Consider best practices — and practices to avoidIs your nonprofit planning a special event? Whether it's a gala, dinner, auction, run/walk or other event, consider these dos and don'ts to make your event a success.
- Promote the event. Stir up publicity through email, social media and word of mouth. Use the event to boost awareness of your brand in local and philanthropic communities.
- Use the event to recognize outstanding contributors. This might include both significant donors and exceptional volunteers.
- Make a fundraising pitch part of the event. Guests of ticket buyers might not be familiar with your organization and a successful event can be a big encouragement to contribute.
- Add supplementary fundraising opportunities. This might be a silent auction at a gala dinner, for example, or a giving challenge. Encourage guests to make an additional, on-the-spot contribution.
- Offer giving opportunities for people who can't attend. Don't limit yourself to ticket buyers. You might suggest donations or participation in a raffle.
- Estimate attendance and book space accordingly. The appearance of a full house helps ensure guests have a good time. It's also helpful to plan the event in an accessible area. Make sure there's adequate parking and access to taxis or public transportation.
- Be aware of liability issues. Consider buying additional insurance for the event.
- Within reason, accommodate special guest needs. Offer alcohol-free and vegetarian options, and be aware of potential allergens in food and drinks. Provide services for guests who have vision impairments, limited mobility or other special needs.
- Give away tickets. Charging for attendance is key for making sure people actually attend.
- Treat special events as something separate from your other work. Make them part of your nonprofit's story, whether that's recognizing success, honoring major donors or launching a new initiative.
- Skimp on entertainment, catering or facilities. Participants in charity 5Ks, for example, need access to water and energy drinks, and shelter from weather. And everyone needs enough bathrooms!
- Rely on ticket sales alone to bring in money. It's not just about covering costs — such as space rental, food and staff time — but also about bringing in cash. You might seek out event sponsors and incorporate an auction, raffle or t-shirt sales into the event to raise more money.
- Let long lines form at bathrooms, bars or buffet tables. Plan for the number of guests you expect.
- Fail to recognize those who made the event possible. This includes corporate and in-kind donors.
- Drop the ball after the event. Follow up with ticket buyers as well as their guests. Thank them for their attendance and recognize any additional gifts.
- Focus only on the money. Fundraisers may also be so-called friend-raisers, building a donor and supporter base. Let special events be team-building opportunities for board, staff and volunteers. Similarly, make special events an opportunity for networking with business and corporate partners.