Annual charitable giving in the US exceeds $400 billion. The good news for anyone who wants a successful fundraiser is that individuals donate more than half of that money.
That means you don’t need a big corporate donor to reach your goals, just the right approach for your target donors. Of course, that still leaves the pesky problem of how to have a successful fundraiser. You can’t simply invite a bunch of people, put them in a room, and ask for cash.
If you’re planning a fundraiser but don’t know where you should start, keep reading for our tips on executing a successful fundraiser.
Get Clear on Your Purpose
Many fundraisers strive for exactly one goal. The fundraiser will pay for uniforms for the school band or help the local library upgrade its computers for the good of the community. These fundraisers often prove simpler to execute because you only need to talk about one thing.
What if your fundraiser is for a non profit organization? A successful fundraiser for non profits often seeks several simultaneous goals. For example, the organization might run the fundraiser both to raise money for a cause and raise the profile of an important local or national issue.
Make sure you know your purpose or purposes from the beginning so you can focus attention in all the right directions.
Set a Clear and Reasonable Goal
A big national organization may find a multimillion-dollar goal clear and reasonable because they’re appealing to a national base of committed supporters. For local fundraising events, you need a goal that aligns with the realities of your community.
For example, let’s say you plan a school fundraiser in an affluent community. If the average family in that community commands a $150,000 average annual income, you can reasonably set a goal for $500,000. Families with those kinds of incomes might begrudge a $500 donation, but it won’t tax their finances.
A fundraiser in a low-income neighborhood is an entirely different animal. If the average family income is in the $25,000 to $30,000 range, a $50 donation might stretch the family budget to the breaking point. In a community like that, raising $50,000 might well exceed the means of your donors.
Understanding the financial realities in your community lets you set reasonable goals. You might not raise enough to fully fund some project, but you can put a dent in the budget. Once you do that, you can appeal to other potential donors — like local businesses — for help.
Decide on a Budget
Right at the top of a lot of Fundraising 101 lists is that you need a budget. This falls into the whole you must spend money to make money category. Running a fundraiser will require you to front some cash upfront for several things, potentially including:
Again, the community you host the fundraiser for and the cause will determine exactly what things you’ll need in the budget. If you’re appealing to an affluent crowd for a big donation, you’ll likely need a nice venue, paid entertainment, higher-end catering, and some marketing.
If you’re targeting local and lower-income individuals for small donations toward a local concern, you can often get away with less sophisticated events.
Create an Event Team
No one person can possibly take responsibility for every aspect of a fundraising event. There are simply too many details for any one person to juggle effectively. That typically means assembling a committee made up of organization professionals and volunteers. For small fundraisers, volunteers might make up the majority of the committee.
Let’s go back to the library fundraiser. The local librarian might take on the job of leading the committee but won’t have the staff for the entire committee. Instead, the other committee members will come from support organizations or even concerned citizens willing to donate their time and expertise.
At a minimum, you need someone who excels at pressing the flesh to help generate interest, talk to the press, and even get sponsors on board. You need someone you can trust who is also good with finances to manage spending and tracking donations. You also need someone with a talent for organizing to keep track of the details.
Figure Out Donations
How will the event actually generate donations? Will you sell tickets or ask for donations at the event? Both?
Will you sell tickets in advance or at the door? If you sell in advance, will you do it in person or use an online system? If you use an online system, will the processing fees eat into your expected revenue for the event?
Will you accept donations in person, online, both? Will you set up donation levels?
You must settle all of these details in advance before you begin any serious marketing of the event.
Marketing strategies vary depending on your cause and event. With something like a school fundraiser, the kids and parents will do a lot in terms of word-of-mouth marketing. Beyond that, you might see some flyers, an announcement in the local paper, and maybe a few local radio ads.
For more complex issues or an organizational fundraiser, the marketing gets more complex. You’ll likely send out mailers to prior contributors and/or members. You’ll send invitations to those with deep pockets you hope will attend.
Depending on event type, you may even run online, newspaper, radio, and television ads.
Running a fundraiser is an exhausting process for everyone involved. Once the last person goes home, it’s easy to simply sigh in relief that it’s over. It’s not quite over.
If you kept a list of donors, send out a thank you letter to that list. It’s a small but meaningful gesture.
Running a Successful Fundraiser
Running a successful fundraiser takes a lot of planning and work. You can’t do it alone. You’ll need a team to help you manage details, finances, and marketing.
You’ll also need a clear purpose and reasonable goal that align with the community you approach. Set a budget so you end up with something leftover for the cause. Figure out how you’ll handle donations early on or it’ll become a logistics nightmare later.
Looking for more finance tips? Check out our Finance section for more articles.