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Consider best practices — and practices to avoid

Is 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.



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.



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