So you’re looking to host a fundraising event. You’ve already figured out the type of event you want to plan, but now you need some direction on how to make it even better.

If your nonprofit wants to host a successful fundraising event, you need to plan. Your preparation should cover all aspects of before, during, and after the event. And, we have the best practices to help.

Here are five strategies that will improve your event:

  1. Recruit more effectively by targeting specific supporters
  2. Practice a run-through of the fundraising event
  3. Engage donors during the event
  4. Keep the conversation going even after the big day
  5. Analyze the data to improve future event fundraising

1. Recruit More Effectively by Targeting Specific Supporters


One sign of a successful event is a large turnout. Your nonprofit won’t be disappointed if your event is full of passionate supporters.

So how do you get the crowds to come? You might think reaching out to your entire

donor base is the right way to go. On the contrary, that route doesn’t always result in more attendees. In fact, targeting all of your supporters exhausts your resources.

Depending on the type of event you’re hosting, some supporters are going to be more interested than others. Your nonprofit should focus on getting the interested supporters to attend, rather than widening your efforts to all of your donors.

Why It’s Important

Narrowing your target audience to get more attendees may seem counter-intuitive at first glance. However, it’s more effective to reach out and market to supporters with interests or habits that are similar to the focus of your event.

Donors will be drawn to attend if they have interests that correlate with your fundraising event.

For example, if you’re planning a formal fundraising event built around a silent auction, you should target your major gift donors and prospects. Plus, having a better understanding of your target donors can also help you decide on the types of auction items you’ll want for the event.

How It’s Done

When targeting the right audience, you should ask yourself three important questions:

  • What action do you want your audience to take? For this question, you’ll want to refer back to the topic of your fundraising event. Is the event’s main purpose to get donors to volunteer? Or, are you looking to raise a specific amount of money? The supporters you should target will depend on the type of goal you want to achieve.
  • What are your target supporters’ interests and habits? Keep your donors in mind as you figure out what supporters to focus on. After examining your donor database, you may find out that you have a lot of people who enjoy being active. Reach out to those donors for events such as a 5K or walkathon.
  • What demographic is likely to be interested? Age group, location, occupation, and family status all play a factor in what supporters you target.

After you ask yourself all these different questions, you’ll have a better foundation for what supporters you should target.

The main point: Your nonprofit will have a better chance of encouraging donors to attend when you reach out to supporters who share something in common with the event you’re hosting.

2. Practice a Run-Through of the Fundraising Event


A lot of different factors go into making an event successful. Your nonprofit has to set up the venue, make sure your volunteers understand their roles, and test the technology so it performs properly on event day. That’s a lot of elements to keep track of. However, your event will run smoother if you practice a full run-through before the big day.

Why It’s Important

Of course, not everything is going to go as planned, no matter how much you prepare beforehand. But, when you practice, you can prepare for the unforeseen circumstances in event fundraising that might pop up.

A practice run will help you spot any wrinkles in the process that still need smoothing out. You may even discover areas that have been overlooked or a role that needs more clarification.

A run-through will make you and your volunteers more confident. So on the day of the event, you can focus on engaging with supporters and having a good time!

How It’s Done

To have a successful practice run, here are a few points to consider:

  • Make sure volunteers have a clear understanding of their roles. Let your volunteers know their positions and everything that their jobs entail. If the job is to help teach donors how to use your mobile bidding application, make sure they have a solid understanding of the platform and can answer your donors’ questions.
  • Don’t just practice how things should go. Just practicing how your ideal event should run doesn’t prepare you or your volunteers for anything unplanned. You want your volunteers to be confident they can handle any issues that arise, so when you practice, send some curve balls their way.
  • Test the technology. You’ll be more prepared for your event if you’re familiar with the technology. Test your mobile bidding software, sound equipment, lighting, etc. to make sure you know how to use everything.
  • Plan where everything will be positioned. There’s no point in practicing if you don’t have everything set up like you would at the actual event. For example, if your event includes an auction, make sure all your auction items are in the right place. For live auctions, make sure your sound and light systems are in proper order to accommodate your auctioneer.

The last thing your nonprofit wants is to run into technical or other difficulties once event day rolls around. Make sure you’re well-prepared so everything runs smoothly.

The main point: Don’t wait until the day of the event to test out the technology and make sure everyone understands their role. Plan to practice a day before. That way, you can spot problems and resolve them prior to the big day.

3. Engage Donors During the Event


Your event should be fun! You and your volunteers should actively engage with donors throughout the event. Those interactions will give your donors a more enjoyable experience. Plus, it gives you a chance to get to know your supporters on a more personal level.

While face-to-face interaction should be an integral part of your engagement, don’t limit yourself to just these types of interactions. In-person interaction shouldn’t be the only way you engage with donors at an event.

Why It’s Important

Engaging with donors on additional channels like social media and text messages lets you keep the conversation going with attendees.

Additionally, you only have so many volunteers and staff. It’s possible you might not be able to speak with everyone or spend a lot of time on each supporter. Using other channels can help you compensate for having limited time and potentially, a small team.

Plus, if your event includes a charity auction, you can use other channels to update donors on items that still have low bids.

Using social media during your event not only amps up the excitement, it also helps raise awareness about your organization to the attendees’ networks. Their peers will see posts about your event and that might motivate them to learn more.

Who knows? By sharing your event on social media, you might be recruiting new supporters for your next fundraising event!

How It’s Done

What channels you decide to use will depend on your event and your attendees. Here are a few examples of how you can engage your supporters:

  • Live post on social media. If you have a hashtag related to your event, use it to post live updates. Not only does this keep donors informed, it also makes your content shareable. Supporters at the event can share your posts or add to the conversation using your event’s hashtag.
  • Make use of your donors’ mobile phones. With text messages, you can encourage donors to interact back. Supporters can request songs or answer quiz questions.
  • Create some friendly competition with mobile bidding. With mobile bidding, your attendees can engage with each other and raise money in a fun atmosphere. Plus, research shows that mobile bidding is three times more successful than its paper equivalent.
  • Hand out programs. Give your donors programs so that they have a detailed agenda of what to expect. 

The main point: Your conversations can help you learn more about your donors, determine if the event was successful, and encourage attendees to give. So, strike up conversations with your donors in as many ways as possible.

4. Keep the Conversation Going Even After the Big Day


The immediate aftermath of an event is satisfying. You got to meet a lot of your supporters and potentially learn more information about them that will be useful in the future. Now, you can celebrate all the funds you’ve raised and start your projects.

All the hard work is behind you … or so you think.

Your job doesn’t stop after the event is over. After an event ends, is the perfect time to follow up with donors. You should send your supporters acknowledgments and let them know how their gifts will be used.

Why It’s Important

Your interaction with donors shouldn’t end once you’ve raised the funds for your next project. Regular contact is what eventually cultivates your supporters into long-time donors.

Follow-ups are important because they can help increase your donor retention. In fact, in one survey, 53 percent of donors noted that lack of consistent communication was their reason for leaving an organization.

How It’s Done

For thank you letters to be effective, you need to send them within 48 hours after an event. As you write your thank you letters, here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • Focus on the donor’s contribution. Count how many times you use “you” and “I” in your thank you letter. Your letter should use “you” more often because it shows donors you’re focusing on the supporter. Your thank you letter is not the time to focus on all the great deeds your nonprofit has accomplished.
  • Say thank you more than once. Your donors have helped you pull off something amazing; it doesn’t hurt to make sure they know you’re thankful.
  • Format your letter so it’s easy to read. Break up your paragraphs so they’re short and easy to read. Be conscious of your donors’ time, by emphasizing key points so donors can easily spot what they need to takeaway.

In your thank you letter, you can provide a short description of how their funds will be used. However, you should send them additional follow-ups when you have more information on your project’s progress.

When you decide to update your supporters will all depend on the cause. Different projects will take a different amount of time to see results. Follow up with updates as soon as you have information to send.

Before it’s time to start following up with your donors, consider how you should tell them. Your communication method will depend on the size and scope of the fundraising event.

If it was a smaller event, you could call each individual with updates. For larger events, you can send updates via email or direct mail. Just remember to pull your reader in by writing interesting opening sentences and email subjects.

The main point: Follow up with attendees after the event to continue cultivating your relationships. The more you interact with donors, the more comfortable they’ll feel about giving in the future.

5. Analyze the Data to Improve Future Event Fundraising


After the fundraising event is finished and you’ve followed up with your attendees, it’s time to analyze the data. Looking at the data is about more than just determining if your event was successful. It’s about evaluating every aspect and seeing what areas could use improvement.

Why It’s Important

Good analysis helps you prepare for future event fundraising. It lets you know what areas you can improve on. Your nonprofit can’t move forward without looking back at what was successful.

How It’s Done

Knowing if your fundraising event was successful is about more than just reaching your fundraising goals. Your organization should also take into account:

  • Feedback from participants. What were some of the reactions from those in attendance? If donors didn’t have fun, then you’ll have to figure out ways to make the next fundraising event more enjoyable.
  • Your ROI (return on investment). Now, it’s time to see how close you were to your estimated budget! Calculate the final budget. Just compare that number with funds you raised to reach your ROI.
  • Donor data. You probably learned a lot about your attendees. Make sure that information is collected and stored in your nonprofit CRM.

All these factors come together to help you evaluate your fundraising event. You can use other metrics to help determine what marketing channels were the most successful in attracting your donors’ attention.

The main point: Collect all the data you have on your fundraising event, and use it to help determine what parts went well and what could use more work.

Your nonprofit can use the five best practices in this article to organize better fundraising events. Now that you have more knowledge about what makes a good fundraising event, use these strategies to start raising more funds for your organization!

About the Author

Joshua Meyer has more than 14 years of fundraising, volunteer management, and marketing experience, and is currently Director of Marketing for BidPal.