Nonprofit Development: Planning a Special Event

Joe Orozco May 18, 2020 - 1:00am

No aspect of fundraising should exist in a vacuum. Organizations should use grant writing, event planning, direct mail, and other aspects of nonprofit development to help build up budgets through a diversified fundraising strategy.

Why Fundraise?

The NFB hosts a number of important programs and services of benefit to blind people at all stages of independence. We know our cause is a worthy one, but remember there are more than 1.9 million registered nonprofits competing for the same financial contributions. In the District of Columbia alone there are 32,000 nonprofits competing for donor attention.

Building a Fundraising Team

  • Convene diverse talents to shape a more robust skill set.
  • Diversity will give you access to different industries and in some cases pro bono services, including: legal service, marketing, printing, accounting, etc.
  • Do not just pick people who agree with you.
  • Do not just pick people from inside the organization.
  • Pick people personally willing to invest in your special event. After all, they are primarily responsible for helping you reach your fundraising goal.

What are you raising money for?

Give people a specific, tangible cause they can wrap their minds around. It is not enough to say we are raising money for Project RISE, or the BELL Program. Paint a picture. Put a face on the objective so that potential donors know they are giving money to blind children and youth. Help them understand they are contributing to expand literacy or whatever it is your special event is attempting to raise funds, but do not assume people will naturally understand programs and initiatives in the same way fellow members will.

What is the purpose of the event?

Special events can help you achieve one of a few objectives:

  • Raise money
  • Gain publicity
  • Break into a new network

Work with your team to determine your objective so that you can market and coordinate the event accordingly.

Target Audience

On a closely related point, you need to figure out what segment of the community you want at your event. This is not to say you will exclude people who do not fit this category, but it will help you organize the event to achieve maximum output.

For the NFB of Virginia, are you interested in attracting parents of blind children? Young blind professionals? Students? Professionals who work with blind consumers?

You’ll also want to consider factors like income levels. A golf tournament, for example, is more expensive to host, but it might be the sort of event that could attract participants with the means to play.

By determining your target audience, you’ll be able to more easily determine the event type: walkathon, wine tasting, fundraising dinner party, etc.

How much do you want to raise?

That would seem like an obvious point. Few people set realistic goals though. Remember, you need to consider the net amount, the amount that will go into your treasury after you’ve paid the various expenses.

Budgeting

These are some of the points your budget should consider. Of course, not every special event will feature these items, and every possible item is not reflected here, but it’s a starting point:

  • List all expenses
  • Consider the cost of the venue
  • Transportation
  • Paid staff
  • Invitations
  • Entertainment
  • Catering
  • Leave room for unforeseen expenses

Sponsorships

A good sponsorship program will:

  • Lend credibility to your event
  • Lend name recognition that you yourself may not be able to produce
  • Provide free publicity through the sponsors’ own networks
  • Save you money and resources
  • Build a healthy partnership, because sponsors will also benefit from the publicity

Note: When promoting the event to your sponsors, it is a good idea to underestimate the number of anticipated guests. This will help them see the power their partnership has at increasing attendance rates.

Know Your Limitations

  • Do not overpromise
  • Plan early to avoid shortcomings
  • Balls will drop, learn to keep the right ones aloft

The Value of Awards

One strategy you may want to implement to draw more people to your event is giving awards. Identify services in your community that have shown great benefit to the blindness community. By giving away annual awards, you lend your event a certain credibility. You build partnerships, and the recipients of these awards will publicize the fact they won your recognition, thereby attracting more people to your cause.

Strategic Positioning

If you decide to host a fundraising event at a convention, state or national, it could be to your benefit to position yourself outside of the general meeting space. In doing so, you break out of the flow of your fellow members. By holding a music event at a restaurant, for example, you open the event to the general public, thereby increasing your potential to bring in funds.

If you employ this strategy, it might behoove you not to specify a giving amount. Let people tell you their perception of what they feel your fundraising event is worth. Some people may only give you five dollars, but there are often times cases where people will give you double and triple the amount because they do not want to appear to be slacking in light of such a worthy cause.

Hiring a Special Events Coordinator

Hiring someone to organize the event is not a bad idea. Yet, here are a few pointers.

Always talk to references. When you do so, make sure you talk to references with an event similar in scope to yours.

Do not expect the events coordinator to hand over their list of contacts. Yes, they may have personal contacts at Google, Microsoft and such, but those companies have relationships built with that individual, not you. If the coordinator wants to place calls for you, let them take the initiative to do so.

Not all event coordinators are good. Take the time to properly vet them. Pose every question you can imagine to ensure they understand what it is you’re trying to accomplish and what resources you possess to help achieve those objectives.

Are you interested in being a professional fundraiser?

You should know the work can be draining. Clients can be demanding, and when things go wrong, you can expect to assume the bulk of the blame. A thick skin is mandatory, especially as you approach the final stretch before the big day. Remember though, event planning is only one aspect to being a professional fundraiser.

If you remain interested, the median salary for a fundraiser as of March 2018 was $104,242 in the District of Columbia. The salary range for the region was $84,255 to $118,539.


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