“Jeez Janine… We really need to find a way to raise some funds. I just don’t know how we’re going to be able to extend the program to help the baby seals off the cape like we planned if we don’t…”
“I know Paulie, I know. I’ve been thinking about it and even though we’ve got a bunch of grant applications out there we won’t hear back for weeks if not months… Maybe we should run some kind of event. We could do a bake sale? A fun run – that’d be good, get the kids involved? Or maybe a day of music. People like music…”
It does to me. I think I’ve had that conversation more times than I can count. In fact, if I had a dollar for every time well… we wouldn’t need a fundraising event anymore that’s for sure.
At one time or another most community organisations will reach a moment where they consider or embark upon some kind of event in the interests of raising money. It might be a bake sale, a fun run, a gala dinner or a music festival. It doesn’t really matter the truth is the same: fundraising through events is “one of the least productive methods for a charity to generate income.” 
This doesn’t mean they’re not worth doing but it does mean you need to know what you hope to gain from the event, what you can invest (because it will take more effort than you ever imagined possible), and what potential pitfalls and safeguards you should have in place.
I’ll break down the things you should consider to make sure that you run a successful event and increase resources, financial and intellectual but a couple of key things to know are:
- It will always cost twice as much as you budget. So create your budget and double it. Even after 10 years of event management I am always staggered by the incremental blow out on event budgets. There are so many complex, interrelated moving parts on events blow outs are inevitable especially when they are being run by already overworked staff and volunteers.
- It will always take a lot longer than you think so give yourself the grace. I would say a good assessment is ‘half as much again’ if you think it will take 2 days it will take 3.
- Coherent, updated shared schedules are essential. From the very beginning and work logically toward achieving the goals. Guarantee organizing the transport logistics is not as interesting as the décor but if you don’t have a means to get the décor to the venue…
- Delegating to empowered teams will save the day. You will need a small team of people who can be trusted to fulfill their tasks, make sure their piece of the puzzle is in place on time. Delegating to these groups makes the big undertaking manageable. It’s also more enjoyable as people can feel empowered to own their piece.
Why Events are Good
- They provide an opportunity for donors to get involved! Whatever the type of occasion, fundraising events provide donors an opportunity to connect with your project in real time and have the capacity to turn donating from a financial transaction to one with real connection – and real connection is the key to return donations and BIGGER donations
- They provide an opportunity to expand the/ your supporter base through leveraging existing networks to increase community interaction and donor support.
- They provide an excuse to reach out to supporters to ask them for further support. Contacting networks can be tricky, you don’t want to overload people’s already overloaded inboxes but you do want to provide an exciting reason for people to get involved.
Tips for a Successful Event
- Choose a type of event that will encourage the kind of involvement that’s relevant to your donor base. If you work with childhood nutrition for example – maybe think about collaborating with a local restaurant or café to run a cooking class teaching healthy recipes. If you’re all about cultural inclusion however, then a music oriented event would be a good idea. Keep in mind that the things you can create from your willing network of collaborators at the lowest possible cost will produce the best results but that this needs to be balanced with something that is exciting and interesting. Remember! Actual donations might be the second reason for doing the event after networking and engagement.
- Set yourself a reasonable lead-time and schedule! Event management takes time so if you’re already really busy make sure that you set a long lead time and work consistently so that you can be organized and not create lots of extra pressure.
- Develop departments to take care of different roles. Some useful areas to cover are:
- Event Manager (to oversee the design of the event, style and keep track of how everything is coming together. This person should be able to manage all venue, risk management and approvals)
- Volunteer Coordinator (source volunteers to help out with the event, scheduling etc)
- Social Media and communications (All things promotion)
- Logistics Manager (think catering, transport, power)
- Finance and Budget manager (should work closely with the Event manager to ensure all funds are accounted for and donations are managed professionally)
Finally, events are demanding and time consuming things that really require the involvement of a community of willing hands to make them work so make sure that you’ve got a team that’s ready and rearing to go and then it can be a truly exciting and fruitful experience.
If you’d like to read more about running fundraising events here are some good links to get you going:
 Webber, Daniel 2004. Understanding Charity Fundraising Events. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, Vol. 9 No. 2. P122
By Alex Kennett