As a professional entertainer, I’ve worked more than my fair share of fundraising events; everything from small-town groups raising money for a local project, to huge galas for giant non-profits looking to boost their annual donations. And, with fundraising season coming up this fall in Alberta (and, really, western Canada), a lot of people will be planning these kinds of events for the first time.
And, whether you’re in a bigger center like Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Saskatoon, or Regina, or a smaller community outside of the metropolitan city limits, the basics and the main goal are the same.
Put on a stellar event to not only reach your fundraising goals, but also have a great time doing it!
So, what do you need to do to make your fundraiser a huge success and bring in the big bucks? Well, I'm about to spill the beans on how to make more money at your next fundraising event!
1. Plan, Plan, Plan Ahead
Despite seeming obvious, you need plan ahead. Every year, I get calls and emails from people who are planning a fundraiser with only days to get everything lined up. It’s procrastination to the extreme, and while the person doing the last-minute planning is paying for it in insurmountable stress, the real loss is to the organization the funds are being raised for.
Poor planning equals a lackluster event, which equals lackluster fundraising success. Period.
So, plan ahead. If you’re looking to hire a magician (or other entertainer) like me, I recommend reaching out at least 4-6 months in advance. Catering and venues? Even sooner. And while you may be really early, it’s one stressor that you can take off your plate right away. Don't just wing it and hope for the best.
2. Stay Organized
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve shown up at an event where the organizers have NO IDEA what’s happening. They have no idea about the schedule, the food, the entertainment, the tech…and it’s a mess.
But, I also can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve shown up at an event that’s done it right. I’ve seen people with notebooks, post-its, apps, you name it…all in the name of staying organized and on top of things.
This goes hand in hand with planning your event at least six months in advance. Not only does it keep the event running smoothly, but it also lets you keep other important things in your sight, like...
3. Knowing Your Audience and Your Goals
Having a clear idea of your goal, target audience, and messaging is key. To pare it down to simple terms, fundraising is, in essence, marketing. Knowing who your past and current donors are, what they like, what they want to support, can be not only a great way to get them to support your cause, but find new donors to boot.
Do your research. Not only on your current and potential donors, but also what your colleagues or competition is doing to attract donors.
As for your goals, have specific target in mind from the start. Know exactly how much you want or need to raise, and how your event budget plays into that. For example, just raising “as much as possible,” feels soft, and won’t likely see much enthusiasm, support, or financial backing. But, having a real number that you can count down to (think, “We’re only $1,000 away from our goal of $30,000”) Makes it feel like there’s a goal to actually be met.
4. Make It Memorable
This tip is dead simple. Make it fun.
For one, nobody wants to attend a boring event. If you want to get your donors through the door, making it an event to remember is a no-brainer.
But, if your attendees had a blast, it also means they’re far more likely to come back again. And, usually, they come back prepared to make larger donations.
This boils down to something called the Reciprocity Effect. They more you give to them, the more they are willing to give back.
So, how do you make it fun? You can get creative with things like games, contests, or raffles, but in my experience, the easiest way is to hire a pro. Getting a professional entertainer is a sure-fire way to draw a crowd and leave your guests with a one-of-a-kind experience. Not only that, but a professional entertainer also does all the hard work for you, so your guests get an amazing show, and you look like the hero.
5. The Venue Matters
Location, Location, Location.
You can do everything right, but if the venue sucks, it’s game over. Pick a venue that is attractive, functional, and easily accessible, and it's big enough to accommodate your guests comfortably.
A venue with a basic sound system is also a must. Nothing will kill a night faster than “what did they say?” All you (usually) need is a microphone, and simple sound hookups to accommodate any other basic sound equipment like computers, smartphones, and the like. If you do hire an entertainer, check with them to make sure they have a technical rider that you can forward to the venue as well.
6. Spread the Word
You could’ve planned the greatest fundraiser in the world, but if nobody knows about it, it’s all for nothing.
So, spread the word! Promote your event using social media, email, and good old-fashioned word of mouth. And, don't be afraid to ask your sponsors, volunteers, and donors to spread the word too. The more people know about your fundraiser, the more donations you're likely to receive.
7. Incentivize People to Donate
Who doesn't love a perk? One really easy way to bump up that bottom line is to offer your guests something in return for their donations. It doesn’t need to be fancy; pens, raffle tickets, stress balls, and t-shirts are all great ideas. Tiered reward systems are also becoming more and more popular; the more you donate, the better the perk (think Kickstarter or Patreon).
The point is: make your donors feel appreciated and valued. And when people feel appreciated, they're more likely to donate again in the future.
8. Make it Easy
This one also feels obvious, but it gets missed more often than you think.
Make it easy to donate. Accept multiple payment methods (cash, credit, cheque, etc.), and do it with a system that makes it as simple as possible. Have a designated area at the event and online where people can donate, and make it as easily accessible as possible. The last thing you want is to lose a donation because your guests couldn't figure out how to actually donate.
9. Excessive Gratitude
If you take one thing away from this article, I want it to be this:
Thank your people. And do it sincerely.
Thank your donors, no matter small or large their donation is. Thank your volunteers. Thank your caterer. Thank your venue. Thank your entertainment. Thank your sponsors. Anybody who had any hand in your event gets your sincere gratitude.
You can send a personalized email, a handwritten note, or even give them a call. Thanking your supporters and vendors feel appreciated and valued. Not only that, it’s a good look for you; no one wants to help someone who isn’t gracious and grateful for the support they receive.
There, now you have 10 tips to knock out a fantastic fundraising event! So go ahead, organize that killer fundraiser, and watch the money pour in like it's hot gravy on Thanksgiving day!
Best of luck!