As both the director of sales and marketing at The Godfrey Hotel Chicago and co-founder of the nonprofit ChiGivesBack, I’ve coordinated and attended my fair share of fundraising events. From planning to execution, fundraisers require special attention to detail as compared to a social or corporate event.From my years of hosting, planning, and reporting on fundraising events, I’ve developed a few key “do’s and don’ts” that I hope can help guide other organizations and venues when diving into their next fundraiser:
- Spice up your invite: The invitation is the first time potential attendees will learn about or interact with your event, so make it count. It should not overwhelm with words but should include the must-know details. This is where you can visually represent your organization and what the atmosphere of the event will be. I love to use video from a previous year’s event or include a mention of some of the top raffle or auction prizes that will be available to attendees. This can help to ramp up excitement and give guests a feel for what is to come at the event.
- Use mobile bidding software: This is key to an event’s success, as it allows your planning team to have access to all attendees in one portal in real time. This means your organization’s team can text reminders about upcoming touchpoints or happenings on site; or incorporate silent auction items and announcements about hot prizes. These platforms also make the check-in process smooth and simple for your staff. One of my favorite systems I’ve used in the past is Click Bid.
- Build and engage your team: I cannot stress enough the importance of building a team of trusted individuals. The people you choose will carry the event to its conclusion, so engaging with them and encouraging them is essential. In order to keep to-do lists moving, I always try to assign each team member specific tasks and deadlines, clearly delegating to each person based on his/her skill sets. Don’t forget to keep everyone in the loop by sharing calendars, updates and deadlines with everyone involved. This keeps our entire group accountable for each other and for the fundraiser as a whole.
Clear communication of the event’s goals and whether the team is on track to meet them will create a sense of shared responsibility and excitement for the event’s vision.
- Offer buy-one, get-one deals on tickets: These types of “freebie” deals take away from your overall funds and detract from the value of your event. It is better to put the time into clearly conveying your organization’s cause and needs to inspire action than to cheapen the event’s mission by offering discounts, as this often attracts audiences who do not feel particularly connected to the fundraising goal and may not donate or bid at the event itself.
- Go overboard on the venue: Venues that are more luxurious may be appropriate for some fundraising events, but I would not recommend splurging on the venue--especially if that means you will end up compensating by raising ticket prices for guests. My suggestion is to find a venue that is in a middle ground for your budget, and it will pay off in tickets that are more reasonably priced. Also, finding a venue within your budget--or perhaps below it--will allow you more opportunity to elevate the experience within that venue and make the fundraiser more interactive for guests.
- Be afraid to ask for help: Fundraising events are all about collaboration, and I generally find that people are more than willing to help when it is needed. Both internally and at the venue, planners should not be shy about asking for help in areas where it is needed. You might be surprised by how much people are open to stepping up for a cause and volunteering their time and skills.
As mentioned previously, the team you build will ultimately make your event a success, so take advantage of the strengths of those around you. At the end of the day, you won’t be able to control every aspect of the event and unexpected bumps in the road will appear. It’s best to have a large team of supporters by your side to help you along the way.
With the right support system and knowledge of your overall goals and mission, a fundraising event does not have be a stressor. Rather, it can be an opportunity to celebrate and amplify your nonprofit organization’s message and mission.
Sandi Robinson serves as area director of sales and marketing for Oxford Hotels and Resorts, overseeing the sales and marketing teams and day-to-day operations at The Godfrey Hotel Chicago and Hotel Essex. She is a co-founder of local nonprofit ChiGivesBack.