ILEA Quick Tips For Event Planners: September 2016

How to host the perfect fundraising event for your nonprofit.

The role of the event coordinator in non-profit event planning is like that of a Michelin star chef, bringing numerous components together to create the perfect meal.  It’s not just the food, it’s the wait staff, the maître d’, the décor, lighting, music, and more that comprise the quintessentially perfect dining experience.

In the fundraising world, the event coordinator must create the perfect atmosphere for the donor experience, influencing the guest to open their pocketbook and become a donor.  In the example of gala fundraisers, building this atmosphere is a combination of the “who” is involved, your key trusted vendors, designers, production crew and colleagues, but also “how” your guests are fostered in the fundraising.

Creating this fundraising atmosphere is a continual exercise in relationship and trust building between your organization and your guest turned donor that fortunately has a super fun gala smacked right in the middle! 

Be honest about the purpose of your event. We’re here to raise money!
Never be shy about the fact that your event is a fundraiser.  Communicate early and often about what opportunities your guests will have to participate in the fundraising so they can get excited about how they intend to spend their donor dollars.
It is wise to have a variety of levels of donation interaction for your guests. Not everyone in the room will be able to raise a paddle at $50,000. Include a smattering of $100-$500 opportunities such as a wine pull or punch wall. These are perfect for younger guests poised to become donors or those new to investing in your organization.
Invest in event elements that carry your story
Invest your production dollars (and time) wisely in areas that will have the biggest emotional impact on your audience.  Which would move you to donate $1,000, a beautiful centerpiece or a mother’s story of losing a child to cancer?
Create a beautiful and welcoming space but also create an authentic and meaningful atmosphere through story for your donors to engage with.
Don’t be cheap. Be mindful, educated and connected.
Again, you’re working on a nonprofit budget.   However, this doesn’t mean you have to look for the bargain basement deal of the century to get the job done. Develop relationships with key industry players, just as you would foster a donor. They can support your mission and bottom line by providing in-kind donations of goods or services. In exchange, offering event sponsorship with a table at your gala for a vendor to host prospective clients can go a long way.
Be educated and realistic to the actual costs of putting together the event. Know what the real cost of the product or project is before making any special request. Do not approach a discount request as a freebie or hand out and never ask for a donation so large that would cause the vendor to lose money. You won’t make any friends that way!   
Never plan your budget assuming any vendor will be able to donate a portion of services. You’re asking for them to support your mission, not to loose their shirt.

Thank everyone!
Remember to mind your P’s and Q’s and thank everyone who has a hand in your pulling your gala together.  In the nonprofit fundraising world, we do sometimes have to call in favors. Your special requests are much more likely to be fulfilled if they recall you appreciate all that they have done to support your mission. Plan for hand cramps and 100+ hand written thank yous the week after your event.
Communicate how donations were used
Remember, you wouldn’t have a job if you didn’t have any donors.  Most successful galas see return donors year after year because of the work the organization does to foster trust throughout the gala “off-season”.  Providing evidence and reporting of how the dollars donated at your event were put to use will nurture and build that trust between your organization and donors for years to come.
Don’t forget to include your in-kind donors and sponsors in this communication. While your AV vendor may not have donated cold hard cash, they may have donated a portion of service in kind, because they believe in your mission.
If your room is filled with the right people, who have been fostered in the right way, with the right combination of décor and design and meaningful story you will get the big payoff.
Jessica Ruth is on the ILEA Board of Directors and has worked in the events industry for 13 years and within nonprofit fundraising event planning for five.  Current fundraising events include the Dawn of a Dream Gala, Time to Fly, KS95 Radiothon for Kids, Cupid’s Undie Run and others.
International Live Events Association (ILEA) is the new name for the International Special Events Society (ISES). ILEA represents and supports more than 5,000 members globally – industry professionals who do business together, share knowledge, nurture talent and progress the live events industry. For more information on how an ILEA professional can help you with your event, please contact