We sat around a large table, shouting out random phrases. The dry erase marker squeaked against the board as I scrambled jot them down as fast as people called them out.
Family Fun Night. Sip & Spell. Get Your Spell On.
Nothing felt quite right.
“What about the Bids & the Bees?”
For about eight years, I was involved in a small nonprofit. During my first year serving as president, we decided to plan a fundraiser. Despite the recent birth of my first child and minimal event-planning experience, I had agreed to co-chair the event.
This was my first time planning any event, let alone a fundraiser, from scratch and overseeing all aspects of the event.
But I always love a good challenge and an opportunity to try out my creativity in a new way.
I won’t lie — it wasn’t always easy.
It required a lot of time, effort and coordination (especially since I was still so new to this whole “mothering” thing).
That said, the end result made it well worth it.
Together, with a fabulous co-chair and a small team of volunteers, we were able to plan an event that raised money, raised awareness for our organization, and was a blast for everyone who attended (if I do say so myself).
If you’re looking for a way to channel your creativity for the greater good while also learning new skills, I recommend you consider planning a fundraiser.
7 tips for planning a fundraiser from the ground up
Planning a fundraiser from the ground up is an exercise in organization, communication, and creativity.
In this mini-series, you’ll learn how to harness your powers of creativity to help a cause that is important to you.
1. Decide what the event will look like
Set the look and feel for your fundraiser. Will it be family-friendly or adult-oriented? What type of entertainment (if any) will it include? Will there be food? If so, will there be a sit-down meal or finger foods? Passed hors d’oeuvres or a buffet? How will you raise money: will it just be ticket fees, or will there be a silent auction?
Our idea for a fundraiser was born from a silent auction we held our first year operating as a nonprofit. The silent auction was held in conjunction with a bi-annual free family event held by the organization for which we were raising money.
We realized after that first silent auction that it wasn’t the right venue and decided to hold an event that would feature a silent auction. But a silent auction in and of itself really isn’t a big enough draw; it needed to be a part of a bigger event.
We also knew that though we were raising money for an organization for families, we wanted this to be an adult-only affair.
As we sat to brainstorm what would draw people in, we started to come up with a plan for our event, which included music, a buffet, and a spelling bee. (Hence the Bids & Bees.) We wanted it to be a laid-back event with opportunities for people to mingle and to check out the silent auction, so we settled on finger foods instead of a sit-down meal.
2. Set a budget
Before you start moving forward with the actual planning, research potential costs. These may include:
- The venue
- Marketing, including the designing and printing of marketing materials
Record every expense you anticipate, and round it up so you have a bit of a cushion.
For us, that amount seemed a bit high given, especially given we are a smaller organization with a really small operating budget.
However, when we reframed it by looking at how many people we would need to attend the event to at least cover our expenses, it made our budget seem more realistic and made our minimum fundraising goal totally attainable.
3. Brainstorm a catchy name
This is an opportunity for your creativity to really shine as you decide what to call your event. It should give attendees a sense of what the event will entail and who is running it while also drawing them in.
For awhile we called our event the Spring Fundraiser.
(Not to mention, it doesn’t give any sense of the what the fundraiser actually is.)
The Bids & The Bees is excellent: it captures the essence of the event (bidding at a silent auction and a spelling bee), is super catchy and easy to remember, and could easily be branded. We just added “Friends of the Center for Families present” before so people would also know who was running the event.
4. Make a to-do list and plug it into a calendar
I’m a huge fan of the to-do list; it makes me feel more in control and reduces overwhelm when I have a lot of things to do.
My co-chair and I brainstormed every single thing we needed to, from finding a venue to printing invitations, and worked backwards to give ourselves a timeline of when things needed to get done.
Write down everything you’ll possibly need to do, no matter how small as it seems. Set a deadline for when it needs to get done and who will be in charge of it. As things get done, mark them off on your to-do list.
5. Use (free) tools that make it easy to manage the planning
Our team used a shared Google Drive to plan just about every aspect of our fundraiser, including the budget, planning calendar, and silent auction.
For the latter, we had a very extensive spreadsheet of what organizations we had reached out to, the contact person there, if we heard back from there, and donated items and their values. That way it was easy for us to make sure more than one person didn’t reach out to the same organization. The information was easily accessible to everyone involved and updated automatically.
We also used Eventbrite to manage our ticket sales rather than create up our own system. Though we had to set it up ourselves, the online service allows you to download a roster of registered attendees or check them in online at the event and manages payment.
Find tools that make planning and communication as seamless as possible for your team.
(Side note: though I didn’t know about it at the time, I’m a huge fan of Trello since it allows you to create checklists and assign tasks and deadlines.)
6. Enlist a team of volunteers that takes advantage of people’s strengths
There were certain things members of our small nonprofit could not do, such as designing a flyer and running all aspects of the event itself.
We brainstormed creative wasy to get help for free, which included:
- We put out a call for a graphic designer to donate their time creating our flyer in exchange for advertising their business.
- We reached out to a local organization (One Brick Boston) that matches volunteers to events to help staff the fundraiser.
- We enlisted the help of a crafty parent to create the centerpieces.
- One of our board members asked her brother, a DJ, to be in charge of the music for the evening.
- We asked a charismatic friend of our organization to be the MC and in charge of the spelling bee portion of the evening.
Not only did having this great team that used people’s skills effectively, but it also prevented my co-chair and me from burning out by trying to do everything ourselves!
7. Advertise the event
Regardless of how kickass your fundraiser is, no one is going to come to your event if they don’t know about it.
Know your audience is and advertise your event in places they will look, including your local paper, local listserves, local online calendars, and Facebook groups.
Since our event was specifically geared toward people in our community, and in particular families with young children, we sent out flyers to all of the elementary schools, advertised on community family listserves, community calendars (including our local community television station’s), and of course, on Facebook, asking our individual networks to share it.
Want to dive deeper into some of the aspects of planning a fundraiser from scratch? Check out the other posts in the series: