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How to Create a Budget for a Nonprofit Fundraiser

The bottom line is very simple: Your nonprofit organization’s total earnings from a special event must exceed your total cost — by a lot, you hope. But how do you get a handle on revenue and expenses?

If you’re staging an event for the first time, it’s particularly important early in the process to ask your core supporters — board, volunteers, and event leadership — how much they intend to give. Because these people are the most likely to give generously, knowing their intentions helps you forecast the overall results.

Sometimes fundraising events take a couple of years to garner high-level support, so budget exactly how much you intend to make in years one, two, and three. It’s not uncommon to break even the first year of an event or to have small net proceeds from your first venture.

Another way to estimate the fundraising potential of an event is to check with organizations that produce similar events. If they’ve presented a program year after year and yours is a first-time outing, ask them where their income levels began. Try to objectively weigh your event’s assets against theirs. Are your boards equally well connected? Is your special guest equally well known?

How to figure the income side

Try to design your event so it generates income in more than one way. A rummage sale may also include the sale of baked goods. An auction may include advertising in a printed program along with tickets to the event and the income generated from the sale of the auction items. Standard event income categories include:

  • Individual ticket sales

  • Table or group sales (usually for parties of eight or ten)

  • Benefactor, patron, and sponsor donations (for which donors receive special recognition in return for contributing higher amounts than a basic table or seat costs)

  • Sponsorships of event participants (for instance, pledging to contribute a particular amount per mile run by a friend)

  • Food and/or beverage sales

  • Sales of goods and/or services

  • Advertising sales (in printed programs, on banners, and so on)

  • Purchasing a chance (raffle tickets, door prizes, and so on)

Expenses — expected and unexpected

Unless a wonderful sponsor has offered to cover all your expenses, your event will cost money to produce. The general categories can include the following:

  • Building/facility/location (space rental, site use permits, security guards, portable toilets, tents, cleanup costs)

  • Advertising and promotion (save-the-date postcards, photography, posters, invitations, event programs, publicist costs, postage, event website with a ticket purchase feature)

  • Production (lighting and sound equipment, technical labor, stage managers, auctioneers)

  • Travel and per diem (for guest speakers, performers, or special guests)

  • Insurance (for example, liability insurance in case someone gets hurt because of your organization’s negligence, or shipping insurance to protect donated goods)

  • Food and beverages (including permits for the sale or serving of alcohol, if necessary)

  • Decor (flowers, rented tables and chairs, linens, fireworks, banners)

  • Miscellaneous (prizes, awards, talent treatment, name tags, signs, t-shirts)

  • Office expenses (letter writing, mailing list and website management, detail coordination)

  • All other staff expenses

Always inquire about nonprofit pricing, and let vendors know that your organization is tax-exempt.

In spite of your careful planning, certain expenses can appear unexpectedly and cause you to exceed your budget. If you plan to serve food at your event, keep these tips in mind to avoid surprise charges:

  • Confirm that all service and preparation charges are included in the catering budget.

  • If you need to add additional meals at the last minute, find out whether your caterer charges extra. If meals that you ordered aren’t eaten, you probably still need to pay for them. Check on your caterer’s policy.

  • If some of the wine that you’ve purchased isn’t consumed, is the store willing to buy it back from you?

  • If wine has been donated to your event, find out whether your caterer charges corkage fees for opening and serving it.

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