Keys to a Successful Fundraising Event

by Jess McMullin
Peoria Civic Center

From building your team to thanking your partners, hosting a special event is no small task.

Most charitable organizations depend upon the generosity of donors for some, or all, of their funding. Consequently, fundraising events are a significant activity for the livelihood of nonprofits. Special events are a valuable method of fundraising, while simultaneously engaging and educating the community on the organization’s mission.

Hosting a special event, however, is no small task. It requires significant amounts of time, resources and people—all of which are typically limited in charitable organizations. Below are some key tips in creating a fundraising event that will be a winner.

Build a Team
Form a host committee for your fundraising event as early as possible. Attempt to form a committee of diverse individuals: a mix of board members, staff, volunteers, business leaders and community celebrities. A well-blended group will offer the best source for creating ideas, obtaining sponsors and building a volunteer base. The common thread amongst all committee members must be a commitment to the nonprofit’s mission and a passion for spreading that message.

“Success of events is based on people. Always lead with a great mission and the people will drive that home,” says Molly Graham, associate director at ALSAC St. Jude in Peoria. “You will need resources and talents of all kinds. Recruit good people and give them specific jobs so they feel productive.”

Delegate responsibility to committee members. When allowed to lead specific areas they enjoy, volunteers are more likely to go above and beyond in their duties. Continuous communication and updates with the committee are essential to ensure all event assignments are completed in a timely manner.

Create Your Idea
Deciding on the type of event can be the hardest decision of all; however, successful planners always keep the organization’s mission at the heart of all activities. The key is to encourage engagement in the cause while still keeping it fun for participants.

“Consider your audience when choosing your event,” says Meg Newell, development director for the Peoria Memorial Affiliate of Susan G. Komen. “The fundraiser should match the cause and be consistent with the mission.”

Define your target audience and what activities will attract them. This will help determine your event type, theme, date and ultimately, your location options. Golf outings, races and dinners are all popular choices, but Mollie Shephardson, regional marketing manager of ALSAC St. Jude in Peoria, suggests creating unique ideas to spark people’s interest. “Come up with something different and creative that doesn’t compete with events already in the community,” she explains.


Local leaders and supporters serve as Telethon VIPs for the St. Jude Telethon, committed to raising funds for the lifesaving mission of St. Jude. The telethon is broadcast live from the Peoria Civic Center on WEEK-TV News Channel 25.

Budget Carefully
Start the planning process as early as possible, and be realistic about what can be completed. Creating a vision for your event can be fun, but a successful event planner must weigh the costs with the potential for revenue.

“Define whether your event is marketing or a fundraiser. If it’s a fundraiser, keep the ratio of expenses at 30 percent or less,” suggests Sandy Garza, development and marketing director at the Crittenton Centers.

A well-crafted budget will clearly state the fundraising goal for the charitable organization and allow wiggle room for the unexpected. The budget should identify the largest expenses first, which are typically the food, beverages, entertainment and venue. Consult with the event experts at your chosen venue to itemize smaller needs.

Build Partnerships
Partnering with brands and local businesses can save organizations money and resources, while providing companies positive exposure and an opportunity for philanthropy.

“It’s all about relationship building,” says Crystal Kyle, co-executive director of the South Side Mission. “Event sponsorships are partnerships with companies who choose to support the mission. Many utilize it as an opportunity to engage their employees and give back to the local community.”

Therefore, one should begin recruiting businesses that already have an interest in the cause and target audience, or with whom there is a personal relationship. Utilize the diversity of your committee and volunteers to open further opportunities. Begin the process early to allow time for corporate approvals and to maximize the exposure a sponsor will receive. Always under-promise and over-deliver.

Spread the Word
Once the basic details of the event are set, it’s time to get the word out and recruit participants. Create a marketing plan that will convince supporters that this event and cause are worthy of their hard-earned dollars. Reflect on the target audience and the best way to reach them. Strategies to consider include printed materials, digital and print ads, press releases, direct mailers, email blasts, posters and word of mouth.

“Partnerships within the community are the key in spreading the word about an event,” says Garza. Corporate and media partners can drive marketing efforts through on-location signage and displays, employee engagement, as well as inclusion in their own methods of advertising.

Today, social media is a valuable tool is reaching the mass public quickly. Expand beyond a simple Facebook post. Create groups, contests, hashtags and live chats to engage interaction. Stream YouTube videos and provide sneak peeks to build anticipation for your event. Don’t forget to always link the registration with every platform’s message.

Give Thanks
The fundraising event will come quickly and be over in one extremely busy day. It’s tempting to take a break afterwards, but the final step is essential in establishing long-term supporters for your charitable organization. In the week following the event, reconnect with participants, volunteers, donors and community partners. Ideally provide a recap on the event with the amount raised so they can share in the success. Above all, give a gracious thank you for their support and dedication to the mission.

“Great partners and community volunteers make or break an event,” emphasizes Graham and Shephardson. “Thank them often." iBi

Jess McMullin is the Director of Sales and Marketing at the Peoria Civic Center.

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