The Fundraising Event Planning Checklist

Fundraising events are an exciting and useful tool for exposing your mission to the community. Every event serves similar purposes: networking, increasing revenue and generating awareness. Fundraisers allow you to bond with prospects and donors, whether it’s formal or informal, strengthening your relationship. This is your pathway into their world, allowing for an easier stewardship process and closer relationship. Your mission-focused event should mirror your organization’s purpose, and guests should feel aligned with your message.

Not all events produce hefty revenue returns, but, if done properly, each one is guaranteed to feature your mission, increasing community focus. It’s up to your organization to decide if the return is worth the investment of funds, time and energy. Once you have decided to host a fundraiser, focusing on the following areas will help elevate your success.

The Fundraising Event Planning Checklist:

1. Define Your Event’s Intent

Reasons for hosting an event can vary but in the beginning stages of planning your fundraising event, it’s imperative to determine the motivation. Is it to raise money, increase awareness or extend your network? Maybe your purpose includes all three of these motivators. Once you determine the purpose of your fundraiser, you can structure the event and outline your goals.

2. Set an Objective

Set realistic goals to drive success. Make sure they align with your target audience and are obtainable. Using the ROI and ROO metrics will help measure goals and/or criteria from a different points of view.

  • ROI: Return on Investment is the revenue generated from the contributions made and is strictly a quantitative measure.
    • ROI = Event Revenue – Event Expense / Event Expense

For example, if your goal is to raise $120,000 and your event costs $100,000, your ROI is $20,000 or 20%.

  • ROO: Return on Objective is a flexible measurement and refers to the objectives that are achieved. The ROO will measure the overall strength the organization gained from the event concentrating on brand awareness, donor face-time, community involvement, etc.

Combining the ROI and ROO will determine if the event was worth the expense, time and effort. Remember to set goals that are achievable and unrealistic goals will only create discouragement for you, volunteers and staff.

3. Identify your Target Audience:

Identify a target audience, and then let that audience influence the event’s details. Fundraising events can focus on multiple demographics including young professionals, children, parents, seasoned patrons, or the community as a whole. The details of your event will reflect the characteristics, likes and dislikes of your target audience which, in turn, will increase attendance, engagement and return on your investment. Once your target audience is established make sure that leadership, staff and volunteers spread-the-word. Build a list of desired attendees and utilize all relationships that are connected to your organization.

4. Create a Budget:

Create and follow an itemized budget to ensure you stay focused and on track. Most items should fall under a larger category, but leave extra monies for incidentals that might arise. An effective way to off-set expenses is to promote outside support. Benefactors will help fund your fundraising event and, in turn, receive public recognition. Form sponsorship levels and increase the benefits in monetary increments. Marketers know that if they get their product or company under the right event sponsorship, they can get visibility among their target audiences. Also, make sure to account for all in-kind donations on your profit and loss statement. The IRS requires all nonprofits to recognize donated items as revenue and an expense, producing an accurate cost synopsis.

A budget should include (but is not limited to):

  • Invitations/Mail house
  • Entertainment/Lighting/Sound
  • Catering
  • Bar Service
  • Staffing
  • Printing
  • Rentals
  • Security
  • Parking
  • Incidentals

5. Build an Event Committee:

Build a committee of volunteers, staff and board members to escalate ticket sales, increase publicity, leverage additional resources, and create a sense of ownership. Most people donate their services, time or monies because they are asked by a friend, family member or peer. A committee is a perfect way to secure new volunteers and/or donors. Be creative and give them an identifying name, such as “Friends of the Festival,” intensifying their purpose, strengthening their drive and increasing exposure and community support. Utilize your committee members’ resources and recognize their efforts on your social media posts, website and printed collateral. They are your advocates and should feel appreciated.

6. Create an Event Promotion Strategy:

Your marketing plan will vary depending on the target audience and formality of the event. Similarly, all events need exposure, however, your publicity techniques will vary but have similar goals. Casual events can utilize social media and electronic invitations while formal events will distribute printed save-the-dates and invitations. Make sure your marketing efforts reflect the voice of the event and appeal to your invited guests.

7. Determine Sales Goals:

Determine how you will sell tickets and consider the delivery method (remember that it will need to be convenient for your guests). Ticket prices should reflect the style of the event and align with your target audience. Have multiple ticket-price levels available so your guests can choose their level of involvement. It’s important to have an exclusive price for your members so they feel special and acknowledged for supporting your organization annually. For example, offer a general admission ticket, VIP ticket, and a member ticket, each with its own experiences.

General AdmissionMain Event7-10pm$85 per personEntertainment, Open Bar, Hors d’oeuvres & Live/Silent Auction
Member AdmissionMain Event7-10pm$75 per personEntertainment, Open Bar, Hors d’oeuvres & Live/Silent Auction
VIP AdmissionPre-Event & Main Event6-10pm$120 per personEntertainment, Open Bar & Specialty Cocktails, Hors d’oeuvres, Live/Silent Auction (early bidding) & Access to VIP lounge

Simplicity is paramount—ensures you don’t have too many options, which can become confusing. Offering different levels will increase your revenue and enhance the guest experience.

8. Create a Unique Atmosphere:

Allow your guests to be amazed while creating a fun environment. Develop a unique atmosphere, and treat guests to out-of-the-box, memorable encounters. If possible, include a theme that will heighten the originality and allow guests to get involved. Build experiences that generate buzz to sustain attendance for your next affair.

9. Train Staff and Volunteers:

A full run-through of the event is likely unnecessary, but meet with staff and volunteers at least one week prior. Provide a detailed outline defining the event flow, explain each position’s duties, and make sure expectations are understood. This meeting will prepare staff and volunteers and allow them to manage any troubleshooting that may arise.  Also, form a strategy for each attendee that would benefit from cultivation. Assign board members, leadership and staff to approach certain donors and/or prospects and allow for personalized tours. Make sure to capitalize on all possibilities and not missing a single opportunity.

10. Schedule Run of Show:

Timelines will vary depending on the complexity of the event. The run-of-show, a detailed event timeline, is extremely important to stay organized during the busy days leading up to a fundraiser. For example, if you are hosting an awards gala outside on a beautiful lawn, the run-of-show would span over a four-day period.

An Example of an Awards Gala Run-of-Show (weather permitting)

Day 1 (Two days prior to event)  

6 a.m.Turn off sprinklers
10 a.m. Spray area for bugs
12 p.m.Tents assembled
3 p.m.Fire Marshal inspection

Day 2 (One day prior to event)

7 a.m.Lighting assembled
7 a.m.Sound assembled
10 a.m.Restroom delivery/set-up
12 p.m.Rental delivery/set-up (chairs, tables, linens, flatware)
1 p.m.Stage delivery/set-up

Day 3 (Day of event)

12 p.m.Assemble center pieces
12 p.m.Place tables, chairs, linens, flatware and programs
2 p.m.Assemble décor
3 p.m.Caterer on-site
4 p.m.Caterer on-site
6 p.m.Cocktail reception (passed hors d’oeuvres & open bar)
6:30 p.m.Guests are asked to be seated
7 p.m.Dinner begins (amuse bouche pre-set)
7:10 p.m.Welcome – Moderator & Introduction of chairperson of the board
Remarks – Chairperson of the board
7:25 p.m.First course cleared
7:35 p.m.Second course served (replenish water/wine/beer/liquor)
7:45 p.m.Moderator introduces speaker 1
Speaker 1 presents first award/awardee acceptance speech
7:55 p.m.Clear second course
8:05 p.m.Moderator introduces speaker 2
Speaker 2 presents second award/awardee acceptance speech
8:15 p.m.Serve third course (replenish water/wine/beer/liquor)
8:40 p.m.Clear third course
8:50 p.m.Moderator introduces speaker
Speaker 3 presents main award/awardee acceptance speech
9:05pmServe fourth course (coffee and replenish water/wine/beer/liquor)
9:20 p.m.Clear fourth course
9:30pmClosing remarks by CEO
9:45pm After-Affair (entertainment/late-night bites/open bar)
11 p.m.Gala ends

Day 4 (Post event)

7 a.m.Tent removal
7 a.m.Lighting removal
7 a.m.Sound removal
8 a.m.Rental pick-up
10 a.m.Décor removal
12 p.m.Restroom removal
Acknowledgement letters/phone calls/emails
Staff/volunteer thank you

11. Acknowledge Contributions:

Thank you, thank you and thank you! You can’t thank your donors, vendors, staff and volunteers enough since you will be leaning on them again in the future. Events, especially large ones, are a team effort and everyone contributes a unique talent. A thank you can be simple and impactful. For example, write hand-written notes, attach a piece of candy and leave on the desks of staff members. This small gesture will brighten their day and make them smile. They will know, and remember, that you appreciate them.

Fundraising events are a large component of your annual revenue, exposure, and prospect/donor growth. While time consuming, they can produce a great return on investment. Always consider the pros and cons of hosting an event before you commit. Encourage feedback from staff, and listen to their thoughts and ideas. Events are a team effort and will require everyone to be on-board. Remember to follow up with prospects and donors soon afterward, proving your dedication and enthusiasm, and moving your organization one step closer to securing their gift or pledge.

Good luck, and remember to enjoy your fundraising events!