. Creating a thorough plan with deadlines for each phase of your event preparation can keep your planning on track and help you prepare for problems.

Once you’ve built your action plan and delegated your tasks, leave time to draft a backup plan in the event that something goes wrong.

Having a solid backup plan can lower stress before the event and keep your team focused on fundraising.

Takeaway: Preparing ahead and planning each aspect of your event months in advance will help you anticipate and deal with problems that arise.

2. Underestimating event costs.

Fundraising Event

Your fundraising event goal probably feels obvious — raising money for your cause. To do so, many nonprofits try to cut event costs to profit as much as possible.

The Mistake:

While an admirable goal, the reality is events will cost money. Without anticipating your costs, you could under budget and even end up “in the red” after your event is over.

The Fix:

Outline your expenditures and account for:

  • Venue.
  • Catering.
  • Entertainment.
  • Promotional products and merchandise.
  • Marketing materials.
  • Event software.
  • Event support staff.
  • Any other costs that your event will incur.

Remember that nothing is free. Preparing for every cost can help you stick to a tight budget and be realistic about what you can afford.

Be cautious about cutting costs. For example, saving pennies on event software could hurt your fundraising efforts if your ticketing technology fails during your event.

In contrast, when it comes to promotional products, you can choose from tons of ideas to find cheaper (but still perfectly popular) items.

To keep track of your costs, you’ll want to use standard fundraising metrics. You can look to past events or keep these metrics handy to evaluate your event once it’s over.

For example, you may want to track:

  • Net revenue. Don’t be fooled by how much money you’ve fundraised. A more effective measure of an event’s success is the net revenue, or the total profit – the total cost.
  • Cost to raise. The cost to raise is how much money it cost you to raise $1. This metric can show you whether your fundraising is offsetting your donor acquisition costs.

Takeaway: Ultimately, budgeting carefully and realistically can help you anticipate your event’s actual fundraising profit and keep your nonprofit above the negative line.

3. Keeping a loose schedule.

Fundraising Event

Just as you’ll need a tight schedule for your event planning, you’ll want to create an agenda for the day of the event.

The Mistake:

If your event runs too long, tired attendees may become more focused on going home than on supporting your cause.

The Fix:

You want to retain donors by creating a positive event experience, so plan your event schedule around these stages:

  • Registration: Allowing guests to check in on mobile devices can save valuable time that would otherwise be spent in long lines. For traditional registration, train your volunteers and create a process to handle problems. Guests with registration issues should NOT hold up the line, so designate a nearby location and a specific staff member for assistance.
  • Event: Do not expect your event attendees to move from point A to point B on their own. You’ll need crowd control to direct your attendees to the right location at the right time. Distinguish event staff and volunteers with t-shirts and nametags, so that attendees can easily identify them.
  • Ceremony: At most events, you’ll have at least one speaker address your attendees. Create short time slots (2-5 minutes) for your speakers and inform them of the time well before the event. Emphasize that your speakers cannot go over this time limit.

Takeaway: Heading into your planning phase with a tight event schedule will help your team prioritize and anticipate each event stage from the get-go.

4. Prioritizing awareness over action.

Fundraising Event

Building awareness for your nonprofit is an important aspect of events. But awareness doesn’t automatically equate to support.

The Mistake:

Awareness needs to be actionable to have an impact on your nonprofit.

Otherwise, you won’t have any concrete results to demonstrate the success of your event, and you’ll lose an opportunity to build trust with your supporters.

The Fix:

You need to create clear, concrete fundraising goals for your event, so that both you and your attendees can act on the awareness that they’ve gained.

To inspire your attendees to act, follow these steps:

#1. Be transparent with fundraising goals.

#2. Create a clear plan of action for donor stewardship.

Let’s take a look at each in more detail.

#1. Be transparent with fundraising goals.

If you’re trying to raise a specific amount, tell your attendees. And better yet — tell them in advance.

Giving your attendees a clear call to action will help them understand their role in your nonprofit. You can solidify your fundraising goals by integrating peer-to-peer fundraising into your event, for both attendees and volunteers. Peer-to-peer fundraising is the process of individual fundraisers reaching out to their networks for donations that will contribute to an overall goal.

Your nonprofit can provide fundraisers with a platform to create an individual fundraising page that they can share on social media, for example.

Further, use fundraising thermometers as a visual marker to show your attendees how much money still needs to be raised. Focusing on fundraising — that is, what each person can do to achieve an overall goalcan transform awareness into action.

#2. Create a clear plan of action for donor stewardship.

Fundraising events are multifaceted in that fundraising is only part of their purpose.

The opportunity to speak face-to-face with donors, especially during a fun event that will put everyone in good spirits, can help you further cultivate your relationships with donors.

Assign your frontline fundraisers to specific donors who will be attending your event. You may, for example, want to prioritize major donors.

Train you fundraisers so that they’re ready to enter a conversation with your donors. For detailed information, check out Qgiv’s guide to in-person asks. But as a general rule, keep language donor-centric.

Don’t talk about what your nonprofit does — talk about what donors can do, and how their contributions have directly helped people in need.

5. Depending on your cause to persuade attendees.

Fundraising Event

If your cause alone — noble and good as it is — was enough to attract donors, then you wouldn’t even need fundraising events. Alas, soliciting donations is more complicated than waiting for donors to come to you.

The Mistake:

Don’t expect people to attend your events or give to your organization because your cause is noble. If you don’t stand out and show donors why your nonprofit is a wise investment for their time and money, your message may be lost in a sea of other charitable causes.

The Fix:

You need to persuade donors to both attend your event and donate once they’re there.

To motivate your prospects:

  • Allow guests to share ticket purchases on social media. If attendees buy their event tickets online, allow them to share their purchase on social media. Doing so can generate excitement for an event as attendees reach out to their own networks. People are more likely to attend if they know others who will be there.
  • Bring in professionals. Professionalism goes a long way toward building a trustworthy image. You may, for instance, want to hire an emcee or a professional auctioneer for your charity auction. These experts are trained professionals in building up excitement from a crowd and keeping events running smoothly on schedule.

Takeaway: These quick tips can take your fundraising event to the next level, showing donors that their funds are going to an organized, socially aware nonprofit.

6. Burning out supporters.

Fundraising Event

With all the work that goes into fundraising events, it’s no wonder that burnout is a common mistake that nonprofits make.

The Mistake:

Burnout can turn even the most dedicated, enthusiastic volunteer or board member into a drained and reluctant participant who may turn down future event opportunities.

You want to retain your volunteers just as you’d retain donors.

The Fix:

To prevent burnout, integrate these steps into your planning phase:

  • Account for time and energy. Time and energy are costs that you should consider along with your financial expenditures. Be realistic about what each person can achieve, and frame your planning around the fact that time and energy are limited resources.
  • Secure organizational support. Having organizational support from the top down can help you support your event staff and committees with their questions and concerns. You may want to designate an individual to tackle communications within each committee and provide their contact information to your fundraising team.
  • Benchmark progress with clear deadlines. Having clear deadlines for each stage of your planning can keep supporters on track and measure their progress as they go. Deadlines can also help your team address any issues that arise as they arise.
  • Recognize supporters throughout. Thanking supporters after the event is vital. But thanking them during the planning process is also important — it shows them that their work is making a difference and that they are truly valued members of your team.
  • Have fun! Being enthusiastic about your work will motivate other supporters. Of course, they all have a job to do, but having fun while they do it will improve their experience and keep burnout at bay.

Remember that you’re just as human as anyone else at your nonprofit, so be careful of burning yourself out, too.

Takeaway: Both you and your fundraisers have limitations. Pushing beyond them can lead to burnout, so do your best to keep fundraising fun and fulfilling for everyone involved.

If you’ve ever made one of these event fundraising mistakes, you’re not alone. When you enter your next planning phase, keep these mistakes in mind so that your nonprofit’s event prep will lead the way to a successful, profitable, and fun fundraiser.

This blog was authored and provided to us by Kerri Moore, Director of Marketing at Booster.