Thursday, July 22, 2010

5 vital things to remember when planning an event for fundraising

Planning a fundraiser is likely to be done by committee or at least you and a few girlfriends, which is how it was for an event which was thrown for the Children of Ethiopia Education Fund by me and three other women in Spring 2009.

I had worked on the Peninsula School Spring Fair with two of the women for two years because their children were in my child's class. We so enjoyed working together that we decided to plan a fundraiser together independent of the school. We added a fourth woman who had mad skills in graphics and design and off we went planning.

We chose COEEF to be our first beneficiary of this teamwork because one of the women in our group was from Ethiopia originally and she knew the organizers' work through some other experiences of meeting them. She was impressed with their work and so we decided to throw an afternoon open house, serve Ethiopian Food and Ethiopian wine. There would be a speech by the founder of the organization and we would decorate with authentic pieces form Ethiopia. High level planning came together quickly.

We laid our intentions on the table with COEEF and they were enthusiastic to come out and speak to a group of potential sponsors. We chose a date that worked for everyone and had a location because one of the women on our committee opened her home to our event (which is right out of Architectural Digest) so we were already making money for our chosen organization because we didn't have to pay for room rental! Magical! The whole event was so easy to plan and execute, when it's right, it's right.

Here are the top five things that I think I learned are most important to remember when planning an event like this one.

1. The appeal for donation has to be woven into the event plan because it is the most important function of this gathering - plain and simple. Do not lose sight of the prize when planning this type of event - start with two questions a) when are you going to ask for the money?, and b) how are you going to ask for the money? Build out your event from there. We knew we wanted something more casual for our first foray into fundraising events and the open house seemed to be a perfect pitch to our friends and colleagues, who were our demographic for this event. Come eat, hear a short speech, and visit with people over a glass of wine with a spectacular view. We planned the speech when we thought the most number of people would be at the party and we planned the whole event from that central point.

Invitation image created by
Robin McCloskey
2. Everything you can get for free or for a discount is money in the hands of your charity - get someone on your team who isn't afraid to ask for discounts. Case in point, when my friend had finished these amazingly beautiful invitations we wondered if they would give us a discount since we were doing a fundraiser. She immediately shied away from that task because that wasn't her comfort zone. I was not at all shy about asking. We used Jungle Digital Imaging in Palo Alto and when I walked in and explained what we were doing to Adam, the manager, he gave us a deep discount off the price of the invites for a small byline on the back of the card. We were thrilled!

3. Learn about event underwriting. People or companies can underwrite or "sponsor" an event. Why would someone want to underwrite your event? They want access to your guest list from a marketing perspective or they may want their name associated with your cause. They may want a booth or a banner at your event or may want advertising space on your publicity or event materials. Best to try and figure out an angle of how a company or individual might connect to your event and what they are going to get in return during the early planning stages because you will likely need some underwriters to get your event executed.

4. Who you invite to this event directly relates to how you plan this event to meet your fundraising goals. The guest list couldn't be more important for these types of events. Know your demographic and how to get them to the party. These days there are many ways to invite people to events - use the method that attracts your target audience. Remember point #1 - this is about raising money and you have to customize a fundraiser to make it as easy to give as possible. There are different levels of givers and different expectations and approaches and that information affects every plan you make, so give it thought!

5. People give money to organizations with whom they feel connected and trust. You can't expect to raise money from people who haven't connected to the cause or the organization. There has to be a relationship between the giver and the receiver, and putting on an event like this makes you the matchmaker. A good match is one in which the event creates the opportunity for the organization of honor to connect with each donor. That is quite a bit of responsibility, but you're hosting a fundraiser, so planning from the heart shouldn't be a stretch for you.

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