Are you a caped crusader, championing for causes that are dear to your heart? Do your super powers include the ability to see the big picture and microscopic details and juggle multiple balls simultaneously? Are you able to make to-do lists and cross of items in a single bound? Are you able to harness the powers of others to bring about good? Do enjoy working with a team of other passionate superheroes?
If so, you have may have what it takes to join the League of Fundraising Superheroes!
This past spring I helped to plan a fundraiser for Friends of the Center for Families, a local nonprofit that is very dear to my heart. Though I had some prior event-planning experience, this was my first time planning one completely from scratch and overseeing all aspects of the event.
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely do not consider myself to be some sort of superwoman for doing it [though if I were, I think my superhero name would be the Juggler]. However, I won’t lie–it wasn’t always easy. It did require a lot of time, effort and coordination (especially since I was still so new to this whole “mothering” thing), but 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, brought awareness for our organization, and overall was a ton of fun (if I do say so myself).
As many of you settle into another school year for your children and the holiday season is just on the horizon, some of you may find yourself helping to plan a fundraising event. Even though I still would very much consider myself a novice when it comes to planning a nonprofit fundraiser, I learned so much from the experience that I wanted to share with you. For the month of September I will be doing a mini-series on how to harness your powers for good and plan a fundraising event from the ground up, including
- The importance of finding a Robin to your Batman
- Finding a kickass headquarters for your event
- Put together a plan with your team of superheroes and clearly define your goals
Not all superheros are millionaires: Set a budget
Playboy Tony Stark may have an incredible amount of wealth at his disposal, but chances are if you are planning a fundraiser (especially for the first time) you won’t have quite the same budget at your disposal. Before you start moving forward with planning your event, research potential costs, including the venue, food, entertainment, decorations, and marketing. Record every little expense you anticipate, and round it up so you have a bit of a cushion. At first that amount seemed a bit high given, especially if you 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 realistic and made the our minimum fundraising goal totally attainable.
Dress for Success: Decide what the event will look like
Just as every superhero has a look that is uniquely their own, you want to 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. 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 spelling bee.
Because “Black-winged Man” just doesn’t have the same ring: Come up with a catchy name for your event
For awhile we were just calling our event the Spring Fundraiser. Hello, bo-ring! Not to mention, it doesn’t give any sense of the what the fundraiser is. I put a call out to my friends of Facebook to see if someone could come up with a clever name. The Bids & The Bees (which is what our now annual fundraiser is called) 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.
All good superheros have a plan: 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 thing we would need to do, 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 will possibly need to get done, as seemingly small as it seems, and 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.
Every superhero has tools as their disposal: Use tools that make it easy to mange the planning
Thor has his hammer, Batman has his Batmobil, and our team has Google Drive. We used it to plan just about every aspect of our fundraiser, including our budget, our 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 easily lets download a roster of registered attendees or check them in online at the event and manages payment. Find tools that make the planning and communication as seamless as possible for your team.
Even superheros can’t do it alone: Form a team of volunteers that take advantage of people’s strengths
Just like the Avengers worked together to harness their individual powers to make an unstoppable team, you will want a create a badass team that builds upon people’s strengths. There were certain things our small nonprofit could not do, such as designing a flyer and running all aspects of the event itself. We put out a call for a graphic designer to donate their time creating our flyer in exchange for advertising his/her business, reached out to a local organization (One Brick Boston) that matches volunteers to events to help staff the fundraiser, and had a parent organize planning the decorations. Additionally, one of our board members asked her brother, a DJ, to be in charge of the music for the evening, and we asked a charismatic friend of our organization to be 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, it prevented my co-chair and I from burning out by trying to do everything ourselves!
Send out the Bat Signal: 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 who your audience is and make sure you advertise your event in places they will look, including your local paper, local listserves, local online calendars, etc. 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.
Check out the other posts in the series, including:
- Finding your Batcave: Choosing a venue for your fundraiser
- Finding a Robin to your Batman: The importance of finding a co-chair for your fundraiser
- Being a superhero is more than kicking the bad guy’s butt: defining goals for your fundraiser
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