Events are a cornerstone of nonprofit development. You hear about fun runs, auctions and galas, but for a new nonprofit, it’s hard to know where to start. With this guide, you’ll be able to plan your first event that leaves a lasting impact on your attendees and the future of your nonprofit.
Events are fun and can be beneficial, but they may not always be the best option. You can avoid spending time and resources on a big event when a different approach―like getting sponsorships, grants or individual donations―may be more feasible. Since events aren’t always the most lucrative in their returns, your goals could be to build awareness and attract people to your cause, rather than raise funds.
Who are you trying to reach? Do some research about the type of people that would be most interested in your cause and who you want to bring to the cause. How old are they? Where do they live? What other causes do they care about? Once you begin to answer some of these questions, you can shape your event accordingly. This will help you find the best ways to reach the right people.
What are you trying to gain from your event? Are you looking mostly for exposure and fundraising, or do you want people to take action in some other way? Have a clear call to action in mind for your attendees. They should know exactly what’s expected of them when they leave your event. For example, if you want attendees to take part in an awareness campaign, have flyers available outlining the specifics, or direct them to a web page with more information.
In any case, make sure your goal is measurable and specific. A goal you can’t evaluate is almost as bad as no goal at all.
Design your event around that budget, and line it up with your ticket price and your time restrictions. Don’t try to go beyond your means. If your goal is to fundraise, don’t spend money on bells and whistles that won’t bring in more dollars. And if you’re unsure how successful your fundraiser will be (it’s your first one, after all), it’s best to err on the side of caution. If you’re concerned about funding, reach out to some corporate sponsors for support.
For your event to be effective, you need to choose the type of event wisely based on your audience, goals and budget.
Consider your audience. What type of event would be most interesting to the group you’re trying to reach? It could be a gala, an auction, concert, sporting event, a-thon event, fun run—anything! Though the classic fundraisers might be tried and true, it never hurts to spice it up a bit. Brainstorm events that break from the norm and get people talking. A rollerblading movie night? Sure! A disco-themed, potluck benefit concert? Why not?
No matter what you land on, make sure your event aligns with your mission and will help you reach your goal.
Get the community invested in your cause by showing the difference their impact could make. Use examples from some of your previous victories to inspire hope and get people talking. If an attendee or non-attendee feels so inclined, give them the opportunity to donate beyond the event’s registration cost. Many attendees will choose to give more if asked.
Get people talking about your event and encourage community members to spread the word! Word-of-mouth is a powerful source of earned media that can spread your cause exponentially. But, you can never go wrong with posting across social media platforms and making a website. You can also make an impact by putting up posters, making t-shirts, emailing like crazy and attending other community events―people will feel more inclined to support your cause if you supported theirs!
Use your current support base to your advantage. If you have loyal newsletter subscribers, donors or volunteers, reach out and ask for their support. If they have been there in the past, odds are they’ll be more than happy to help out again.
After the event, look back on the experience. Did you stick to your budget? Did you meet your goal(s)? Could an event like this be useful in the future? Figure out what worked and what didn’t. This last part is essential to helping you find a process that works for you and your supporters.
Boom—you just planned your first event. That wasn’t so bad, was it?