The Friday Five: Tips For Planning Successful Fundraising Events

This past January, I became Director of Fundraising of my organization — with absolutely no fundraising experience. I thought it would be a lot of fun, planning events that would ultimately benefit some awesome charities, but I soon realized that there was a reason I ran uncontested. Fundraising is hard. Surrounded by monetary goals and deadlines, I felt like I was in over my head.

Whenever I scoured the Internet in search of fundraising advice, I kept coming across the same few unhelpful articles. Ultimately, I wound up following my own rules, and in one semester ended up raising more money than my predecessor did in an entire year.

This week, I would like to share some of my methods with those of you who have also gotten into a fundraising position and feel completely lost. Hopefully this will make those goals seem a little more attainable! 🙂

The Friday Five: Tips For Planning Successful Fundraising Events

1. Find out what worked in the past, and then create your own unique twist.
Talk to others who have fundraised for the same cause or who have served in your position, and find out what your organization responds to the most. For example, while bake sales aren’t the most exciting events imaginable, I can look through past records and see that my organization has always made more than $100 through baked goods. Then, I can decide to give my bake sale a fun theme, and brand my event that way. Figure out which events have made the most cash in the past, and then give them an original flair.

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2. Start early.
This is especially important if your event requires a lot of participation. Last year, I hosted a very successful Open Mic Night, but I really had to search to find people who were willing to perform in public. I also had to book the venue months in advance, keep in constant communication with performers, delegate tasks to my committee members, write a script and provide materials for my tech boys. I could not have done all of this the night before, nor could I have done it the week before. Depending on how large your event is, you will want to map out a rough calendar of when certain things need to be finished. It will save you a lot of hassle later on!

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3. Be organized and keep track of what you do.
In our organization, we keep binders with information about each of our events, so that those who fill our positions in the years to come will have records of what we did and knowledge of how to execute certain types of events. Some of my predecessors did not provide much information for me, so I either had to ask a lot of questions of former officers or I had to figure out my own way of doing things. I kept every detail of every event I ever ran in that binder, so that I could easily look at it for references, but also so that the successful events could be repeated (and the unsuccessful events could be salvaged!). Also, being organized will help you when your event is looming closer, because it will keep your event from becoming too overwhelming and it will make it easier for others to help you.

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4. Use your creativity.
Tradition is great to follow (see #1), but if you want to create your own legacy, you have to give yourself a challenge. Think of something fun and exciting, something that will gain participant interest without costing a lot of money. Be creative in the ways you market your event as well. My campus puts on a drag show/fundraiser every year, and to advertise the event, they send students dressed in drag to hand out the fliers. It is a creative marketing strategy that definitely gets attention, and the actual event always has a huge turnout. I’m not saying you need to dress in drag to get your message across, but put some time and effort into the way you showcase your event AND the way you actually execute it.

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5. Realize that things probably won’t go perfectly.
The first event I ever ran was a scavenger hunt called Hunt for the Horcruxes (yes, I’m obsessed), and prior to the event, I followed all of the above steps to make it an enjoyable experience for the teams involved. Of course, on the night of the event, two of the teams dropped out because of illness, the Google Voice system I used to send clues to each team decided to malfunction, one team completely disappeared halfway through the race, and the computer in my office decided it didn’t want to open any of the documents with my clues and pathways on them. I was practically in tears. In the end, the event still raised $80 that went toward the Children’s Miracle Network fund, and the majority of participants came and told me afterward how much fun they had at the event. When things went wrong, I had to find alternatives in order for the event to work out, but none of those alternatives were earth-shattering. With seven fundraisers under my belt, I now know what problems I have the possibility of facing at future events, and I know better ways of preparing for them.

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I hope this helps anyone who has to create fundraising events and doesn’t know what to do. Let me know if you have additional questions and I will do my best to answer!

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