A charity event, also called a fundraising event or a nonprofit event, is an event that is planned and hosted to raise awareness and raise money for a cause.
Virtually all types of events (conference, expo/trade show, concert) can be turned into charity events. So, a charity event is about its goal or purpose rather than being a type of event on its own.
Also, charity events can be planned and hosted by anyone. While it’s typically hosted by nonprofit organizations, any organization or even individual willing to support a cause can host a charity event on their own.
Planning a Charity Event: Step-by-Step Guide
Planning and hosting a for-profit (traditional) event is already challenging, with all the different moving parts involved. A charity event, however, can potentially be even more challenging to host since you’ll need to take the fundraising aspect into account, as well as other nuances like attracting donors and securing sponsorships, among others.
However, although planning a charity event can be difficult, it doesn’t have to be stressful, and below we will break down how to plan a successful charity event in a step-by-step guide.
Step 1: Define and Know Your Cause
This one is fairly obvious, but many fundraising event organizers didn’t do enough homework to research the cause they are supporting.
It’s important to know the cause you’re raising money for inside and out: who are you raising money for? What’s the cause? Is the cause valid?
The more information you’ve gathered about the cause you are supporting, the better you can:
- Identify the donors who are more likely to also support the same cause
- Providing more information surrounding the cause to the donor (i.e., via event content) so they can understand better what the impact of their participation will be
- Design an event that aligns well with the cause, as well as being attractive for the donors and attendees
- Create attractive marketing and promotional materials using this data
Knowing and understanding your cause can really make or break a charity event’s success and will also help you in defining your event’s fundraising goal, which we will discuss in the next step.
Step 2: Determine Your Event Goal
For charity events, the event goal is typically fairly obvious: raising money for the cause. However, there may also be other nuances to consider when determining your goals.
First, ask yourself (and your key team members) the following questions:
- What’s the purpose of hosting this event?
- What’s the cause you are supporting?
- How do we hope this event will affect our organization?
For a charity event, you will also need to determine your fundraising goals. That is, how much money you want to raise during (and after) the event. Depending on the charity event and the donors you are inviting, you may also want to set an overall fundraising goal along with individual goals for different donors/fundraisers.
- Make sure it’s purpose-driven. What is the task you are hoping to accomplish (i.e., building houses for refugees)? How much will you need to accomplish this specific task?
- If you’ve hosted previous charity or fundraising events in the past, then you can look at previous events’ data to determine the average amount you’ve raised. While you can aim higher, keep the goal realistic and attainable.
- Based on the task you are trying to achieve, it’s safe to set your fundraising goal around 30% higher than what you’ll need to achieve this task. However, if this number is unattainable, then you may need to adjust your goal and move on to another cause if necessary.
However, keep in mind that raising money should not be your only goal in hosting a charity event. You should also set other actionable goals that may benefit your organization in the future, like building relationships with donors and finding potential partners.
Set specific and measurable goals like “capturing contacts of 20 new and prominent donors.”
Step 3: Identifying Potential Donors
If you’ve planned charity events in the past, then you may already have a list of potential donors to invite. However, if this is your very first charity event, then this step can potentially be the most challenging one.
Yet, you should generally look for :
- Those who have made contributions to other nonprofit organizations and/or charity events.
- Those with previous philanthropic involvement
You can do this, for example, by asking around to other nonprofit organizations hosting charity events for information about their donors. There may be organizations in your area that are willing to share their giving report or other information.
If you already have a list of current donors, you can also potentially gain new donors by looking at their connections (other board members that have been involved in philanthropist activities, etc.)
Also, there are now donor prospect generator tools that may help you in your search for prospective donors.
Step 4: Develop an Event Master Plan
Now that you’ve identified your event goal, fundraising goal, and prospective donors to target, you can start planning the event.
While this doesn’t have to be set in stone, you can start planning the high-level details of your event, including but not limited to:
- The type of the event (auctions, gala, trade expo, etc.)
- Whether it will be an in-person, virtual, or hybrid charity event
- Date and time (at least a rough timeline)
- List of donors
- Marketing plan
You should choose the type of event that may attract your prospective donors while at the same time can help you achieve your goals. Again, all kinds of events can be turned into charity events, so your creativity here is the limit.
In general, you should choose the type of charity event to host based on your donors’ preferences and your fundraising goals (that you’ve established above).
You can consider the following factors to identify the type of event you should host:
- Evaluate whether your cause has a specific demographic. For example, if you are raising money for children refugees, then a family-friendly event may be a better fit rather than adults-only event types.
- Assess where your target donors live. If, for example, they are spread across the country, it’s probably best to host the event as a virtual event or hybrid event (i.e., virtual auction)
- Assess your prospective donors’ preferences. If most of your prospective donors would also prefer to use the event as a networking opportunity, then you can probably host a gala or similar type of event that facilitates networking.
- If you are planning to host an in-person event, then consider seasonal factors. If you are planning to host an event during the autumn or winter season, for example, then hosting an outdoor marathon event might not attract too many participants.
Your event master plan (at least the draft) will help you in the next step we’ll discuss below: estimating your event budget.
Step 5: Establishing Budget
It’s very important to try to establish your charity event budget as early as possible.
The earlier you estimate an event budget, the more options you’ll have when planning the event: more venue options, more talent/entertainer options, and so on. Also, you’ll have more time to invite your donors and market your event.
While every charity event is unique and will involve different elements to include in the budget, at the very least, you should estimate the costs for high-level elements such as:
- Venue: rental cost, as well as other costs tied to the venue like additional insurance policies you’ll need to purchase.
- Catering: all costs related to food and beverages. Don’t for
- Decoration: establish how much you can spend on decor
- Staff and volunteers: all costs related to staffing. Don’t forget travel and accommodation costs as needed.
- Speaker/talent/presenter: including travel and accommodation costs
- A/V equipment: whether you’ll need to rent additional A/V equipment outside those available on the venue. If it’s a virtual/hybrid event, also consider costs for live streaming equipment and software.
- Technology solutions: event management platform, virtual event platform, marketing solutions, etc.
- Entertainment: band, DJ, performer, etc. Again, make sure to consider travel and accommodation costs.
- Redundancies: plan for the worst. Ideally, you should allocate 20% on top of your total budget for miscellaneous and redundancies.
Step 5: Organize Your Team
Unless you are planning to do everything by yourself, you’ll need to establish a team to tackle all the details in planning the charity event.
You’ll need to appoint an event manager or project manager (if you don’t take the role yourself) and assign roles to available team members. While in practice, the roles and responsibilities needed in your team may vary, your event team should cover at least the following roles:
- Venue management
- Speaker/talent management
- Sponsors management
- Volunteer management
Aim to create a system of accountability so different team members can keep track of what the others are currently doing. This is to ensure your event stays within the desired timeline (and on budget.)
Also, you may use this time to recruit and train volunteers, depending on the size and complexity of your planned event.
- Appoint leaders. You’ll need someone to lead the volunteers and probably multiple leaders if you are going to divide the volunteers into different teams.
- Plan volunteer training: depending on the complexity of your event, you may need a proper training program for your volunteers. If it’s a relatively simple event, you can get away with providing written guidelines. However, if your event is fairly large or complex, consider arranging virtual or in-person workshops
- Identify the volunteer roles you need. Don’t recruit more than you need, and first, identify what roles you’ll need volunteers to cover. For example:
- Setting up the event and cleaning the area after the event
- Parking arrangements
- Registration and check-ins
- Food and beverage (servers, bartenders, etc.)
- How you’ll recruit volunteers. Will you post recruitments on social media? Will you use the service of volunteer sites? Also, don’t forget to share volunteer opportunities with your existing contacts.
Step 6: Set The Date and Venue
The earlier you can set your venue selection and date/time of the event, the better.
If it’s going to be a fairly large charity event (i.e., with more than 500 donors to invite), then ideally, you should set your date and venue at least six months prior to the event’s D-day.
However, for time-sensitive causes (for example, supporting a recent earthquake or war crisis), then you may not have the luxury of time. Nevertheless, you should aim to secure your venue and time/date as early as possible.
- Selecting a venue. If you are planning a virtual-only event, then you can skip this. However, consider the following factors when choosing a venue that will work best for your charity event:
- Size. identify your needs depending on the donors and attendees you are planning to invite
- Layout. Consider traffic flow and accessibility requirements.
- Parking. Parking availability, as well as public transportation nearby.
- A/V Equipment. Whether the venue has adequate A/V equipment available or whether you’ll need to rent additional equipment. Also, if you are planning to live stream the event (i.e., for a hybrid event), consider the space you’ll need for additional live streaming equipment.
- Connectivity. Internet connection and cellular service. Especially if you are planning to live stream the event, fast and reliable internet connectivity is crucial.
- Lighting. Whether you’ll need to rent additional lighting equipment.
- Cost. Venue rental, but also consider additional costs like insurance, catering (if you need to bring additional catering), decoration, and so on.
Choose your date carefully. In general, avoid other notable events in the area, as well as national holidays (donors tend to spend their time with their family during holidays). Weekends are generally best for charity events.
Again, the earlier you can set your event date/time and secure your venue, the more time you’ll have to attract your donors and get as many of them to attend as possible.
Step 7: Delegation and Project Management
Now that you’ve secured your venue and established your team, the next step is to delegate tasks to your team members (and recruit volunteers) and establish a timeline.
- List all the tasks. List all the tasks that will need to be accomplished for the event to succeed. The more detailed your list is, the better, and typically the best approach is to work your way backward from the D-day of the event to the very start of the event planning cycle.
- Delegate the tasks: Delegate all the listed tasks by department, committee, and individual.
- Create a timeline: Identify the timeline for each task. You can use various techniques to keep the timeline/schedule accessible and organized, like using an event project management software to create a color-coded calendar.
Step 8: Securing Sponsors
While sponsorships may not be too big of a focus in a charity event when compared to for-profit events, securing sponsorship can help you fund the event, and your sponsors can also introduce you to prospective donors and help promote the charity event.
- List out potential sponsors that may also be interested in the cause you are supporting with the event. Here are some tips when looking for potential sponsors for charity events:
- Focus on local businesses/individuals that may relate to the cause and/or tied to the community affected by the cause
- Look for businesses that are already connected with your organization. Ask your board members, team members, and event volunteers for potential candidates.
- Obviously, the prospective sponsors must be those that are already supportive of your cause and have the ability to provide the resources (money or otherwise) you’re looking for.
Once you’ve identified prospective sponsors to pursue, design your sponsorship package(s) accordingly. You may want to offer different levels of sponsorships to provide some flexibility to the prospective sponsors.
When offering your packages, make sure to provide all the information the prospective sponsors may need about your organization (your experience as an event organizer) and the cause you are supporting.
Step 9: Securing Speakers and Entertainment
Again the earlier you can secure speakers, entertainers, and presenters for your event, the better. Aim to secure these talents three months in advance if possible, so you’ll also have more time to include them in your marketing efforts.
Don’t forget to consider travel and accommodation arrangements if you are planning an in-person event. Also, as soon as you’ve secured speakers or entertainers, ask them for bio and photos for your marketing campaigns and event schedule.
Step 10: Creating a Marketing Plan
Just because it’s a charity event, doesn’t mean you’ll need to be serious in marketing the event so you can attract more donors.
Even a charity event needs a strong brand so your donors can understand exactly what the event is about. Consider:
- What is your theme? Establishing a theme upfront can help you in deciding various aspects of your event: decoration choices, entertainment, and so on.
- When naming your event, make sure it’s easy to pronounce and remember. Make sure your donors, attendees, and sponsors can easily recognize and remember the event name.
- Create an event logo that supports the event name, is attractive, and is easy to remember. Your logo should appear on all your promotional materials, so make sure it’s prominent and recognizable immediately.
- Establish standardized colors, fonts, and other guidelines for your brand. Consistency is key when it comes to strong branding, so use these standardized elements in all your marketing efforts.
Then, develop a comprehensive marketing plan while considering the following marketing channels:
- Printed promotions: like flyers, brochures, and posters. These traditional marketing materials can still be effective when used correctly. Also, now you can include QR codes in your printed materials so prospective guests can visit your website.
- Professional website: having a well-designed and functional event website (or event page under your company’s website) is crucial. Make sure your website is mobile-friendly, technically optimized, and informative.
- Press release: create and publish a press release for local media so they can help spread the word.
- Email marketing: you can send a personalized email to your existing donor base, especially those that may be interested in supporting your cause.
- Social media: use both organic and paid efforts to promote your event on social media. Also, work with relevant influencers that are also supportive to your cause so they can help promote your event to their followers.
Also, ask your sponsors, speakers/talents, and partners to help promote your charity event.
Step 11: Invest In The Right Technology
You’ll need to equip your team with the right software solutions to help streamline their efforts.
Consider investing in an event management platform like Eventtia that will help you in:
- Event ticketing system / event registration system
- Building customized form so you can collect valuable data from donors and attendees
- Monitoring your charity event’s performance with analytics and reporting tools
- Managing your team and facilitating collaboration to ensure success throughout the whole event cycle
Also, depending on the type of charity event you are planning, you may need additional technology solutions, including but not limited to:
- Auction software. Very important if you are planning to host an auction (in-person or virtual). These solutions can help you streamline the auction process, especially in automating the checkout process.
- Text-to-give. A text-to-give solution allows donors to pledge their donation via text on their mobile devices. It can be very useful in various types of charity events.
Step 12: Execution
The D-day is finally approaching, and in this step, it’s all about putting the final touches:
- Confirm finalized seating chart (if your attendees will be seated)
- Confirm all permits, licensing, and regulatory needs
- Prepare space for media and photographers
- Final confirmation with your catering by providing a finalized number of attendees. Make sure your food will be delivered on time and properly.
Step 13: Follow-up and Evaluation
Congratulations, you’ve finished the event, and hopefully, you’ve been able to meet the crowdfunding goals.
However, your job doesn’t end there. Make sure to have a follow-up plan in hand to thank your donors and attendees accordingly:
- Process all payments quickly and accurately. Make sure your donors receive their receipts after you’ve confirmed receiving the donations.\
- Inform your donors and attendees about how much money you’ve successfully raised within 24 hours after the event. Send personalized email and update your social media/website accordingly.
- Update your budget by comparing your estimation with actual spending. Evaluate whether you are underspending or overspending.
- If possible, send physical thank-you notes and swag bags to donors within the week after the event.
- Send a post-event survey so you can gather feedback on how your attendees think about the event.
- Conduct a post-event evaluation meeting with your team members and volunteers.
Congratulations! By following the steps we’ve shared above, hopefully, you’ve hosted a charity event with success. By planning everything carefully, you can keep your donors happy, so not only they’ll pledge more to your cause, but they may also support your future charity events.