Tips on Planning a Successful Fundraising Event

Special events require a significant amount of planning and attention to detail. In order to be successful, there needs to be a small committee overseeing the event. The job of this committee is to plan and coordinate, not necessarily complete every task. Tasks can – and should – be delegate to other people in the organization.


The first three tasks are important and if done well, create a foundation for success. These are: to create a master task list, prepare a budget, and develop a timeline.


1. Detail a master task list. The easiest framework to use is a matrix of four columns, labeled What, When, Who, and Done. Under “What” list all the tasks that must be accomplished. Include everything, down to the last minute detail! Under the “When” column, note beside each task when it must be finished – give yourself an extra week, because you will inevitably run into snags or delays. Put the list in chronological order. Now it’s time to assign tasks, which should be noted in the “Who” column. Note the date the task is completed under “Done.”


2. Prepare a budget. Use the master task list to create a budget. Anything that will cost money goes in the column marked “Expenses.” Anything that will generate revenue goes under “Income.” When the list is complete, subtract expenses from income to determine the profit or “net income” for the event. The budget should be based on actual quotes, not “guesstimates.” As much as possible, put off paying for anything until after the event is over and be sure there are cancellation clauses for rentals and other contracts. Of course, your goal is to get as many things donated as possible, but don’t base your budget on this. This will protect you in case you do have to pay for something you had planned to get donated, and also give you a cushion in case you have an unexpected expense.


3. Create a timeline. Think “backwards” from the date of your event. If you want to have a dance on August 10, what would you have to do on August 9? To do those things, what would you have to do in early August? What would have to be in place by July 15? And so on, back to the day you are starting from. When you do this, you may find out that it is impossible to put on the event in the time allowed. In that case they must either modify the event or change the date. Thinking through each week’s tasks for the timeline may also surface expenses you hadn’t thought of, or additional tasks. Add these to your task list and budget.


Remember to take into account that there are only 5 working days/week. Also be sure to note any holidays, vacations, etc


Establish “go/no go” dates and benchmarks that need to be reached by then. On those dates, evaluate your progress and decide if you are going to proceed with the event or if you are hopelessly behind or too many things have gone wrong and you should just cancel or modify the event. Go/no-go dates can also be set for goals to determine if the event will be successful, such as how many tickets you should have sold, or how many ads in the adbook you should have acquired, or how many underwriters you should have lined up.


Once the committee has prepared the task list, the budget, and the timeline, they are ready to assign tasks to other volunteers. When you ask volunteers or vendors to do things, give them a due date that is sooner than the one in the “When” column of your task list. That way, in the best case you will always be ahead of your schedule; in the worst case — if the task is not completed — you will have some time to get it done.

Often-forgotten items

Here is a checklist of commonly forgotten items in planning an event:

  • Liquor license
  • Insurance (on the hall, for the speaker, for participants).
  • Logistics of transporting food, drink, speakers, performers, sound equipment, and the like to and from the event
  • Lodging for performers or speaker
  • Parking: either in a well-lit lot or available on well-lit streets
  • If there is going to be food: platters, plates, utensils, and napkins. Don’t forget things like salt and pepper, hot and cold cups, cream and sugar.
  • Heat or air conditioning: Is it available, does it cost extra, will you need to bring your own fans or space heaters?
  • Receipt books for people who pay at the door or who buy anything sold at the event
  • Here are some questions you need to ask before the event:
    • Is the venue wheelchair accessible? Make sure that all rooms are accessible, especially both the men and women’s bathroom doors, stalls, toilet paper dispenser, sinks, etc. Sometimes a building will be labeled “wheelchair accessible” when only the front door and one area of seating are actually accessible.
    • Where and how to dispose of trash? Are there clearly marked recycling bins and trash cans?
    • Will you allow smoking? If so, where, and is that clearly marked?
    • Does the invitation’s reply card fit into the return envelope?
    • Has everything been proofread at least five times, by five different people?
    • Is the organization’s address, Web site, and phone number on the reply card, flier, poster, invitation, everything else?
    • If appropriate, is the event advertised on the Web site and is there an announcement of it on your answering machine?
    • Are the price, date, time, place, directions, and RSVP instructions for the event on all advertising?
    • Have you considered the necessity of child care or language translation?
    • How safe is the neighborhood? Will women feel safe coming alone?
    • Can you see and hear from every seat? (Sit in a number of seats to make sure.)
    • Who will open the room or building for you? Do you need a key?
    • Where are the fire exits?
    • Do you know how all the lights work?
    • What has to be done for clean-up?


The Evaluation

Within a few days after the event, the planning committee should meet to discuss what went well, what didn’t, what you’d like to see changed for next year, etc. These should be put in writing. The evaluation will allow you to decide whether or not to do the event again, and will also ensure that the same number of people working the same amount of time will raise more and more money every year.

This is also the time to organize your records. Save the evaluation along with copies of the advertising, the invitations, and any other information that would be useful for next year’s planning committee. Make sure the file is stored in a central location where everyone can find it.